Fancy yourself as a bit of a wine connoisseur? We’ve got these tips on how to pick out a good wine and how to be in the know about your favourite plonk
It’s a scenario that many wine-drinkers encounter all too often: you take a chance on an unfamiliar bottle of wine at a restaurant or the supermarket without doing your research, but as soon as you pop the cork and take a sip, you recoil at the taste. Now you’re stuck with an open bottle of undrinkable wine — and you’ve probably blown a pretty penny on it, too.
Unless you’re an expert sommelier with lots of professional training, knowing the difference between run-of-the-mill plonk and a top-quality good wine isn’t always easy. But, with the right knowledge, it’s possible to identify a great bottle with just a small sip, or even by reading the label. Here, we’ve shared how to recognise a good wine that will suit your tastes, so you’ll never be stuck with an undrinkable bottle again. Keep reading to learn the four things that all good wine-drinkers know.
Don’t go on cost alone
One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding wine is the idea that the quality of a bottle is always reflected in the price. Like any other market, the price of wine is often dictated by laws of supply and demand, rather than quality, meaning that well known wine producers, regions and types of grapes are free to charge more for their product.
The best way to avoid ordering an unpalatable bottle is to learn more about your own tastes…
For instance, there are many sparkling crémant wines that are just as delicious as champagne, many of which are even produced using a similar fermentation method. But, they tend to be much cheaper, because they don’t carry the same name recognition as their pricier cousin. Instead of basing your decisions on price, it’s a much better idea to learn your preferences, and then look for wines with the qualities you tend to enjoy.
Learn your preferences, and know how to describe them
When shopping for wine, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stop and test each wine to try out the taste (unless you’re in a specialist shop, where this might be an option). So, you’ll need to know what to look out for on the label.
We all have different palettes, and what may be enjoyable to one drinker may be undrinkable to another. The best way to avoid ordering an unpalatable bottle is to learn more about your own tastes so, whenever you enjoy a particular wine, make a note not just of the name, but also the grape and the region in which it was produced. Over time, you’ll begin to discover which regions and grapes consistently deliver the sort of wine you enjoy.
It can also help to look out for words that describe the flavours you find most appealing. Whenever you enjoy a wine, read the label to see how the producer describes the flavours: you’ll want to make a note of words like ‘crisp’, ‘dry’, ‘floral’ or ‘mineral’, so you can look out for them again next time you’re shopping. French and Italian wines will often use specialist language to describe the flavours and production methods, so it’s helpful to brush up on your foreign wine terminology before you shop. This way, you’ll be able to identify the exact taste you’re looking for, just by reading the label. Bottled & Boxed’s guides to French and Italian wine include a breakdown of the words you’re most likely to encounter on foreign bottles.
Learn how to read the menu, and speak to the waiting staff
When dining out, the only information you’ll be able to go on will be on the wine list or menu. Analysing a wine list is a lot like reading a label, so you’ll want to look out for the same descriptive terminology that you would when looking at a label in a shop. The region and grape type will also usually be listed. As long as you’ve familiarised yourself with these, you should be able to identify the type of wine you’re most likely to enjoy.
If the information on the wine list is sparse, ask your waiter or waitress for more information: they’re usually trained to make recommendations, so should be able to help. Most restaurants will also be happy to bring over a bottle if you’d like to look at the label before ordering so, if you’re not sure, speak up.
…start by lifting the glass to your nose and mouth, and take in the scent…take a sip… savour the taste… notice if it leaves any aftertaste or feeling in the mouth
In establishments that serve a variety of wines by the glass, it’s probable that your waiter will be happy to provide a taster for you to try. If this isn’t an option, you could go for the smallest serving size, instead: this way, you won’t be stuck with a large glass or bottle if you don’t care for the taste. It’s actually a legal requirement for bars and restaurants to offer 125ml servings of wine, so you should have no problem ordering a smaller size as a taster.
Learn how to taste test wine
If you are offered a taster in a restaurant, or you’re in a shop that offers taste tests, you’ll need to know how to take full advantage of the opportunity to taste the wine before you buy. It can be tricky to get a feel for a new wine in a short space of time, particularly when all you’re offered is a small mouthful, and it can feel especially difficult if a waiter or shop assistant is putting you on the spot. So, it pays to know how to taste wine like a pro.
First of all, start by lifting the glass to your nose and mouth, and take in the scent (gently swirling the wine around the glass can help to release the aromas). You might notice fruity or floral scents, or even spicy or herby notes. Then, take a sip, taking care to allow yourself plenty of time to savour the taste before swallowing. At this stage, you’ll want to look for flavour: is it dry or fruity? Acidic or sweet?
Once you’ve swallowed the wine, try to notice if it leaves any aftertaste or feeling in the mouth. The aftertaste will intensify as you drink more of the wine, so you’ll want to make sure it’s not unpleasant. If you like what you smell and taste, feel free to take the plunge and order a glass or bottle.
If you’re not an expert, choosing a good wine can seem like an intimidating process. But, by learning how to describe and identify your preferences, knowing how to navigate the wine list, and learning how to taste wine like a pro, you should be able to master the art of picking a delicious bottle every time.