How faced with the array of bottles in a wine store, do you pick the right one on the shelf? Here a few random but specific suggestions.
- Decide on a price bracket and stick to it, but it can be worth spending at the top of the bracket. Bear in mind that in Britain, where excise duty alone is about 1$ a bottle. The price of the wine is inside a bottle selling at 2, 99$ is roughly 60p, whereas there is about 1, 50$ worth of wine in a bottle selling at 4,99$ and more than 4$ worth in a bottle priced at 9,99$.
- Take special offers very seriously. In the competitive market-place of today, heavily scrutinized by a bevy of wine critics, these bargains are almost certainly there to lure you into the shop rather than to offload rubbish.
- If possible, pick a bottle that has been lying on its side, and has not obviously been kept in a place where the temperature may have varied considerably. Avoid bottles which have been standing upright in strong light (although the better stores have a policy of constantly changing the one representative bottle with another from horizontal lot).
Be wary of bottles which have wept around the cork or have a relatively low fill level as both of these are signs of temperature variation.
- Try to grasp the names at least and ideally the characteristics of the major grape varieties.
- If, once you have become relatively familiar with the most common wine names, you spot a bottle with an unrecognizable pedigree, give it a try. It is probably there only because someone passionately believes in its inherent quality, wine buyers generally erron the side of caution.
- On the subject of family names, the well-known international wine brands such as Mateus rosé, Blue Nun, Black tower, Jacob’s Creek, Gallo and Mouton Cadet can offer a reliable minimum quality level in a strange place with a very limited selection but are usually relatively expensive.
- Be wary of wines designed for early consumption that are more than two years old.
- Bear in mind that wines (especially reds) that are extremely expensive and carry vintage dates less than three or four years old are almost certainly years from being fun to drink.
- Try to remember to make a note of any wine that you particularly like so that you can use the chart opposite as a way to discover new wines with a similar style.
Some particularly confusing names
- Pouilly-fuissé (pronounced ‘pwee-fwee-say’) is the most concentrated white wine of the maconnais between Beaujolais and burgundy proper and is abroad full bodied wine made from chardonnay grapes. Pouilly-fumé, on the other hand is very like sancerre, a piercingly aromatic loire relatively light, tart, dry white made from sauvignon blanc grapes.
- Muscadet is a bone dry , somewhat neutral white from the mouth of the loire while muscat is the name of a particularly fruity grape variety usually made into very sweet, strong wines, also sold under the name of moscato and muscatel.
- Semillon is a grape variety which makes full bodied white wines, notably in Bordeaux and Australia. St-Emilion on the other hand is the name of a pretty town in Bordeaux region and the deep-coloured plumy red wines made around it.
Some relatively underpriced wines
The market changes all the time according to the weather, fashion and supply, but the following wines were better bargains than most at the time of writing.
- Modern Spanish vino de mesa
- The best corbieres, minervois and coteaux du Languedoc, from individuals estates Chilean sauvignon and chardonnay
- Hungarian varietals
- South African colombard and chenin
- Vins de pays des cotes de gascogne
- Better AC Bordeaux and entre-deux-mers
- Alsace pinot blanc
- Menetou salon, quincy and reuilly
- Mature fine german wines
- Australian traditional method sparkling wines
- The best corbieres, minervois and coteaux du Languedoc, from individual estates
- Chilean cabernet , merlot and some pinot noir
- Hungarian varietals
- Montepulciano d’abruzzo
- AC Bordeaux
- Premieres cotes de Bordeaux
- Vins de pays