By Steve Jacobson –
When looking at hundreds or even thousands of bottles of wine on the shelf in the market, it can be a very daunting and intimidating experience. What do you buy when there are so many choices?
Think about it. There are approximately 39,000 wineries worldwide, including 9,000 wineries in the United States (and over 4,000 in California). That’s a lot of wine that’s being produced… and consumed…
How many times have you been to the market or a wine store and have just been overwhelmed with the choices? How do you know a particular wine is going to be something you like if you haven’t had it? Obviously this is mitigated if you are able to try before you buy. But most places don’t offer tastings. Someone can make recommendations. And of course there are a lot of different wines mentioned in posts like this.
But how do you get past the intimidation? Well, here is what works for me. Once I know what kind of varietal I want – be it a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel or a Chardonnay or whatever – I look into my wallet and see what I want to spend. This comfort level of knowing that I can buy some good $10-$20 wine or some great $30-$40 wine (or higher) comes with experience and talking to the right people at the wine shop (or at a winery). Now I don’t mean to automatically equate good vs. great with a price range. But as I have mentioned in previous posts, the pricier wines are often aged more and have more depth to them because of how they have been valued and made.
I suggest finding a wine shop where you can talk to the sales staff who knows wine and who can help you with recommendations. (Total Wine & More and K&L Wine Merchants have been a good source for chain stores. I also have a local wine merchant near me – Wade’s Wines – that offers wine tastings every weekend and their staff is extremely knowledgeable.) Try not to get caught up in the ratings and the wine notes. You can have fun with that after you have a bit of experience and the intimidation is not so overwhelming.
Take note of what you are buying and if you like it or not. Some of you may have heard this story before – My younger son was on a study abroad program in Italy in 2011 through his school at CAL POLY POMONA. And having grown up with wine around him much of his life (ahem… he didn’t taste anything until he was MUCH closer to his current age), he developed an affinity for wine. Yes, he was exposed to some mid-priced and expensive wines early on… but with the understanding that wine and the relationship to its price can be a funny formula to figure out. One of his first phone calls to me from Florence was the following:
– “Dad, I bought my first bottle of wine here.”
– “Yes, what did you buy?”
– “I’m not sure exactly. It’s a Chianti, I think. I only paid 3 Euros. Do you think it’s any good?”
– “Only one way to tell. Open it up and taste it. If you like it, take note of what it is – it’s a good wine. If you don’t like it, take note of what it is – and don’t buy it again.”
It’s funny that tastes do change through the years. I was not a fan of Rhône varietals for a long time. But I have found myself liking them more and more over the last three to four years. I also didn’t have much of a palate for stainless only (no oak) chardonnay. But I have grown to be more open to drinking that for a change to the oaky, buttery chardonnays (which I still prefer).
Wine is supposed to be fun, engaging and a way to bring people together. The more you take on the process of buying wine with that attitude, the less intimidating the wine market is.
So my advice… Try new wines. Try new varietals. And go boldly where your palate hasn’t gone before.
“The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.” – Leonardo Da Vinci (enjoy more memorable wine quotes here.)