1. Have a budget and stick to it. It is so easy to be drawn into a higher priced category, by attractive labels, scores, promotions, and even pushy sales assistants.
2. Develop a relationship with your local wine store. Ask for advice. Ask questions, lots of them, and don’t be afraid to ask ‘why’ when a sales person recommends wine A, B or C. You can learn a lot from ‘knowledgeable’ sales assistants, but be wary of those trying to flog you a slow moving wine.
3. Check bottle condition. Even if the wine arrived at the store in perfect condition, poor storage conditions at retail can damage a wine. Wine is particularly sensitive to heat and light.
- Avoid stores that do not appear to have temperature control or air-conditioning. In an overly heated environment wines age prematurely, and lose their fruit character. Additionally, corks can dry out, especially if the wine is not stored on its side. This leads to further deterioration through oxidation.
- Avoid selecting bottles that are stored in direct sunlight (if you see a light faded label, think how faded the wine might be), or that are displayed under a strong light. Most reputable stores rotate the bottles on display. Just to be sure I always go for a bottle underneath, lying on its side and out of direct light.
- Select a wine that is lying on its side. Wines are traditionally stored on their side, so that the cork is in contact with the wine. This prevents it from drying out. This is not an issue with screw caps.
4. Check the vintage date. Be wary of buying wines that are made for early consumption if they are over 2 or 3 years old. The wines won’t necessarily be bad, but they risk tasting a bit over the hill. This is particularly true for rosé and unoaked white wines.
5. Read the label. Look for the alcohol content. With so many wines with over 15% alcohol, it pays to look, particularly if you intend having more than one glass. Sometimes, the alcohol level is written in very tiny print. So persevere!
6. Look for quality. Acclaimed wines such as Grand Cru Burgundy, Classed Growth Bordeaux, Barolo, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and so forth are outside the reach of most people’s weekly budget. Look for the second or third labels from regarded Bordeaux Chateaux. Or try the lesser appellation from a reputable Burgundy or Barolo producer. For example, instead of a high end Barolo, try their cheaper Nebbiolo d’Alba. Similarly, simple Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc from a quality Burgundy producer will not disappoint.
7. Get to know the importers. All wines in the United States are obliged by law to state the name of the importer on the back label. Examples of importers that never disappoint for me are Michael Skurnik, Louis Dressner, Polaner or a Terry Theise Selection. If you recently enjoyed a bottle of wine, check the importer name. Next time try a different wine from the same importer.
8. Be wary of retailers that rely solely on scores. High scoring wines from Robert Parker (WA), Wine Spectator (WS) or Wine Enthusiast (WE) often carry a premium price tag.
9. Seek out lesser known regions and grape varieties or blends. These are usually cheaper. If you have a good relationship with your retailer, or inherently trust the store, ask for something different.
10. Check the bin ends . Bin ends can often be a source of bargains. Retailers only have so much stock space, and will sell off remaining single bottles at a greatly discounted price.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but will hopefully provide some help as you navigate the wine store aisles of wine. I’d love to hear what additional tips you use.
So, until next week, enjoy some nice wines!
(Images: Astor Wines image courtesy of Astor Wines)