Decision, decisions, decisions. Before you is an aisle five or six shelves tall stretching to the other side of the store. Each shelf is filled with bottles of wine: some white, some red, and some pink.
If you are like me, you don't want to waste even five bucks on bottle of wine that you don't like. But if you are also like me, you don't take time in the aisle to pull out your smart phone and google reviews and ratings before you decide which one to purchase. So how to choose a wine?
Here are some non-recommended ways:
1. "I like this bottle." Whether its the shape or label, you go for the one that grabs the eye. This is tempting, and I admit its what I've done a few times. All a fancy or cool label means is that the winery has a good marketing arm and not that the wine is quality or not.
2. "I like the name." Similar to above, a catchy name or double-entendre is the result of a creative person. It might be good, or it may not. I suppose some people like having bottles in their home that read "Cheap Red Wine" or "Seven Deadly Zins." (I'm not singling out these labels...they may even be good wines but I'm not picking a wine simply because of the name unless its a gag gift for a birthday party or anniversary!)
3. "I only like ___." (Fill in the blank with your favorite varietal) Its great that you know what varietal (type of grape) you like! This will help you choose so don't throw this completely away, but wines within a varietal can be really, really different. Chardonnay is a great example of a wine that can have a wide array of flavors depending on how it was aged - in oak, stainless steel barrels, or both.
4. "I know this name." Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Yellowtail, and Gallo are just a few names that are widely known. It doesn't mean the wine is good, but it also doesn't mean the wine is bad! They are just the widely known wineries, and just like a car they have different levels of product. Often the top wines they made their name on are not the same as the $8 bottle on the shelf. A lot of other times, this wine is still great for an every-day drinking wine. Personally, I've found that if I go with a less-known name I often have a better chance for a more complex wine if that is what you are looking for. But, I also have had some Columbia Crest, Yellowtail, and Beringer wines that I found to be very good.
5. "I'll buy the one most on sale." OK, I admit I do this one often. I know I want a medium-bodied red (Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese, etc). So I'll look at those nice discounts on price you get by being having the grocery stores club card and choose the one with the biggest mark down. I feel like I'm getting the best deal with I buy a bottle for $7.99 that is normally $16.99 rather than the $7.99 bottle marked down from $9.99. But this probably isn't the best idea. Perhaps its a bad idea...why would they want to get rid of a more expensive wine so badly, anyway?
So how do you pick a wine?
1. Remember what you've had. The more you can remember about wineries, regions, varietals, and vintages (which year) the better. Mental notes, basically. Like that in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc there often is a hint of grassiness in the wine. Its actually very distinct and refreshing for the summer months in the heat of Arizona. Each of our palates is unique, so remembering what you've had in the past is good!
2. Read the labels. Just because something is your favorite Syrah doesn't mean its going to taste just like the last one you had. Many, but not all, labels have small tasting notes on them. Again, the result of a creative marketing department but I find them to be much more helpful than "Oooh - I love the orange on that label!" Also, many stores place little cards on some wines that describe them. These can be very helpful.
3. Know what you are wanting the wine for. A relaxing glass on its own while watching TV? A good complement to grilled red meat and potatoes? A different wine will be your best bet. Easy drinkers are often less complex. A dryer wine is usually better paired when you are eating something than a sweeter wine, which can be good on its own. On labels, light-bodied, medium-bodied, and full-bodied can tell you a great deal. A full-bodied wine is more complex, bigger, with perhaps more tannins (the warm, slightly rough experience when you drink a red wine). Obviously the occasion matters. I often love medium-bodied syrahs or grenaches when I'm just having a glass, but a well balanced full-bodied wine can also do the ticket. (A great example for me is Page Springs Cellars Vino de la Familia - I could probably drink this any day...and its a full-bodied red wine!)
4. Stay true to your price point. Don't let a more expensive wine entice you with its label and elaborate tasting notes. Stick with what works for your budget. You'll probably regret buying a $18 dollar bottle much more than a $5 one if it turns out to be awful.
5. Don't be afraid of making a mistake. Be adventurous. Give something new a try. Ask a wine associate at the store or someone else what they like. Go with your gut. Pick the really cool label. Take a name that you know, or the varietal you know you like. Just remember what you drink! Take a mental note (or start a wine journal). Don't try to be verbose, just make some notes of what you like or didn't like about it. Then next time, go in and ask for something "medium-bodied, fruit-forward, that goes well with burgers hot off the grill."
Better yet, ask me! I'd be more than willing to help you choose and drink a wine with you!