Buying Wine: What Are Your Most Important Criteria?

Last week I spent an intensive wine tasting week in London. As I flew back to New York, my brain drifted back to a very familiar topic: the factors that influence our choice of wine to buy. How do you decide what wine to buy? Do you always use the same criteria? Or does it depend on the situation? This may sound like an overly obvious question, but it is a question I ask myself regularly. As a wine educator and writer, I put myself in the mindset of lots of different wine consumers, to try and understand the decision process from different consumer perspectives.

Price
Do you buy whatever wine is on sale or below a certain limit such as $10 or $15. Do you have different price-points depending on the occasion? Do you feel that if you pay more you are getting a better wine? Do you align price paid with quality expected?

Familiarity
Do you always stick to tried and trusted varietal wines such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot? Or are you adventurous, seeking out new varietals and blends? Do you prefer big, powerful, full-bodied wines or tend toward, light-medium bodied, more elegant wines?

Origin
Where does the wine come from? So long as it from California, Australia, Chile or France is fine, or do you generally seek out wines from more specific, designated areas such as Bordeaux, Rioja, Napa Valley, Barossa Valley, or Tuscany? Do you associate certain areas with higher quality?

Green
Are you prepared to pay more for a wine made from hand-harvested, low-yielding, old vine vineyards, sustainably farmed, than a wine made from juice purchased on the bulk market?

Is it important that the grapes are grown organically? That the winery has achieved carbon neutral status? And is visibly working toward reducing its carbon footprint?

What is your view on wineries that still use heavy 'body-builder' glass bottles to infer quality? Do you seek out wines bottled in lighter glass and/or alternative green packaging?

Ethics / Social Responsibility
Do you consider the ethical aspects of making wine and bringing it to market? Does it matter that the grower has been paid a fair price for his grapes? Or, as is often the case with very high-volume wines, growers are forced to accept prices, which are well below cost, so that the 'mega' winery can cut its costs, improve its profitability, and launch a new under $5 wine to meet consumer demand.

As Fair Trade wines start to become available in the US would you seek them out? Even if they cost more?

The Label/Packaging
Do factors such as the 'brand' or 'label' design - cuteness, fun imagery, typeface, bold colors, etc. - influence the purchase decision?

Usage/Occasion
Do you have different purchase criteria depending on whether you are buying for a large casual gathering, your house wine for the week, a special dinner, a present for someone special?

These are just some thoughts, as we make our way through January. I would love to hear your views, and also any particular topics, regions, or wine styles that you would like me to cover over the course of 2010.

Until next week continue to drink the wines that you enjoy and maybe try something new!

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

Related: Holiday Party Wines: $10 and Less from Trader Joe's

(Image: Faith Durand)

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