My wife and I love to entertain. I have a weakness for the economy pack of filets at Costco, and she is always looking for an excuse to use her ice cream maker, so we turn to our friends for help. We recently moved into a new community and hosted a group of almost entirely new acquaintances. I had selected a few different reds - including one of the last remaining bottles of Claudine ’13 - to accompany our famous homemade pizzas, and as I discussed the virtues of each of the offerings, I was asked a very familiar question:
What do you buy when you go into a wine store? ("I never know what to buy!")
Now, I'm no expert on the topic (despite being relatively well-versed), but I know what I am being asked: people want advice on how to choose a good bottle of wine. Well, here we go: the can is open and the worms are everywhere!
In short, there is no answer to that question. Asking me what you should buy at a wine store is like asking me to order your meal off a restaurant menu. Maybe I’ll order you salmon, but you actually don’t like salmon. Or maybe you would rather spend a little more and get the lobster.
I understand that this is a frustrating response to what, at first glance, seems to be a straightforward question. All I can offer, in return, are some guidelines. You’re going to have to do some legwork, but - c’mon - you’ll be drinking wine! How hard is that, really?
What do you like? Figure out your tastes
Do you thirst for a glass of big, bold, fruity red? Or do you like subtle reds that are complex but pair well with food? Do you prefer white wine or rose? Do you like a buttery chardonnay? How do you feel about floral viognier?
Only you can answer these questions. If you aren’t sure what your preferences are, the best approach is to begin tasting. Wine tasting events are common and give you carte blanche to try a variety of wine types that you might not otherwise encounter, either free of charge or at a nominal fee. Consider it a part of your continuing education.
What is your budget?
In an earlier blog post we discussed the factors that affect how wine is priced. We concluded that good wine does not have to cost a lot. No matter your price point - whether you will happily buy a $100 bottle, or you prefer to spend no more than $20 - you can find a decent wine. Claudine Wines are a fine example of this, born from our personal desire to drink great wine without breaking the bank.
What is the occasion?
Are you picking up something to have with dinner tonight? If so, what’s on the menu? Are you buying a host/hostess gift? What do they enjoy drinking? Are you simply stocking your fridge and open to suggestion?
The purpose of your shopping trip will vary, and this is yet another reason why there is no right answer to that burning question. What you will buy for yourself may be very different than what you would bring to your friend’s house. If you like reds but your friend likes whites, you’ll need [at least] one of each to make the evening go smoothly. Am I right?
Who’s your wine merchant?
What is their name? Do they know yours?
Because they could be your new best friend. Who doesn’t like a new friend - especially if that friend loves wine? At the very least, they will be a great tutor. Give them the parameters we just covered - your tastes, your budget, your occasion - and let them make some recommendations. They’ll know what they have in stock, what they have on special, and what special gems might otherwise be overlooked.
As the recipient of many well-intentioned but unused wine gifts, I feel compelled to act on behalf of all wine drinkers.