Some questions I think you should answer BEFORE you walk into the store (in this order of importance):
1. WHO is the wine for and what is their flavour and texture preference?
The character of the person you are buying the wine for is very important. Not everyone is impressed by high end expensive vintages that might have a complex flavour/texture profile that intimidates them because they can’t relax with the wine and just enjoy whatever it has to offer. Often, simplicity, purity and elegance prevail. Ask yourself if the recipient likes sweetness (fruit) flavours. Do they enjoy liquor over beer as an alternative drink? Do they smoke? Do they like light or heavy textured foods? Are they a person who likes to savour their food and their drink after they have eaten or drunk them?
By answering these and other questions about what they like to drink and eat, you can discover if you should be looking for light, sweet white wine with high thirst quenching acidity or a fuller-bodied red wine with a balance of fruit, acid, tannins and good alcohol that requires reflection and a strong finish. Or perhaps, a heavy, white Chardonnay or lighter, red Pinot Noir to have a combination of all these characteristics. They will appreciate your choice without knowing it was their choice.
2. WHAT event are you shopping for?
The central consideration here is: How private or public is the event and will it include food? If you are choosing wine with the intent of consuming it cocktail-style, then I recommend that you choose a New World wine. That is what Australian Shiraz, California Zinfandel, Argentinian Malbec, South African Meritage, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc… are very good at being wines that are meant to be enjoyed as wine drinks, like a cocktail. That does not mean they do not match with food well, it just means that New World wines tend to favour drinking rather than food matching and show best when they are part of ‘Happy Hour’.
If food is intended to be an integral part of the event, then I suggest to choose an Old World Wine. This is not to say that Old World wines do not drink well alone, but Old World Winemaking has a penchant for the concept of ‘terroir’ which brings with it all the regional richness of soil, weather, harvesting and winemaking that express the culture of not only local wine, but local food as well. Most Old World wines were meant at some point to be married with food, both by nature and by the people who make and consume them. Not often do you drink wine in Europe without some sort of food accompaniment. The amount and variety and intensity of the wine you choose should take into consideration the ambience it will be served in, with or without food as a partner.
3. WHERE will we be enjoying this wine?
When you have answered this question you will have accommodated the ideas of: the temperature of the wine, how it will be opened, displayed and stored, its portability, how it will be served and by whom, what quantity will show a discretionary purchase (a wine gift of a case of wine that can never be drunk as opposed to a one bottle purchase of quality wine suggests something about expectation and the anxiety to ‘cover all the bases’), how it will be opened (cork, screw cap…) as this might contribute to tradition or ambience, how long the event will transpire… and what may follow?
You might even want to think how you might want to personalize the wine beyond matching it with the event, like ribbons, wrapping, sticker messages, personalized gifts… jewelry wrapped around the bottleneck.
4. What SENSE can I make of the LAYOUT and RESOURCES of the store where I am going to buy the wine to help me find the right wine? I am looking for a CHARACTER here so what STYLE will have this character?
Get familiar with how the store displays its wines. Is it by country? Price? Wine region? Varietal? Are there sale bins? Is there a Staff picks section? A Vintage section? Reds here? Whites over there? Dessert wines? Is there anyone to assist me in finding the character profile of the wine I am looking for that I have firmly entrenched in my mind by having confident answers to questions 1,2,3 above. I know what I need because I am buying wine for a person who has a particular taste preference and it is going to be served at this event. I AM DOING THE MATCHING OF CHARACTERS AND THE SELECTION OF WINE!
It isn’t necessary to find the perfect wine because there is more than one “perfect” wine so a “perfect” choice is a given. My approach is to:
#1-Navigate the landscape of the store.
#2-Narrow the choices.
#3-Select a manageable number of finalists (I recommend tops 3 wines).
#4- READ the front and back labels of the bottles even if it is in another language and you need to ask a store clerk what it means (because even if you don’t know what it means this time, you will next time after you have tasted the wine!).
#5- Fit the drinking preferences of the person this wine is for with the style of wine described on each of the labels of your finalists off the shelf.
#6- Buy the one you think they will like. You’ll probably like it too! Especially when they do.
5.What is MY price point?
Make this your last, not your first consideration. And keep it flexible in a range you are willing to pay. NOT ALL GOOD WINE COSTS A LOT OF MONEY! Nor is all sale wine good! These are two very good reasons to give price a lesser priority than numbers 1 through 4 above. That is not to say price should not be a consideration at all. Just remember this:
“A wine of character will help you find a good price, but a good price won’t help you find a wine with character.”
December 9, 2008
How do you choose wine? Write me. Share your methods. I love to discover new ways to find good wine!