When I was new to buying wine, I clearly remember being overwhelmed and intimidated by wine stores. One boutique wine shop in particular stands out.
I ended up buying a bottle of French white wine and being terribly disappointed. In retrospect, the bottle was probably corked, and I should have taken it back. Lesson learned.
When I was selling wine, I saw people who were obviously struggling with the process. Here are my top five suggestions for buying wine:
1.) Location is everything.
Finding a wine seller with a knowledgeable and friendly staff will improve your wine buying experience in leaps and bounds. Even some grocery stores now have someone on staff to help shoppers. Ask for help.
Whoever helps you should ask lots of questions. If they don’t or if they come off as pompous jerks, you should look elsewhere. Shopping for wine should be fun.
It’s worth the effort to go out of your way if you have to. You’ll end up spending less in the long run and enjoying the wine a lot more.
2.) Take notes.
I’m terrible at this. Fortunately, while I can’t remember anyone’s birthday to save my life, I can easily recall wines I drank ten years ago. That’s selective memory in action.
Keeping a wine journal is the best way to remeber wines you want to buy again, wines you never want to see again and it gives you easy way to tell a waiter or wine salesperson what you've liked in the past.
3.) Fear not.
There is far more good wine than bad wine. Don’t be afraid to buy a bottle just because it looks interesting. The more wine you buy the better your instincts will get.
4.) Buy low.
Price does not equate with quality. If you’re still reading this, you’re probably someone who doesn’t buy lots of wine. More expensive wines frequently aren’t made for casual wine drinkers or novices.
Inexpensive wines are typically easy drinking and accessible. They don’t need to age or be decanted. It also stretches your wine budget.
One important exception to this rule – avoid cheap cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay from California. Although there are exceptions to this exception, California churns out a flood of mediocre, low-priced bottles of these three wines.
Look for Spanish garnacha or temperanillo (or blends of both), Argentine malbec and Italian sangiovese.
5.) Know your importer.
This is something that has served me well over the years. If I like a wine, I take note of who the importer is. Importers have a certain style and tend to have some consistency across their portfolio.
Even if the wines are from different grapes, wineries or even countries, quality is frequently the common denominator. Three importers that instantly come to my mind are Eric Solomon, Jorge Ordóñez and Columbia’s own Spanish Vines.