3 tips for choosing a great bottle of wine
Finding a great bottle of wine can often feel like a challenge.
If you’re anything like most casual wine drinkers, you’ll spend some time staring at the hundreds of bottles available, before panicking and buying the one with the prettiest label within your budget.
In fact, a survey of 2,000 wine drinkers by Wine.net found that 82% considered the appearance of the label to be the most influential factor when selecting wine, while 65% picked out a certain bottle based on its price. With so much choice, limited shopping time, and little advice available in the average supermarket, these results aren’t surprising.
However, by knowing just what to look for in a bottle, you’ll be able to pick out that hidden gem that you’ve missed in the past. With this in mind, we’ve put together our three top tips that will transform the way that you shop for wine.
Practice reading the label for quality
As we’ve established, the label is the first thing you’re likely to notice about a bottle of wine. But, looking beyond the design on the front can often reveal some hidden secrets.
The first thing you should check is whether the label has the three hallmarks of quality wine: vintage, region, and grape variety. These act as the footprint of the wine, allowing you to pin-point when and where it was made. If a label is very specific, it’s a good sign, as it was probably made using a carefully picked batch of grapes from the same area. Some wines only reference a vague region or don’t list anything at all, indicating it’s likely made from mixed, substandard fruit from all over.
You should also look out for regional or national seals on the label, especially for old world wines from France, Italy, and Spain, as these guarantee that the wine has met requirements like aging standards and grape quality levels. These are usually easy to spot: for instance, this guide from Bottled & Boxed will help you recognise the classifications for prestigious French wine.
Look beyond the age of the wine
When you’re trying to find that perfect bottle of wine, it can be tempting to take the view that age and price are key indicators of quality. In some cases, this can be true, but it pays to know when they apply so you don’t find yourself overspending on what’s actually a pretty average bottle.
The age of wine is commonly considered a sign of quality, but it really depends on the individual bottle. You may not have realised it, but many are produced to be enjoyed right away, so you could actually be buying something designed to be opened in the short term. Some vintage wines are made to be enjoyed many years in the future, but there is usually no guidance to this on the label.
If you’re after something to enjoy sooner, try buying from a respected wine shop, where a sales assistant should be able to recommend a suitable bottle. Alternatively, you can search individual wines on Cellar Tracker, a site that lists many types and their best drinking dates. It’s also possible to follow this advice to find a vintage that will age well, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Learn how to smell and taste
This tip comes in particularly handy when you’re in a restaurant or an environment where you can taste the wine before you buy it. Good wines usually have complexity, balance, and a lingering flavour, so being able to recognise these qualities will put you at an advantage when picking out the very best bottles.
You’ve probably seen wine experts employ the classic ‘swirl and sniff’ technique before, and for good reason. The swirling motion gets the particles of the wine moving, unlocking the scent, which you can then enjoy. Look for smells that point to different flavours: this is a big hint that there is more going on behind the scenes than with a cheap wine. For example, a basic Italian white might give away notes of lemon and apple, but a superior wine might add floral or nutty scents as well.
When it comes to tasting the wine, you’ll want to take a small sip and move the wine around your mouth and tongue a few times. Wine Folly have a helpful video guide to this technique that you’ll probably want to watch if you’re a beginner. Again, you’re looking for a complex taste, with hints of many different flavours, but you’re also on the lookout for a nice balance, where the acidity does not overwhelm the subtler notes. Good wine will also have a lengthy taste that lingers on the tongue and evolves even after the wine is swallowed — bad wine can also leave a lasting impression, but you’ll usually want to rinse your mouth out with water afterwards.
Take our three tips on board and, not only will you be able to pick out a great wine in the shop, but you’ll also be able to recognise something special when you’re tasting.