Picking out a good bottle of wine at a wine store or online can be a daunting task - countless bottles with grape varietals or regions you can’t even pronounce. However, it doesn’t have to be a guessing game - here are 3 tips to make it less intimidating and more efficient to sift through the endless options, whether you’re rushing to grab something last minute for a dinner party, or hunting for the right bottle to go with your new recipe.
1.Know The Basics and Understand Your Preferences
Remember, our goal is not to find a 100-point critic’s favorite, but to find a bottle that YOU will enjoy. There is a complicated system and levels of criteria to judge the quality of a wine, yet when it comes to you it’s largely personal and your preferences matter the most. Just because a wine is originated from a prestigious region or made in a much acclaimed vintage doesn’t mean you have to like it, there is nothing wrong to hate the mushroom or leather aromas from a well aged wine! Check out the “staff pick” section in the store and play around with wine apps to see what other people are drinking and how they think about the wines. Go to tastings and take simple notes, drink similar wines (e.g. same varietal different regions) but in contrasting styles, mark your most and least favorite and jot down the reasons, eventually you will find your sweet spot and build your own “wine chart”, and form an idea about exactly what your preferences are. A few quick examples: Fruity, jammy California reds or bold and earthy Bordeaux blend; Big buttery Napa Chardonnay or a delicate Burgundy white with long acids.
2. Find Your Favorite Wine Shop and Let Them Point You In The Right Direction
This may sound like “cheating” but hey no shame asking for help from the pro! I would definitely suggest buying wines from a specialized shop rather than supermarkets or mass retailers, especially when you are new to wine. Wine is their speciality and they would pay closer attention to their selections, plus you will build up your wine knowledge from conversations with the knowledgeable staff. Now the question is how to find a good store...I will start by telling you how I found my favorite store - Millesima, and why I am fond of it. A good shop curates a selection of wines they are passionate about. Millesima is the American arm of Bordeaux-based Millesima SA, it carries most of their wines straight from France, offering a large selection including some fine and rare wines. The good thing about this is that it is equivalent to direct a line back to Bordeaux, which means that you are able to find some really interesting and distinct bottles that you wouldn't find anywhere else. Another element that distinguish it is that it also offers the opportunity to buy wine futures (en primeur) and has a very extensive selection of large format bottles. I specifically love their “staff selections” when I need some inspirations, as they are never the no-brainer big name Champagnes which everybody recognizes, or the five first growths from a great vintage that cost $$$$ - it might be a full-bodied Mourvedre when the cold current approaches in the winter, or an interesting and affordable Cremant to spark the holidays. They also offer weekly tasting with different focus on regions or grapes, which I find really helpful and could be a great starting point for people to get to know the bottles with the guidance from the intuitive staff, who are well trained to make spot-on recommendations without overselling.
3. Occasion Matters
Wines can serve different purposes, which may influence how you choose a bottle. Are you pairing it with a meal, if so is it seafood pasta or roasted lamb? Are you looking for a wine for yourself to enjoy while watching Netflix or searching for a crowd-pleaser? Consider the occasion as you might not want to bring an old Barolo that needs 5 hours of decanting to a bachelor party, or an easy drinking Pinot Grigio to go with your expensive 30 days dry-aged steak. Likewise, if you are making Sangria or mixing your wine into a cocktail, complexity of the wine and the subtle flavors do not matter at all. While food and wine pairing can be tricky and might be a huge topic, again, a good wine shop should serve its purpose decently. Although the sales guys might not be a top notch sommelier, they should be able to suggest a wine with your dinner, for instance Millesima actually has a whole section of recommendations of wines with pizza, pasta, seafood, protein, and arguably the most difficult to pair with, spicy food. When you find a combo that you enjoy a lot, write it down, I would even suggest you explore a bit from there - should you like Napa Cab with steak, next time try the same style wine but from a different region, Bordeaux, or Mendoza, and you will become a pro before you know!
Nothing is wrong with drinking the same bubbly for holidays or the same New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with your oysters, but there is so much more to discover in wines. A great many people only make decisions based off the price tag or a cool label, often ending up with the suboptimal or even “wrong” bottle for their occasions. Ask the staff at the wine shop about how to read the label, believe it or not, it seems scary but can be fairly simple when you learn the ABC of it.
A good wine shop website is also a great starting point to learn how to filter by country, region or varietal and narrow down your preferences. For beginners, check if they have “Staff Picks” or “Great Values” sections (wines with 90+ points and under $25, $50 or $100). After you get an idea on what you like, dig deeper in that region - for example if you are fan of Bordeaux, learn the differences between Left Bank and Right Bank, different Appellations, different vintages, etc.
Remember, the most important thing is: drink what you like. If you are curious and want to learn more about wines, I would encourage you to get yourself familiarized with critics ratings and hear what other people in the industry have to say about certain wines, but, never let their opinions manipulate you! Now get started by browsing some wine selections and let me know which bottle is your favorite! You may even receive a $200 Gift Card to get your dream bottle!