Shopping for wine is easy, but as with most vinous-related endeavors, too many of us make it complicated. Yes, there is a dizzying array of wine out there from countless countries made with a seemingly infinite number of grapes.
So what? Just stroll into the store and open up.
Be honest; if you’re naturally timid, be brave and forthright. Tell the sales clerk the truth, and the whole truth, about exactly what you like — grapes, styles, regions, price points — and you have removed the onus from your own bad self.
Any winemonger worth his or her salt can steer you to all sorts of wonderful stuff. (This is a good way to judge these folks; if they try to up-sell you to a higher price point, walk away, and in a big-box store be wary of getting steered toward a “house brand.”) The store employees know a lot more about all the wines on hand than you do; tap into that knowledge.
Be especially specific about the style of wine you like: big and bold, or smooth and elegant, or creamy and voluptuous, or sexy and effervescent, or whatever. That’s actually more important than the varietal or region. Indicate how much you’re not only willing to spend but to explore. Are the wines from Chile getting better? What are some smaller wineries in Oregon that are doing cool things with pinot gris?
It’s all part of by far the most important rule of wine shopping: Develop relationships with one or more simpatico wine merchant, someone who pays heed to what you’re saying and is willing and eager to help you explore, or even to stretch your boundaries a little. On your next trek to the store, tell him or her what you liked and/or didn’t about the last wine(s) you got there.
Some other helpful tips:
• Read the labels. Not the cute koala bear or meaningless terms such as “Reserve” or “Old Vine” on the front, or the flowery descriptions about dewy mornings on verdant hillsides on the back. If you enjoy something from overseas, check for the name of the importer on the back label before you recycle the bottle. There’s a great chance you’ll like other wines
brought in by that importer. Dalla Terra, Eric Solomon, Louis Dressner, Michael Skurnick, Robert Kacher and other names often connote a particular vision or approach to wine styles or winery practices.
Many riesling back labels now contain a helpful sweetness gauge. And one of my favorite California wineries, Ridge, has added an ingredients list (“calcium carbonate, 1.4% water addition, minimum effective SO2”) to its back labels. It would be beyond swell if that started a movement, but I ain’t holding my breath.
• Expect a discount if you buy a case, even a mixed case.
• Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. If it’s not good, then it’s worth … exactly $0.00.