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Choosing a Wine

"There are no standards of taste in wine... Each man's own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard."

--Mark Twain

What Wines Will I Like?

I'm often asked to compare wines, how I feel a wine stacks up to a particular rating, or what I feel is the best wine to buy. I don't have any prepared answer and I rarely make a recommendation unless I know something about the preferences of the individual. As the above quote points out, each individual has a unique preference and palate. In addition, one would ask in what conditions will the wine be consumed.

As is the case of most alcoholic and some non-alcoholic beverages (coffee, tea, cola, etc.), taste and appreciation for wine is acquired and progressive. It is not uncommon for an individual to initially prefer sweet, light wines such as Johannisburg Riesling, White Zinfandel or Chenin Blanc. As one's tastes mature, drier, more complex white wines such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc may be preferred. The initial leap to red wines may include lighter, fruity wines such as Merlot , red table wines, or Neaveau-style reds. To many, a preference for full-bodied, complex reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Meritage-style blends is the acme of a developed wine palate. As you taste wines, keep mental notes as to your preferred tastes.


If you like...

You might want to try...

Very Sweet, Dessert Wines

Muscat Canelli, Late Harvest Riesling

Sweet White or Blush Wines

White Zinfandel, Johannisburg Riesling

Light or Semi-Dry Whites

Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Dry Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc

Dry or Full-Bodied Whites

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

Fruity Reds

Neaveau-Style Reds, Grenache

Light to Medium Reds

Merlot, Pinot Noir, Barbera

Fruity, Medium-Bodied Reds

Zinfandel, Syrah, Bordeaux Blends (Meritage)

Full-Bodied Reds

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc

Tasting wines at a winery or tasting room offers one the luxury of finding a wine he or she likes before buying it. It would be nice to walk into a walk into a wine retailer and do the same. Unfortunately, most of us are at the mercy of buying a wine we are most familiar with, hearing of one from a third party, or buying blind. When wishing to try a new wine, one can minimize the risk of buying a poor wine with just a little knowledge.

Remember that a more costly wine doesn't necessarily mean a better wine and that a high rating or rave review doesn't mean that you are going to like it. Being able to interpret the label and buying from a reputable and knowledgeable source are your best chance to find the right wine.

Factors in Buying Wine  


Most individuals tend to like certain specific characteristics of a wine, whether it's a citrusy Chardonnay or a peppery Zinfandel. Many wine bottles have a label that contains the winemaker's notes or describes the characteristics of the wine and it is good advice to read these notes. Some better wine retailers will display a description of the wine or a review along side the wines. Since taste in wines is subjective, it is not recommended to purchase wines strictly on a wine's "score."

Environment of Retailer

Since most people buy their wines from a wine store, supermarket or drug store, the environment in which the wines are stored is important. Wines will keep longer if stored on their sides, however if the store has a rapid turnover then there is little consequence to wines stored upright. Wines are best stored in a constant, cool environment and away from direct sunlight.

Knowledgeable Staff

A wine store (or a retailer with a sizeable wine department) will most likely have a knowledgeable staff in which one can get recommendations. Since personal taste is vastly different among individuals, it is always best to first describe the types of wines, flavors and particular favorite wines one likes before asking for advice. It is also very important to describe what the wine will be served with and how much you wish to spend. It is too often the case that a person will spend much more on a wine than is desired because he/she felt intimidated by cost.

Inspect the Bottle

A simple inspection of the bottle can avert a wine fiasco. Check to see that there is no sticky residue on the neck of the bottle and that the bottle's fill level is consistent with other bottles. The top surface of the wine should not be seen below the lower edge of the foil, or with the newer foil-less bottles, more than 1 inch below the bottom of the cork.

Try Wines Before Buying in Bulk

Although many retailers will provide case discounts ( often 5 or 10 percent), it is unwise to buy wines in quantity without tasting the wine first. People often buy cases of wine solely based on a particular rating or recommendation from a friend or wine merchant only to find that the wine does not suit their taste.


Next in this series: Serving Wine 

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