The Worst Decisions You Can Make When Buying Wine
People have no problem walking into a liquor store and blindly grabbing a six-pack of craft lager or a fifth of bourbon. But, for some reason, buying wine seems like an intimidating endeavor, and one where intimidation leads to terrible decisions.
To help you avoid confusing “terror” and “terroir,” we talked to industry pros and identified some of the most common bad decisions made in the wine aisle, and how to correct them. Here’s what they had to say.
Not asking for helpIt's understandable that picking out a wine can be fairly intimidating. But, believe it or not, employees at stores and wineries actually want to help you find a wine that is perfect for you. “You need to be willing to explore,” says Brian Smith, Chief Wine Officer at Club W. “They're all incredibly passionate about what they do and are usually more than willing to share.”
Thinking you don’t know what you likeWe're sure this isn’t your first trip to a liquor store. You’ve probably purchased wine before. And you probably liked it. You know if you like it dry or sweet. Many bottles have charts listing what level of dryness or sweetness the variety is. “Learn a couple basics about what you like to drink,” says Emily Wines, master sommelier and Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants national beverage director. “Do you like white wines that are rich and oaky? Do you like big, bold reds? Ask sales people to make recommendations in these categories.”
Buying based on labelsDon’t get drawn in by the equivalent of a siren song of pretty labels. This will only ensure that your ship crashes into the rocks. “It is true that a good-looking label is alluring, but I often find that the wines with the catchiest names and slickest packaging don’t have much substance beyond that,” Wines says.
Refusing to try something newYou’re a wine novice for a reason. You probably have your favorite winery and you stick with it. It’s most likely a place that’s close to you, one you’ve visited, or one that a friend told you about. “Whenever you have a chance, pop more than one bottle,” Smith says. “Taste the wines side by side, and the unique characteristics of each will be amplified.”
Instinctively grabbing the most expensive bottleIt’s a safe assumption whether you're talking about wine, cars, or sneakers, that people hold one equation dear: price = pleasure. “Obviously, wine is a finite commodity, so the one thing that truly drives price is supply and demand,” says Micah Clark, sommelier at Steak & Whisky in Hermosa Beach, CA. “But, I'd bet that you can get equal amounts of enjoyment between a $10 and a $100 bottle -- it's all about context.”
Sticking to the most popular stylePeople want to try whatever’s hot at the moment. Whether it’s pinot grigio, riesling, shiraz, or any number of different styles, people tend to grab a bottle of whatever their friends are talking about. “Wine is a lot like fashion -- it's simultaneously completely subjective and driven by seasonal trends,” Smith says.
There is a funny phenomenon in wine sales. “Guests want to seem more familiar with wine than they really are,” Vaughn says. “They will often throw around wine terms they barely understand and then settle into something familiar, that I often suspect they only nominally enjoy, instead of asking questions.”
Being overly loyal to a famous regionNapa Valley is the premier US wine-producing region for good reason: it makes great wines. However, “Not every single Napa wine is great... some can be mediocre, but they are benchmarks of various grapes and styles,” Clark says.
Napa is also great with marketing, so sometimes you're drinking -- and paying for -- hype. “There are some great wines from most of the world's wine regions and consumers should be aware of them,” Vaughn says.
Thinking you can’t learn about wineThe best way to learn about wine is to drink more of it. It’s basically the best educational endeavor ever. There are also myriad books on wine for novices. “Start with simple books like Wine for Dummies and read about the wine regions of the world,” Wines says. Then go shopping. Find the wines you’ve read about and enjoy them. From here, you can start to build your own palate for wine.
Fearing mistakesDrinking wine is one of life’s great pleasures. Smith says that when picking wine, you should have an open mind and an understanding that you won’t fall in love with every wine you try. “Take the time to learn a little about each wine, and think about what you like about it,” he says. If you didn’t love the wine you selected, try a different, similar one next time. It’s a no-brainer. And you can always use the duds for cooking.
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