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GUIDE TO BUYING WINES
Are you a seasoned wine enthusiast or are you just getting into it? All you need to enhance your wine experience is learn how to buy the best wine. Great wines express fantastic details and nuances, but you will only enjoy this if you invest your time in learning wines. Your devotion to discovering wines will result to nothing if you don’t have the right information. This guide has vital resources that will be vital in rounding out your knowledge about wines.
Learning about wines is like an art, you master it with time, but it all starts with the basics. This guide will give you a flying start as you venture into the wine world. It’s never easy but we got you covered and we will hold your hand in this tasty and long journey to the best wine experience. Some of the reasons you should learn about wines include:
CONFIDENCE BUYING WINE
The last thing you would want is feeling overwhelmed when you visit a wine store. It’s incredibly cool to walk in and confidently ask for what you want. But how would this happen if your knowledge for wines is limited? Acquiring all the essential wine details will help you to buy only the best, and leave you 100% satisfied.
ENHANCE YOUR SOCIAL EXPERIENCE
The best way to enjoy wines is in the company of friends. Getting enough information about wine will open your door to new and exciting wine flavors and styles. As you explore more wine flavors the adventure keeps getting inexhaustibly good and your bond with friends gets better.
DERIVE PERSONAL SATISFACTION
No world is as immense as the wine world. We all have a favorite fashion designer, sports team, tv chef etc. but do you know any celebrity winemakers? Discovering wine is not an obstacle but an opportunity to derive personal satisfaction by staying top of your game. The moment you enter this interesting world you will soon know all the best winemaker/winery. You experience will be completely changed and you won’t associate with bad wine again.
IMPROVE YOUR WINE TASTING ABILITY
It good to be aware of what you are drinking. Wine tasting will help you develop a liking for a certain type of wine thereby making it easier for you to consistently enjoy similar wines. There are many types of wines and the only way to narrow down to a few options in developing an exquisite tasting skill.
CLASSIFICATION OF WINES
There are different types of wines which fall into either of the following five groups.
White wines come from green or white grapes. They range in color from almost clear to deep yellow. The most common white wine varietals include; pinot grigio, Riesling, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay.
As the name suggest thus the category of wines come from the purple or red grapes. The wines are found in a range of colors ranging from pinkish red to dark purple. In some cases, some red wines will appear nearly black when served in a glass. The most common varietals of red wine include; pinot noir, merlot, zinfandel, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon.
Lie the red wines, rose wines are made from the purple or red grapes. The only difference is that in the rose wine the grapes skin which gives the wine color is only partially introduced. This is the main reason the rose wine comes in just a tint of pink color. Rose wine vary in color and taste depending on the type of grapes used, but this type of wine can be made from any type of red grapes. For long the rose has been taken as an unsophisticated wine option but recently it has enjoyed a growing popularity.
This the type of wine that is infused with carbon dioxide so as to give it small and fizzy bubbles. The white grapes are the most common ingredients of the sparkling wine though you will find some rose wine made into sparkling wine. The variety of sparkling red wine is limited.
The most common type of sparkling wine is the champagne, this varietal is very popular, though there are other which includes; brut, cava, and Prosecco.
As the name suggest this is the type of wines that are mostly served with desserts. These are very sweet wines or late harvest white wines. Grapes used to make the late harvest wines are left in the grapes fields for long than the other grapes. Because of this, the grapes boats an increased ripeness which is the reason they have a higher sugar content. Some of the most common types of dessert wines include port and Moscato.
COMMON WINE VARIENTALS
There are some types of wine that are most popular and liked by a majority of wine lovers. We have detailed these wines and we have also given you some alternatives with similar taste to each type. These wines includes;
This is a subtle light-bodied wine that is moderately complex. Grapes used to make the pinot noir are notoriously finicky and do not grow easily. The grapes are most prevalent in France region of burgundy, and Santa Barbara and Sonoma in California. Pinot noir grapes are also grown in some parts of Germany.
The wine has sweet spicy notes such as cloves and vanilla and fruited taste (cranberry, raspberry, cherry). Pinot noir is often a dry wine with medium to high acidity levels. If you find pinot noir that has been aged in oaks for long, you will most probably feel the oaky flavors. This wine is mostly paired with white meat, cheese, lighter red meat, and rich fish.
The most common alternative to the pinot noir is Gamay wine.
This wine falls between the full bodied and the medium bodied wines. It is made using grapes mostly grown in northern California and burgundy in France. Other regions that grow these grapes include Argentina, Italy, Australia, and Chile.
Cabernet sauvignon is typically dry, complex and layered. The wine is made of dark fruits flavors which include blackberry, black cherry, and plum. It includes warm spices, leather, or tobacco. This wine is perfect when enjoyed together with strongly-flavored cheese and red meat. Its alternatives include cabernet franc, merlot, carmenere, Bordeaux blend, and sangiovese.
This wine varietal is known as Syrah in France and Shiraz in Australia, but both of these terms are used in the United States. The wine is made up of a good balance of tannins, fruits, acidity, and oak. It’s then finished with an assortment of spicy, fruity, and some have woody aromas. Syrah is best paired with smoked meat, Mediterranean diet, American firm cheese, lamb, beef, and French cuisines. The most notable alternatives to syrah include; malbec, petit sirah, pinotage, monastrell.
This is a medium-to-full bodied varietal of wine that well balanced and highly complex. This wine originated in Croatia, and have a medium-length finish and are spicy and fruit-forward.
This type of wine has more alcohol content that other varietals because it is made with an exotic fruits array which include raspberry, overripe nectarines, red cherry, blueberry, blue plums, blackberry, and boysenberry.
The zinfandel is best paired with pork, chicken, beef, Lamb, cured meat, Chinese, America, Italian, Indian, and Thai The most common alternatives to this type of wine include tempranillo, Grenache, rhone blend, and carignan.
This is a full bodied wine that is dry in nature and originated from France, in the burgundy region where the white grapes were grown in large quantities. Chardonnay acquires bourbon-y notes when aged for long in the oak. When unaoked the wine is zesty and lighter with citrus and apple flavors. When you find fruit-style chardonnay it will mostly have other flavors like pears and tropic fruits. Woody chardonnay emphasizes butterscotch flavor and vanillin/woody flavors. This wine varietal is best paired with seafood’s, pork, chicken, cream sauce, mushroom, and soft cheese. The Semillon and viognier are the most common chardonnay alternatives.
Like most of the wines this varietal originated from France. This wine varietal is typically tart and has flavors from herbal green fruits. Its taste is aggressively-citrus-driven and includes exotic fruits like the kiwi, passion fruit, and melon. Recently, very New Zealand has seen success in producing quality sauvignon blanc that has pleased many wine lovers. This varietal is best paired with her-crusted goat cheese, fish, pork, chicken, and Vietnamese, Mexican, and French cuisines. The most common alternatives to this wine are vermentino, verdejo, and gruner veltliner.
This is a less sophisticated wine that is very versatile and hence can be paired with a wide variety of foods. Contrary to what you might expect of any less sophisticated wine, the reisling is not dry. This varietal is harmoniously sweet, especially those made as table wines. The degree of sweetness varies thanks to the varying fruit and floral-driven aromatic whites used. This wine has elements of stone fruits like white peach and nectarines and citrus fruits like lemon and kefir. The Riesling wine can be enjoyed with a variety of foods which include Thai, Indian, German, Moroccan, Vietnamese, poultry, cured meat, pork, and cheese. If you would like to enjoy other similar wines you can turn to torrontes, gewurtraminer, and muscat blanc/moscato.
The pinot gris is made from white grapes and its dry and light to middle-weight. This wine often comprised of a bitter flavor derived from quinine and bitter almonds. It is a simple wine that comes with a balanced tropical fruit, juicy fruit, and citrus mix. Pinot gris is best enjoyed together with delicate poached fish, salads, and mild and light cheese. Albarino, soave, and muscadet are the best alternatives to the pinot gris.
Wine tasting is all about identifying the flavors. Think it’s difficult? It’s not but most newbies will always inquire about the flavors whereas oenophiles rely heavily on tasting notes. Tasting notes can describe a wine beyond its flavor, for example, a tasting note of a wine can have mocha and dark berries but at the same time it can describe massive flavors (big), higher in acidity (bright), and heavily tannic (chewy tannins). If you know nothing about tasting wines then a tasting note can be intimidating. But our description will give you an insight into this matter.
Wine can be described in a number of ways, it all depends on the one that suits you best. When starting it’s always a challenge worth taking but with time you will have a mental dictionary of the wines. The most important thing in mastering this art is appreciating the fact that wine aromas are complex. Then taking a more consistent approach that is methodical and focused towards understanding wine tastes. There are many approaches paying attention to the wine scents, appearance, flavors, and finish are of paramount importance.
Wine taste can be entangled through three aspects
You hear oenophiles discussing the nose of the wine, they are simply referring to the smell of the wine. In most cases, you will see people swirl the wine glass and then take a sniff by sticking their nose in the glass. The swirling is done as a way of introducing air into the wine thereby making it release its scent.
Take a mouthful gap of your favorite wine, how does it feel? Is it smooth, bold, sharp, subtle, complex, or layered? Does the wine make your mouth dry or watery? These are some of the fine details you need to get, before you even swallow the first sip.
THE WINE FINISH
The flavor transformation that the wines undergo from the moment it enters your mouth and after you swallow the sip is immense. The finish is the taste that is left in your mouth after you swallow the wine. This attribute of the wine can be described as smooth, earthy, jammy, or smoky.
UNDERSTANDING FLAVORS AND AROMAS
As you commence you journey to discovering wines, you will hear enthusiasts mention different things about the wine flavor. For example, some wines have tasting notes of cherries, coffee or dirt, this might tempt you to think the winemaker put dirt during the manufacturing of wine. But that is not the case, the wine flavors are so because of the climate or the soil conditions where the wine grapes were grown. Other factors that influence the flavors include ripeness of the grapes and the thing that happen after harvesting (storing, bottling, opening, sipping, and the introduction of air).
On the other hand, the aroma is a pleasant word that is used to describe the odor produced by the wine. Alcohol evaporates quickly, therefore when you put the wine in the glass the tiny volatilized compounds will float in the air. The limbic system of the brain is the one that senses the aroma of the wine. The reason wine lovers associate wine aroma with long-ago experience is because the limbic system deals with behavior, motivation, emotions, and long-ago memory. Wine aroma can be classified as either primary, tertiary, or secondary.
Primary aromas are more focused on herbal, fruit, and floral aromas, this aroma is most derived from the grapes used in the manufacture of wine. Secondary aromas result from the things that took place during the manufacturing process. They include notes like large (from yeast), freshly baked bread, yogurt, as well as sour cream. Tertiary aromas result from aging oak or bottled wine. They include clove, baking spices, roasted nuts, coconut, dill, smoke, and vanilla.
READING WINE LABELS
Wine labels give a lot of information about the quality of the wine. This is a case where you are certainly able to judge a book by its cover if you have the knowledge to interpret what you read. At first sight the wine label is very confusing, especially the old world region labels which relied on the consumer knowledge. The current producers of new world wine have simplified the label by including a grape listing on it.
Understanding the elements found on a wine label will simplify you buying. Check for both the front and back labels on the wine bottle, and confirm whether the following elements are present.
The vintage of the wine refers to the year the grapes were harvested. You should pay attention to the vintage because of the following to most important reasons
- It helps you determine the age of your wine, wine enthusiasts use the vintage to tell whether the wine is still good for consumption. Wine will spoil if they stay for too long but some are capable of aging (cellaring) for decades or centuries if the storing conditions are flawless. Wines spoil depending on it;
- PH level:
All wines with a lower PH level get better with age, for example, the sangiovese and pinot noir improves with age.
Tannins are found on the skin of the grapes used in the production of wine. A higher level of tannin will enable the wine to tolerate aging, whereas a lower level of tannins will not be good for the aging wine.
- It helps you determine whether the grapes were harvested on a good year for that particular region. Every year experience in different weather pattern, a slightly cooler, wetter, warmer, or drier year can cause a gargantuan effect on the wine taste. This is significant, it is directly related to the price of wine, so do not be surprised to see a significant difference in pricing of wine produced by the same winemaker in two different years.
The varietal of the wine refers to the type of grape or the blend of grapes used to manufacture the wine. The varietal of wine is actually the type of grape used to produce the wine. For example, chardonnay grape is used to manufacture chardonnay wine.
However, when a blend of grapes is used to manufacture wine, the rule doesn’t apply. For example, wine like meritage is not made from a type of grape called meritage (there is none) but rather a blend of a number of grapes.
APPELLATION OR REGION
This refers to the place of origin of the grapes used to manufacture that specific wine. For a bottle of wine to claim being from a particular region, it must meet some standards. For example, according to the federal labelling standards, you must use 75% of grapes from a region to claim the location on the wine bottle. California requires you to use 100% California grapes to claim the location on the bottle. A grape region can be specific like Bordeaux (France) or be as broad as a whole country like Australia. The most popular grape regions in the world and the grapes they produce includes
|France||Cabernet sauvignon, viognier, syrah, cabernet franc, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, Grenache.|
|Italy||Moscato, barbera, pinot grigio/gris, sangiovese, nebbiolo|
|United states||Pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, merlot, chardonnay|
|Chile||Sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon|
|Germany||Sylvaner, gewürztraminer, reisling|
|Spain||Albarino, garnacha, palomino, tempranillo|
|South Africa||Chenin blanc, pinotage|
|New Zealand||Pinot noir, sauvignon blanc|
THE BRAND/WINE NAME OR PRODUCER
You will find some wine advertising a brand or name that depends on what works best with the public. You will find some wines with an overarching brand and a specific type of wine. For example, Apothic brand has a wine called midnight. Your task will be to identify all the specific type of wines that are associated with a superior wine brand.
ALCOHOL BY VOLUME OR ABV
Most if the wines in the market fall between 12 and 16% of alcohol by volume. However, there are some outliers, for example, the moscato wine which has a 5%ABV and the port and sherry with 20 % ABV.
Other things you will most likely find on the wine label include;
- Tasting notes
- Quality level: DOC, AOC, etc
FINDING WINE FLAWS
One you should know is that not all wines are good. Some of the poorest quality wines are out there in the market. You must learn how to narrow down your options by eliminating wines with flaws. These flaws are signs of bad winemaking and once you identify them you buying will become easier.
When you visit most restaurants you will be asked to ascertain the quality of the wine before it’s served. All you want is a wine that will taste to your liking just like it is intended to. Poor storage or bad corks can result to flaws and it’s good to confirm whether the corking is okay before buying any wine. The sniffing out flaws like musty and damp smell that results from tainted corks will help you to avoid bad wines.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING WINES
Before paying for that ideal bottle of wine you should put the following factors into consideration.
FOOD BEING SERVED
Wine and foods are considered to be natural partners for the way they complement each other. The problem is not the wine nor the food you cook but finding the perfect match. Finding the perfect wine-food pair is always great as they lift each to flavorful levels.
Before buying any type of wine consider the food that will be served. If you are planning to serve rich dishes buy full-bodied wines, lighter fares like grilled fish work best with fruit-style wines. A complex wine works best with a wide variety of foods, therefore if you are not sure of what food will be served go for the most complex wines.
WHEN DO YOU DRINK WINE
Do you intend to buy wine for a one-off consumption? Or you want to collect samples in your wine cooler? A wide variety of wines are made for immediate consumption but some red wines can be stored for future consumptions.
HIGH PRICE DOESN’T EQUATE TO HIGH QUALITY
Never let price to sway you to buying a wine. It’s true price matters but this is so because of your budget. If you find a cheaper bottle of your favorite wine from your ideal winemaker do not hesitate to buy it. All that matter in a wine is the taste not its price and buying an expensive wine won’t necessarily guarantee great taste. Some of the best quality wine are not expensive, but you will easily find poor quality wines being very expensive.
HOW MUCH ARE YOU WILLING TO SPEND
This depends solely on your budget. If you are making your first steps into the wine world you want to spend less on a bottle since you have not tried them. According to studies, most wine lovers spend an average of $20 on a wine bottle.
There will always be a cheaper alternative to every expensive wine varietal. And since they share the same qualities including the taste you can try the cheaper option first of you are on a limited budget.
CONSISTENCY IS LESS IMPORTANT
Winemakers find it very difficult to produce wine with a consistent quality vintage after vintage. The quality of wine vary from year to the other and the best thing is to taste newer wines before the old vintage.
Assuming that the varietal produced by one winemaker maintains consistency is a dangerous mistake when buying wines. You need to taste and know which one tastes great, this is because even the biggest wineries in Australia and United States have a range of varietals.
CONSIDER THE TASTE ATTRIBUTES
The taste attributes of a wine will go a long way in affecting your preference. This is because these attributes such as astringency and bitterness characterized by the wine and their first experience will be embedded in your memory.
ARE YOU BUYING FOR A PARTY?
If you are buying wine for a party then you can consider adopting a different approach. The best thing when buying wine for an occasion is going for a combination of reds and whites. Then you can combine old and new vintage to get all your guests covered.
You should also over-purchase you party wine, especially if you do not know the drinking habits of you guests. This will save you the embarrassment you would get if the wine is not enough for every person. Consider buying a backup bottle just in case you have more guests than you expected.
SERVING AND STORING WINE
Storing wine is not difficult and all you need is to select a place in your house which is away from direct sunlight and remains cool (below 70 degrees F). The place needs also be free from any vibration to prevent the damaging of the wine sediments. Such a place can chill your wine for a year or two, and maintain them in perfect conditions.
One fascinating fact about wine is that it delivers its great taste only when served at its most appropriate temperature. These temperatures depend on the type and characteristic of the wine. To get the best of your wine serve them at the following temperatures (degrees Fahrenheit). Any wine at 80 degrees add 2 minutes in ice and water, 5 minutes in a freezer, and 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
HEAVIER RED WINE
Temperature range: low 60s
Chilling time at 70 degrees: refrigerator: 40 minutes | freezer: 2 minutes | ice and water: 2 minutes
HEAVIER WHITE WINES
Temperature range: mid-50s
Chilling time at 70 degrees: refrigerator: 2 hours | freezer: 15 minutes | ice and water: 5 minutes
LIGHTER RED WINES
Temperature range: mid-50s
Chilling time at 70 degrees: refrigerator: 2 hours | freezer: 15 minutes | ice and water: 5 minutes
LIGHTER WHITE WINES
Temperature range: mid-40s
Chilling time at 70 degrees: refrigerator: 2.75hours | freezer: 20 minutes | ice and water: 10minutes
MEDIUM RED WINES
Temperature range: upper 50s
Chilling time at 70 degrees: refrigerator: 1.5hours | freezer: 10 minutes | ice and water: 5 minutes
SOME IMPORTANT FACTS
- Not all wines become better with age. For long people thought that all wines improve as they age, this is not true. Only wines that have an incredible balance of acidity, intense fruit flavors, and many tannins improves as they age.
- Don’t be tempted to think the color of the wine is a factor when selecting its food match. Wines match with foods depending on the spice and the source of the food.
- Unless you are planning to collect expensive wine bottles you do not need a special storage device for your wine. You should only protect your wine from vibrations and direct sunlight.
TOP WINE BRANDS IN THE WORLD
If you are classy and you like associating yourself with the top wine brands then here is a list for you. These are the best winemakers and their collection of wine varietals is considered to be great.
Great wall is a Chinese winemaker owned by the state-owned china foods limited. The company was launched in 1983 and its main offices are located near Guatin Lake at the foot of the famous great wall. Great wall has dominated Chinese wine market for years and has recorded immense growth over the year and expanded to other regions like France, Chile, and Australia.
The company has vineyards in the province of Shandong which enables the company to produce the rose, sweet, sparkling, red, and fortified wines. Outside china they own the bisguertt vineyard in chile and the chateau de viaud vineyard in lalande-de-pomerol. Their most common products include star grade, terroir, and chateau sungod.
This is one of the most famous napa valley operating winery. This winemaker was formed in 1876 and is currently owned by treasury wines estate. The best-selling wines in beringer’s portfolio include cabernet, chardonnay, and white zinfandel. The company is known for its great commitment to producing wines aimed at younger consumers. Its marketing campaign aimed at selling the company as a wine-travel-lifestyle brand is bearing fruits with the new labels under its luminous and quantum brand continuing to drive the United States wine markets.
Hardys is an Australian brand which is popular all over the world. Their range of products is on sale in over 150 countries across the globe. In the recent years, the brand has been performing strongly and is ranked as the 3rd biggest wine selling brand. Some of their common wine varietals include VR, stamp, nottage hill, crest, chronicles, voyage, William hardy, sir James sparkling, Eileen hardy, oomoo, tintara, and Thomas hardy.
Barefoot is a brand owned by E&J Gallo and has thrived in this competitive market by constantly reinventing its varietals. The company has established itself as a reputable and the biggest company selling bottled wine across the globe. Some of its most famous products include chardonnay, pink pinto grigio, barefoot malbec, impression, refresh, and DOC Prosecco.
This company has been in the market for over 50 years now and is currently owned by constellation brands. The company is named after its founder, Richard Mondavi who is regarded by many as the pioneer of California wines. This brand has been performing strongly and has managed to sell will via its own online outlet and Alibaba which one of the best Chinese online stores. Some of the most famous products from this company include napa valley wines, reserve wines, Robert Mondavi winery, Robert Mondavi private selection, spotlight wines, and Woodbridge.
This company is known as the godfather of the white zinfandel in the U S markets. The company introduced the zinfandel varietal in mid-1970 and since then the brand has continued to wow its customer.
The company has established itself as a significant market player by establishing its footprints in Mexico, Austria, Germany, Brazil, Canada, and china. Some of its famous products include; red blend, sweet white, sangria, varietal collection, sweet red and bubbly range.
Yellow tail is an Australian brand which enjoys a large market share in the US. This company is owned by Casella wines company which has been making crowd-pleasing wines a bid to become a leader in the industry. Some of the most famous product include reserve range, sweet white Roo, big bold red, bubbles ranges, varietal collection, bondi range, and sangria.
This is another winemaker owned by E&J Gallo winery. The company has established itself as one of the best and has been focusing on expanding its premium portfolio. Its product range include the turning leaf, signature series, coastal vineyard, vineyard spritz, Gallo family vineyard, and vineyard autumn/summer.
CONCHA Y TORO
Concha y toro is the leading Chilean winemaker and tops in wine selling in various global markets. The company has been implementing successful marketing and business strategies which have propelled to be one of the best. Some of the most famous product includedon mechor, terrunyo, gravas del maipo, carmin de peumo, marques de casa concha, trio, gran reserve serie riberas, frontera, and casilero.