Whether online, at a shop, or in a restaurant, buying wine can sometimes feel like a guessing game with all the selection put in front of you. Marketers give a lot of thought into what draws eyes to a label, making it visually convey quality, lifestyle, feelings, and tastes. To buyers, this can give a false sense of confidence in what you’re purchasing. But how can you really have an idea of the taste and quality of what you’re buying? The tips outlined below are meant to help make this easier:
Most of the time you’re probably going to look at finding a wine that fits a certain taste profile. BottleSeeker’s a great place to start in narrowing down the wine attributes you’re looking for. Our tool focuses on the foundation of wine characteristics in a guided format that’s easy to understand. If you’re looking to buy wine online or gather research, check out our SEEKER tool.
Varietal & Location
If you’re focused on a particular grape varietal, it’s a great idea to understand where it thrives and how change in location or climate can affect the taste. A quick search on Wikipedia can give you a lot of information on growing regions per grape varietal. Take Cabernet Sauvignon for example:
Try and find regions on the label that are as specific as possible. This will mean you’ll have a better understanding of the climate/geography in which they were grown and how that affects taste. Winemakers often list sub-regions or specific vineyards on labels to indicate quality fruit and limited production.
Here’s an example of a California wine’s growing region that’s layered down to a specific vineyard site:
Blends can be a great way for winemakers to achieve balance, complexity, or certain aspects in taste. If you’re considering at a domestic wine blend, see if there are grape varietals listed and the percentages of each. For international wines, what is included in the blend may be regulated specific to the region’s laws and not listed on the label. Keep in mind blending can also be used by winemakers to hide flaws in wine. Try to avoid any generic “red wine” or “white wine” without an indication of what’s in the bottle and where it came from.
Wines for the most part vary in taste by producer each year. On the grape growing side you’ll find yearly changes in growing conditions, vineyard locations, age of vines, farming methods, and pest/disease control. On the winemaker’s side, he or she gets to decide at what ripeness level the grapes are picked and how to process each year’s crop to affect the wine’s taste. In Europe where the industry is more heavily regulated on setting limits for farming and winemaking techniques, you’ll find vintages to be a major indicator of quality. US laws are much looser than international for how wine is produced and labeled. A great free resource for narrowing down the best vintages by region is from the Wine Spectator:
Many believe a rule of thumb is the more expensive the wine, the better the quality. This is simply not always the case! Sometimes a higher price point could be part of the brand’s image to make you think you’re buying quality. Fancy labels and heavier glass bottles add to this effect but really do cost more to produce. A growing region with a great reputation and limited supply normally sells at a higher price per bottle. You can however find comparable quality wines for less if you look within other regions that get less attention.
Marketing aside, costs of production play a big role in marking up the price. This would be packaging, cost of fruit, barrels and equipment, storage, and distribution. There are however many affordable wines of great quality in the market. Our advice would be to narrow down your price range but make sure to follow the previous steps mentioned in identifying a quality wine. Price alone should not be an indicator of quality.
The back label
Sometimes the information provided on the back label will help shape your opinion on whether to purchase the wine or not. Look for descriptions about the vineyard source, growing conditions for the year, and tasting notes. Poetic descriptions sound nice but won’t provide you with much to understand about what you’re drinking.