Selecting a good wine is easy. Most people over-think it. After several decades of working in wine shops ranging from small neighborhood boutiques to large national grocery store chains, I can tell you that it is significantly less difficult than you think to always choose a good wine.
Choosing a good wine every time is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
1. How to Choose a Good Wine Every Time – Shop at a Good Wine Shop
Good wine shops come in all shapes and sizes. A small boutique wine shop does not necessarily mean better service, and a large national retailer does not necessarily mean cheaper prices. Find a good wine shop that answers your questions.
In the long run this will save you more money and more heartache than anything else. It will also provide you with better wine more of the time than any other single variable-period. A good wine shop is imperative.
As much as I hate to say it, most of the people that work in my industry are not good at their jobs. If you walked into an auto-mechanic’s shop and asked about the difference between one auto part and another, you would expect an informative answer.
Unfortunately, most wine shops don’t work this way. They don’t care about you. And they don’t bother to train their employees. They expect you to be drunk and self-reliant.
The truth is many wines are chosen by stores because they get something in return. Who doesn’t love subsidized vacations, extra cases, and box seats at a major league sporting event? Kick backs on boxes in California to help the corporate bottom line? I know I do.
Don’t fall for it. Make us work for our money.
Tastes are different from one person to the next. I may not give a damn what my neighbors think about me after I invite them over for dinner. But maybe you do. I like wines high in acid, and maybe you don’t. I love rustic, but maybe you love modern.
A good wine shop should be able to recommend wines to you no matter what words you use to describe them. If one word fails, try another, and another. If they still don’t understand, then find a new wine shop.
Individuals that work in a wine shop typically get to taste thousands upon thousands of wines every year. You, most likely do not. In just one year working at a good NYC wine shop, I collected nearly 40,000 tasting notes-in my life, several hundred thousand.
That feat is impossible for regular consumers.
When I was a novice in the industry, choosing a wine for a customer was at times intimidating. So I tend to cut the ‘young-ens’ a little bit of slack. Now selecting a wine for someone else is entertainment. Make work fun for wine store clerks.
Nobody wants to be just a cashier. Ask a question they might have never heard before.
2. How to Choose a Good Wine Every Time – Read the Label
Maybe you are too shy and bashful to ask questions. Don’t fret. Another good way to find a good wine every time is to read the label. Most labels are full of information.
They tell you the name of the producer, the bottler, the region, the country, the importer (if imported), often the name of the parent company (if owned by a large corporation), the vintage, sometimes the vineyard, sometimes the quality, the alcohol level, etc.
Always take note. Every wine that you taste tells you something: good, bad, happy, dry, earthy, fruity, boozy, goes well with goat cheese, makes me want to dance, etc. Associate those words and impressions with the words on the label.
For example, importers like Kermit Lynch, Jon-David Headrick, and Louis/Dressner follow a philosophy. Most importers do. And each one is unique. However, there is a similarity that runs through all of the wines in a single importer’s portfolio. If I turn a wine over in a wine shop and see Jenny amp; Francois Selections, I know what to expect.
Using previous experience with other wines from the same importer as a lens, I can gain a greater understanding of the other words on the label.
It may sound complicated, but it will quickly become second nature. Many people just remember grape varietals. “I like Pinot Noir” or “I like Chardonnay.” While that is a start, it’s kind of like saying I like soda. There are many different sodas.
Remembering that you liked a Chardonnay from Margaret River, but not one from Adelaide is infinitely more beneficial than simply remembering that you like some Australian Chardonnays. The words on a wine label matter.
The more associations you have with each of them, the more you know what to look for. Pretty soon, you will be able to have a good grasp on what a wine tastes like before you even pop the cork.
3. How to Choose a Good Wine Every Time – Listen to the Wine
Many people rush to be critics-to pass judgment. As soon as a cork is popped, it’s all business-“strawberries, earthy, peonies, velvety, I like it, I don’t like it,” and all that. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but it isn’t always very helpful.
Wine tells stories. Much more than most products. Wine talks about the place where the grapes were grown. It talks about the people who grew the grapes, and the people who made the wine. There is much to be heard. There is much to be learned and experienced. Open your senses.
When you invite someone over for dinner that you don’t know very well, is it best to rush to a judgment on that individual? This human being is good, or this human being is bad. I don’t think so. Impressions change. Judgments are overturned. Knowing a person is something different altogether.
The famous wine-maker Jean-Michel Deiss once said to wine writer Andrew Jeffords in an interview “What is a man? A man is the network of all his genes; that’s his ‘possible.’ Beyond that, though, a man is all he’s learned.
Every day he lived, he learned. He suffered; he became enthusiastic; he fell in love; he became disappointed. When I meet someone, what do I want? I want what he has lived (his vécu); his humanity; I don’t want his genetic material.
Why, when I taste a wine, do you want me to taste its genotype and not its vécu?”
Always choosing a good wine, the right wine, is about experience. It’s about knowing which wine to choose. Pop some tops. Life is beautiful-one sip at a time.
You can make your own cocktails with a best blender for frozen drinks.