IndustryTips on buying wine – make it YOUR choice.
Wine Buying Blog

Tips on buying wine – make it YOUR choice.

Blog by Kyle Zulch – National Sales Manager

So, when dining out at a restaurant, one is usually assisted by a sommelier or a certified wine specialist to select a perfect wine, even if you don’t know much about wine yourself. They would essentially ask about your taste preferences and then recommend a wine that pairs well with your meal, all whilst complementing your likes and dislikes.

BUT, what happens if there is no wine specialist at hand, or you’re browsing the shelves and web pages with endless choices of bottles – all alone, having to navigate a labyrinth of choices. And for those note familiar with wine, wine labels, and bottle/product descriptions…it all can make the decision even more difficult.

Do not fear! There is good news. By understanding some basic information about wine, you can make the decision a lot easier, and find a good fit for you, and which to avoid. By discovering and understanding the general characteristics of wine, you can become a wine expert in no time and feel confident in selecting a delectable wine to pair with your meal or occasion!“Good Wine” 101

The word subjective comes to mind when choosing a ‘good wine’. ‘Each to their own’ as they say. Every person defines a good wine according to their [unique] taste buds. Delicate, bold, sweet, tart, or even spicy flavours – it’s certainly possible to find a wine that will put a smile on your face.

The below characteristics help define each variety of wine and can be helpful when picking that bottle.

  • Sweetness: Wine labels often use the terms “sweet,” “semi-sweet” or “dry.” A dry wine, well, will be dry and not sweet. Easy enough.
  • Acidity: Wines with high acidity will be more tart, whereas low-acidity wines will taste rounder or richer.
  • Tannin: Tannins are phenolic compounds in the skins of grapes [that’s as scientific as I will get, promise]. The more tannins naturally present in the winemaking process or added through aging, the wine will have a more bitter taste. Tannins also tend to ‘dry’ out your pallet; which is often confused with the “dryness” of a wine, which actually refers to how sweet or not sweet wine is (we covered that, remember!?). Red wines tend to have more tannins, giving some red wines a distinctively dry and ‘bitter’ finish.
  • Body: All wines can be characterized as having either a light body, full body, or somewhere in between. The “body” of the wine refers to the weight of the wine on your palate I.E. how heavy or light it feels in your mouth. Generally, red wines have a fuller body than whites; and climate also plays a role as wines made from warmer regions are generally fuller bodied, rather than cooler ones.
  • Alcohol: Wines that have a higher percentage of alcohol, will tend to ‘warm’ your palate and the back of your throat. Measured in the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV), most wines contain 11 to 14 percent alcohol, but can (in some instances) go all the way up to 20 percent.

Everyone will have different preferences for each of these characteristics of wine, but with the right care, you can find a bottle that ticks all your boxes.

Tips for picking a good bottle of wine.

Being so subjective, choosing a “good wine” means considering several factors — including occasion, flavour preferences, labels, and price points. While the combination of these factors is different for each person, the tips below will help you find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Wine Purchase

  1.     If you are new to wine, let’s kick off with some white or rosê.

Like food preferences, the wines you enjoy are also likely to evolve over time. However, most studies of consumer palates found people first enjoy a sweet white or rosê wine, then later fall in love with those delicious dry reds or wines with more complex and distinctive flavours. Beginning with a lighter-bodied wine can be a step to learning to enjoy a variety of wines.

  1. What’s the occasion?

Who’s going to be sipping on this bottle? Something just for you, or are you sharing with friends? Will you be pairing your wine with a meal or ….?  Wines can serve different purposes, and different occasions can influence how you choose a wine.

If you want to ‘wow’ your friends or family, and pairing with food isn’t the main goal, consider picking up a bottle of white and red. Opt for wines that fall closer to the middle of the spectrum on sweetness, acidity, and body. More balanced or moderate flavours are likely to appeal to more of your guests.

The general rule of thumb is white wines for lighter dishes, like chicken & fish, and red wines for heavier dishes, like beef and lamb.

  1. Ask yourself, which other flavours do you enjoy!?

Even though wine flavour profiles are unique, that doesn’t mean the flavours you enjoy in other beverages and food don’t influence what you’ll consider a good wine. In fact, your other taste preferences can be a great identifier of which wine you will enjoy. Much like a sweet tooth; chances are you will enjoy a sweeter wine. If you flourish on the sharpness of bitter black coffee, a more acidic wine may be the one for you. Simple as that. Quick [random] example:

Do you prefer apple juice or cranberry juice? Apple juice = more likely to enjoy sweet white wine, while cranberry juice = you will most likely to find your match in dry white wine.

  1. “Romantic Façade”… Be sure to read the label!

Eye-catching illustrations, over-the-top designs, and clever concept-driven names can sometimes influence you into purchasing a wine that may not be the best choice. However, you can bypass this ‘cheat code’ and simply read the label, rather than just falling for the romantic façade. While all the information may seem daunting, take a deep breath, and first look for the amount of information the label has listed — is there quite a bit of specific information about the region, valley, and grapes? The general rule of thumb is the more details, the better.

You will find the winery name, a variety of grape, the year the winery harvested the grapes, the region where the grapes grew, the alcohol percentage, and, on the back, a description of the wine.

By referring back to the definitions of those five basic characteristics: sweetness, acidity, tannin, body, and alcohol, you’ll be able and geared to decipher the descriptions much easier.

  1. Old or younger wines?

While it’s a common perception that older is better when it comes to wine, this is not the case. Only some wines taste better with age, and different wines are best after different aging periods. In general, aging is more important for red wines than white wines.

In fact, most wines are not meant to be aged, and you should consume them within a couple of years of purchasing them. However, if there’s ever a time to take a close look at the year on the bottle, it’s for red wines.

  1. Keep an eye out for “second-label” wines.

Generally, the finest fruit and best oak are used for their “first label” or “flagship wine”. These wines are often focused on ‘connoisseurs’ and have two core qualities — they are often available in limited quantities and, therefore, can be very expensive.

Your voyage for your unicorn wine may lead you to some of the top vineyards, and rightly so. However, if you are just getting into the wine scene and aren’t 100% confident just yet as to exactly which wines you enjoy, the price tag can be tough to justify. That is when second-label wines can be a great alternative to pricey first-label bottles.

Second labels give you a taste of high-quality wine but at a fraction of the price. Second labels are an excellent choice for budding wine enthusiasts, as they will help you decide which more expensive wines you want to splurge on in the future.

  1. You make the decision, not the price!

If the wine is on sale, there are many factors that contribute to it. These factors do not mean the wine is of lower quality or won’t still taste great. These discounts can even be a great opportunity to find a good deal on wine.

Just choosing an expensive wine for its price point may lead you astray — a more expensive bottle of wine does not always mean it is going to be a better bottle of wine. When selecting the wine you want to buy, start with the flavours and characteristics you prefer, as well as the occasion, then allow price to be a secondary consideration.

  1.  Cork or the ever-so-controversial screw cap?!

While wine bottles with screw caps tend to have a bad rep, they can still carry the glorious juice you are looking for! Screw caps tend to be for bottles of wine to be consumed in shorter periods of time. Screw caps can also be more convenient for occasions where your trusty wine opener is out of reach.

  1. Keep track of the wines you discover.

Once you’ve made your choice, be sure to make a note of the name of the wine, the region, and the variety of grapes. With the abundance of wine apps out there, the ability to record your perception of a particular wine is frictionless.

As mentioned, acquiring a “good wine” is all about what YOU prefer, so tracking what you like and dislike is essential and will make picking better wines for you a no-brainer! Keep these notes handy on your phone.

With this handy list of great [or not-so-great] wine purchases you’ve made…when you find a wine you enjoy, go for something similar next time. Try the same region, but a different variety of grapes, or vice versa. Soon, you’ll know exactly what your preferences are.

  1. Try something new; be lekker, not boring.

It’s important to branch out now and then – try something new. You might miss out on your new favourite wine; so make sure that as you try more wines, and your taste profile evolves, you are open to experimenting occasionally.

Well, there you have it, my 5 cents and tips when you find yourself staring down the endless aisles at the local bottle store, sitting at the dinner table, or surfing the web. Remember…the “best wine” out there, is simply the wine best suited for YOUR palate.

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