Five Ways Not to Buy Wine
Vine Geek Brian Reeder co-owns AZ Wine Merchants in Scottsdale.
Wine is subjective. Every wine is different. It all depends on your taste. Price doesn't equal quality. It's all the same anyway. Just drink what you like. Blah. Blah. Blah.
We've all heard the nomenclatures. The bullshit lines that every wine geek/snob you've ever encountered will feed you about why you should (or shouldn't) buy certain wines. Some are true, while others just make you want to stab someone with a corkscrew. Because ultimately until you pour yourself a glass, you can't really know whether or not it's good, and whether or not you enjoy it. I'm not looking to tell you what wines to buy -- in fact, quite the opposite. I don't reside inside your brain or know what makes your taste buds jump into a conga line. I want to help you ask the right questions, look for the right qualities, and ultimately continually discover new wines you'll enjoy.
So when you're at the grocery store, liquor store, wine store, or (God forbid) the corner mini mart, here are some ways not to buy wine, and a few better ways to do so.
1. For the love of Dionysus, do not buy a wine because you like the label.
"Ooooh, that one is so pretty!!"
"This label is dark and expensive looking -- it must be good."
"This one looks cheap. Yuck."
We've all bought wine this way. And probably as often as not, we've regretted it. Wineries are aware of the power of the label and will do everything in their power to make it more appealing to their target audience. And typically, the more attractive the label/wine name, the more money was dumped into marketing (and quite possibly less money put into vineyard management and winemaking). So wines like "Mad Housewife," "Bitch," and "Frog's Piss" may sound like interesting and fun wines -- but in all likelihood they were moreso products of a marketing department than a farmer or winemaker.
Instead look for: If you must buy a wine based on label, look for other factors than dazzling colors or catchy pictures. I look at what region the wine is from, the varietals (if listed), the vintage (or year the wine was made), and any tasting notes that may be on the bottle. All these factors will affect the wine, and as you develop your taste, you'll start seeing certain factors that consistently appear in wines you enjoy. Maybe a specific region for a specific varietal, or certain characteristics appear regularly.
2. Don't buy wine just because it's cheap.
"It's a Tuesday. I just need a glass (or three)."
"It doesn't matter. It all tastes the same anyway."
"I just want to get drunk."
So clearly you're not looking for the best bottle on the shelves. That's great!! Neither am I! If I'm having a "Tuesday" wine, I'm probably looking to relax with a glass or two with a book/movie/TV show in front of me. It's not a special occasion, and therefore doesn't justify a special wine, right? Wrong. Cheap wines can be just that -- cheap. Mass-marketed swill probably had as much care put into its making as a toddler puts into coloring inside the lines. But inexpensive wine can also mean small-scale wineries that don't have enormous distribution, or great value wines that are made on a large scale but with the same care as their more expensive counterparts.
Instead try to find: Great wines that aren't expensive. And there are a lot of them. Just Google the phrase "High-rated cheap wine" (If you care about ratings, that is) and look at all the results! A good rule of thumb is that lesser-known regions typically can't charge as much as better-known regions, while quality can be as good if not better. I look for alternative regions for value, such as Spain, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and Washington State.