Wine FAQ's: Buying Strategies

July 26, 2010

What is the best way to buy wine if you know nothing about it?

What is the best way to buy wine if you know nothing about it?

Don't be afraid to ask for help, or for an opinion. Most wine shops and wine sections of supermarkets and chain stores have someone familiar with the characteristics of the wines they sell.

Determine the price range you can afford. Ask the wine staff to give you some suggestions in your price range. It will help the staff tailor their suggestions if you can give them information about your preferences. Do you prefer red, white, or rosé? Do you like sweeter wines or drier wines? Do you like lighter wines or wines that are more full bodied? If you don't know, they can suggest a wide range of wines to try so you can determine what you like. The best way to learn about wine is to taste it. There are no "right" or "wrong" wines.

Some wine shops offer tastes of wine. It is a great way to experiment and learn about a variety of wines without the commitment of buying a bottle.

How should I choose a "house" wine?

It's always a good idea to have a bottle or two of something you like on hand. A good "house" wine will be something inexpensive, that you would enjoy drinking on its own, and versatile enough to go with most of the kinds of foods you most often enjoy. Among white wines, a lighter-style Chardonnay, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, or a Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio are all good choices. For reds, the lighter wines are great to have on hand, such as Beaujolais, Chianti, or a Merlot.

When is it OK to return a bottle of wine to a retail store?

Only when the bottle of wine is truly bad, that is, "corked" or oxidized. A wine you do not personally like is not considered "bad" (i.e., corked or oxidized) from the merchant's perspective. If the wine is corked it will have an unpleasant corky or moldy taste. If it is oxidized (air has gotten by the cork), it will have an off taste or aroma reminiscent of Sherry. Keep in mind you will not find a bad bottle of wine very often.

What’s the best way to pick out a bottle of wine as a gift for a friend?

It is nice to choose something you consider special and that you have tried and feel comfortable with. If possible, find out if the friend has any specific wine preferences (e.g., white vs. red, dry vs. sweet) that will help you choose a wine they will enjoy.

Do you have to spend a lot of money to get a good bottle of wine? What makes some bottles expensive and other bottles cheap?

Quality wines can be found in every price range. One way to measure value (price and its relationship to your perception of quality) is to choose a varietal you like, and try that varietal in different price ranges. An expensive wine is not a good value if you don't like it.

There are a lot of things that determine the price of wine: farming and labor costs, the cost of transport, bottling, labeling, marketing, duties, and taxation. In addition, the supply and demand for the wine and the wine's country of origin may play a role in its price. 

Information courtesy of Wine Market Council.