Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wine 101.1 - Buying Tips

When I first started buying wine, I was nearly paralyzed by the options out there. Walk into most liquor stores and chances are they'll have several aisles of wine. Walk into a wine shop and whoa! So how do you know what to buy?

Over the years I've learned a few things worth sharing.

First off, price does not necessarily equal quality. I may not have the most educated palate, but I do okay. I've had ten dollar bottles of wine that I've liked better than fifty dollar bottles. Vineyards that have spent years cultivated their name and label can charge more. That's just the way it goes. Sometimes the wine is worth it. Sometimes it isn't.

Don't be afraid to check out several of your local wine specialty shops, especially if the wine you want to buy is for an important occasion. When in doubt, ask ... works when buying wine and the chances of finding someone knowledgeable about wines is better at a specialty store. Tell the person helping you about the occasion and what you want to spend per bottle and chances are he or she will be able to set you up with a couple different options.

If you walk into a wine shop and discover every bottle they stock costs more than your last paycheck, obviously you're in the wrong store, but most wine shops I've been in have a wide range of prices. Chances are you'll find something that fits your budget. Also, many wine shops schedule free tastings, so you can sample before you buy.

Check out the clearance tables. Just because a wine is selling for half off doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it. You just might find some great deals.

Wines are stocked on the shelves counter-intuitively, to me at least. I always expect the expensive wines to be lower to the ground, less chance of breaking, right? But no. That's not the way it works. Generally speaking, the higher on the shelf, the more expensive the bottle.

Sometimes going for a funky label is best. I think it was Kylie who mentioned in the comments of my last wine post that she and her dh did that once for a party and the bottle turned into a conversation piece. No sweat!

Certain types of wine varieties are less known and, thereby, seem to be better values. For example, I'll bet you that after the movie SIDEWAYS became so popular that pinot noirs instantly went up in price. Everyone knows cabernets, merlots and chiantis. So try a lesser known variety for value's sake. Malbec, tempranillo (Spain's cabernet), barbera, syrahs, sagiovese. All good choices.

Blended wines might be a good choice when you're having guests and aren't sure about specific tastes. The blended wines tend to be smoother, milder and therefore also have a wider pairing ranging - in other words they may pair better with a larger variety of foods.

My favorite countries for good values are Argentina, Spain and Chile. New Zealand's up there too. Let's face it, while I love many California wines, land costs are high in that area. The price of the wine is going to reflect those costs.

Don't be afraid to experiment. Buy a few bottles you want to try and check them out. Sales are a good time to try out new varieties and to stock up on your favs. Red wines will last for decades if stored properly on the side in a relatively cool location. Whites last for years, too, although not as long as reds. Many stores will give you discounts on cases even if you mix varieties.

When in doubt, look for wine ratings. I've notice many stores affix tags to their shelves showing ratings by the likes of Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. They aren't 100% reliable, but they are helpful.

A great time to experiment with new wines is at restaurants. You're only committed to one glass, so if you don't like it, not a big deal.

So what's worked for you when buying wine? Do you have any great buying tips?



lois greiman said...

Thanks again, Helen. I love wine bottles. And wine is so interesting. I know a horse that has his own vintage. :)

catslady said...

We love wine too. My husband talks with the local store manger (we live in PA and have state stores) and he let's us in on specials a lot of times. We'll try one and if we like it, we'll go back and buy what we can and sometimes he even can get us a case or two :) Our uncle does the same thing so we always let each other know. Cabernet Savignon is our favorite but we are more than willing to try other kinds although I tend to like the darker/dryer reds the best. We always keep a variety though for friends and family who aren't really wine drinkers but enjoy the lighter wines.

Beth Solheim said...


My husband makes wine and I've learned so much about the process, the tools used, grape kit selection, sample testing, and bottling. What an experience!

I favor the heavier, dry wines with an oak flair. Malbec and Pinotage are favorites. For white, I enjoy Pinot Grigio.

And, the results of my husband's hobby makes wonderful gifts.


Helen Brenna said...

A horse Lois? Need to hear that story!

Catslady, it's been a long while since I've purchased wine by the case, but it's really the way to save. I think I got Cabbed out! I'm really liking zins these days. Still full of flavor but not so dry.

Beth, I really want to try making my own wine. Will have to look into that!!

Cindy Gerard said...

Loving these wine classes, Helen.

To date my fav (that I know how to order and pronounce) is Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio. Kind of in the middle on price. But I've had whites that I like even better - always at a pricey restaurant and ordered by someone who knows wine.
Of course I can't remember the name but sure wish I knew what it was.
I've listed some possibilities but have no idea what differentiates one from the other.

I don't remember: does Sauvignon or Chenin tell us the type of grape or the regions where the grapes are grown?

And how do you recommend a beginner start to unravel the mystery? Tackle one type first? Like the whites or tackle by where they're grown? I'd really like to get a handle on it but have no idea how to start.

Ikal 1150 Wines of Argentina said...

Thanks for the tips Helen!

aliah said...

Buying wine can be interesting task, when you are looking to buy a wine you should have good amount of knowledge about wine. i like the information you shared about wine.
Vintage wines