You’re out shopping and always wanted to know how to pick a great wine.
Wine is a personal, sensory journey. Trust your taste and these simple steps, and you should be able to start picking winners without having to call on your wino friend.
1) Packaging and Branding
People develop a perception about wine just by looking at the bottle and feeling it in their hand. Research shows that this perception is directly linked to how much people will like the wine – or not.
Take a good look at the bottle, the label and the product name. Pick up the bottle and feel its weight. How do you feel now? Would you set your expectation for this wine as low, medium or high? On a scale of zero to ten, where would you put it?
2) The Liquid
Winemakers spend months and years to get their wine looking right. Many factors affect this. Including grape varietal or blend, complexity and fruit characteristics, ageing barrel choice, fermentation. Traditionally, it’s the flavour profile objective that would influence colour. Today however, some companies add elements to achieve a desired colour.
If you can see through the bottle, as many bottles are too dark in colour, check if the colour of the wine inside is clear, dull, bright or intense. Here there is no right or wrong. Just personal opinion. Ask yourself how much the colour of the wine appeals to you. Would you rate the look of the wine a 10, 6, 4 or 8?
Needless to say, if the colour does not pass your personal test just looking at the bottle, skip the wine and move on to the next one. No matter what any sales staff, wine critics or friends say. You want impact right at the outset.
3) Grape Varietal
A grape grown and fermented in a specific wine region of the world will have particularly enjoyable and memorable characteristics. Look at the label and read the winemaker’s tasting note on the back. Are you enticed or unmoved?
The next thing you will want to enjoy, is the aroma of the wine. You want a red, white or rose wine that passes your personal aroma test. Enjoying a particular aroma is a matter of personal preference. You either like it or you don’t. Trust yourself.
Read the label. Ask yourself how much you would like the aromas the winemaker is flaunting. Out of 10 points, where would you rank it? If it’s up there, it’s a good sign and you can move on to the next step.
If you happen to be in front of an open bottle, like at the tasting bar of your local liquor store, ask for a taster. Pass the wine glass under your nose and take a first sniff. Next, place the glass on a table and swirl it around to let the oxygen in. Now raise the glass and put your nose well inside. Inhale.
This is the ultimate aroma test and rating you can depend on.
Alcohol and sugar levels, and fruit ripeness all affect the sweetness of a wine. The higher the alcohol level, the sweeter the wine will be. Typically, you want a sweeter wine to go with sweeter foods. Tannic, drier wines to go with savoury foods.
Ask the store associate if the wine is too tannic. As in, if it’s too drying. The fuller and more tannic a wine is, the better it is with heavier, high protein and fatty plates like steaks, roast and such.
If you have that taster still on hand, try the wine. Are the tannins just right, or too much for you?
Inquire about the wine’s acidity. Too high or about right?
Trust us, you will know right away, once you take the first sip at home. But if you wanted to geek out a bit on this, here is what to do. With the wine in your mouth, tilt your head a bit down and see if you are about to drool. That sensation and how intense it is, is driven by the level of acidity you are sensing.
If you don’t have the wine on hand to taste, just keep in mind that an overly acidic wine may not go down nicely on its own, without food.
Check if the alcohol intensity is too high. As in, will you feel the wine is too hot? You don’t want to be at extremes. Be sure to ask that question. To check for yourself, look at the label. Generally, alcohol levels in still wine range between 11% and 14.9%. Reds usually gravitate towards higher alcohol levels. Port wines are a different story that I personally cherish. These can go to 40% in alcohol. But not many people I know will complain when you offer them a good Port!
The body of the wine is another important aspect to ask staff about.
A complex wine will usually allow you to experience the wine and its flavours for a longer time. The body of the wine, whether it is a light (think watery like skimmed milk), or a full body wine (think fuller texture like whole milk), tells whether a wine is an ‘easy drink’ you will enjoy on its own or if it’s one to savour with a main meal.
The final test is whether the wine is well balanced. Specifically, are either of the sweetness, acidity, tannins or alcohol over powering, or do they work in harmony?
On this one you will have to take the store associate’s word. If the wine passes this test when you get home, you’ve found another winner you will likely enjoy to the last drop.
Well, maybe not all of it to yourself?
Buying wine is neither science nor magic. Some try to over complicate it. At Quini we work with wineries, retailers and distributors to capture and analyze deep, rich consumer sensory and attitudinal data in real time. The people who use our wine app to rate the wines for our clients are like you and I. Not wine pros and experts. Yet, following a simple flow and language developed by experts, one is always able to conclude if they personally like a wine or not, and how much so. That’s what really matters.