My wife and I love to entertain, and we recently hosted some new friends for dinner. I had selected a few different reds - including one of the last remaining bottles of Claudine ’13 - to accompany our famous homemade pizzas. As I discussed the virtues of each bottle, I was asked a very familiar question:
What do you buy when you go into a wine store? ("I never know what to buy!")
I'm no expert on the topic, but I know what I am being asked: they wanted advice on how to choose a good bottle of wine.
The truth is, 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 seems to be a straightforward question. But what I can offer 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? Here are 4 tips for buying wine in any wine store.
1. 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 rosé? 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.
2. Set 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.
3. Understand 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?
4. Get to know your wine merchant
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 is on special, and what special gems you might be overlooking.