Over the years I have purchased hundreds of cases of wine, learned as much as I can about wine (I still have a lot to learn), tasted many, many wines and started a wine business. But despite all I know about wine, I can still become a tad intimidated standing in a wine store looking at 100 different Cabernets trying to figure out which one to buy.
Here are some tips I would suggest you consider when shopping in your local wine stores. Some of the items are very basic, but they still have to be considered regardless of your wine knowledge.
1. Know Your Wine Style
I know I have said this many times before: You really need to know what kind of wine you like or want, and what type of flavor profile you prefer. If you don’t have a general idea of what you like, it will be harder for someone to help you select a wine.
For example: I prefer red wine over white. I like a full-bodied wine (any wine over 13.5% alcohol is considered full-bodied) that is fruity and dry. So I go for the darker, heavier reds.
It is always good to think about wines you have had in the past. Which wines did you enjoy the most and why? No two vineyards or producers make wine the same, so you might end up favoring a particular producer (which is OK). Drink what you enjoy.
2. Plan Ahead
Why are you buying wine? Is it for a dinner party, backyard barbecue or simply wine to sip while relaxing in the evening? Having a good idea of what you want to buy before going to a store will helpful. Here are a couple more thoughts. Are you pairing the wine with food? If so, what will be served? How much wine do you need? Do you want a red and a white? What are your personal preferences? How much do you want to spend? By the way, it has been my experience that unplanned wine purchases (the spur-of-the-moment kind) can be disappointing and costly. If you can decide what you want ahead of time and stick to your plan, it will be helpful.
3. Remember to Read the Label
Wine labels have a lot of information on them and it is good to read them, as you can learn a lot about the wine from what is on the label. In addition to the producer’s name, you’ll find:
Vintage: Most of the wines at the store are meant to be enjoyed right away, so make sure the wine isn’t too old. Unless you are a collector or greatly experienced in wine, I wouldn’t suggest you buy any wine (reds or whites) older than three years. Exception: If you are buying a pink wine don’t buy anything over a year old.
Alcohol Content: A wine with a high alcohol level, 15% or higher, will likely be unbalanced (too much fruit, tannins or acidity). I would suggest you select wines with an alcohol content of 14.2% to 14.5% (or less).
Geography: Where is the wine from? The more information provided on the label, the better. For example, a wine that says it is from Napa or Sonoma is better than one that just says it’s from California.
Estate Bottled: If the label indicates the wine is “Estate Bottled,” this means the producer also had a hand in growing the grapes at their vineyard. Typically this is a good indicator.
Most labels will also list or indicate the type of wine. If it is a blend, it may even list the percentages of the blend, special vineyard designations and the AVA (American Viticulture Area).
Taking a few minutes to read a wine’s label may provide you with the insight needed to pick the perfect wine.
When you go to the store to purchase wine, it is a good idea to have a budget in mind. What do you want to spend per bottle? Why waste time looking at or hearing about wines at $40-plus if your budget is $20 to $30 per bottle? Although I will admit, it is informative and fun to browse the higher-end wine section.
One other thing I would mention: don’t buy a wine that costs under $10 a bottle. As a wine producer, I can tell you that it is almost impossible for a 750 mL bottle of wine to cost less than this and still be good, or be produced with any minimum quality standards.
5. Ask for Assistance
Asking for help in selecting a bottle of wine is something you shouldn’t be embarrassed or intimidated to do. Consider this: You are standing in your local wine store staring at a wall of Cabernets—60 to 75 different ones—and fifteen of them are in your $20 to $25 price range. Which one to choose? Ask for help. It is a better idea to ask the store staff which of those wines meets your desired flavor profile than select one you don’t like.
Shopping for wine will be much easier if you choose stores that have a well-informed staff. In our market, these would be the Chalet/Belmont stores, especially the store on CR 17, where good friend Stan Minden works. I have tasted a lot of wine with Stan and respect his palate and wine knowledge.
City Wide Liquors in Mishawaka and on Jefferson Street in downtown South Bend have some excellent wines and most of the staff is highly knowledgeable on wines in general and they know their inventory.
I believe it is a good idea to limit your shopping to two or three different wine shops. This way you can build a relationship with the sales staff, they’ll learn your tastes and be able to assist you better in the future.
Although we are talking about buying wine in a wine shop I would also mention that asking for help in selecting a wine in a restaurant is important. Most restaurants that have a good wine program have servers and staff who are knowledgeable on wine or at least know their wine list and can be helpful in selecting a wine.
6. Be Willing to Experiment
Trying something new is a great way to increase your wine knowledge. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about new wines and new wine producing countries, which to me is always fun and exciting.
As always, I appreciate your support of our wine blog and encourage you to share it with family and friends. If you care to share your comments on this blog posting or other topics, please do so in the comments section below.
Until next week,
Please join us for these Upcoming Tiedemann On Wines Wine Club dinners:
August 25, Uptown Kitchen Wine Dinner, Uptown Kitchen in Granger, 6:30 p.m.
October 13, Old World Versus New World Wines, Dinner at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk in Elkhart, 6:30 p.m.
November 10, Spanish Wine Dinner at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk in Elkhart, 6:30 p.m.