Wine 101: How to Wine Shop
Making a purchase just based on the name of a grape can be misleading. It is true that each grape variety has it’s own DNA, characteristics, and attributes, but there are so many other factors that contribute to the style of a wine. Climate, soil, viticulture techniques, and winemaking choices are important factors to consider. A crisp, minerally, un-oaked, austere Chablis (100% Chardonnay) has more in common with a Sancerre (100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley) than a rich tropical Californian Chardonnay. Yet, they are the same grape.
So what are the things that you need to communicate to your sommelier or your local wine shop when you need help with picking a bottle of wine?
Describing the style of wine you like will be more helpful than listing the name of a grape. Do you enjoy richer or lighter wine? Fruit-driven or earthy? Mouth-watering (high acid) or soft? Sweet or dry? Do you prefer your red wine to be firm and mouth-drying (high tannins) or soft and supple (lighter tannins)?
If all of that jargon is still too intimidating, naming a few wines you’ve enjoyed in the past will be helpful. You don’t even need to remember an exact wine producer, though the country or the region will be key. For example, if you typically like full-bodied Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, you will probably enjoy red wine made in hot regions in the New World. Cabs from Chile, Argentina, or Australia will be good options.
Also remember to mention what the wine is for. Are you planning to drink the wine with or without food? Some bottles are what we call “food wine.” They just shine brighter at the table. In this case, what you’re eating is obviously important as well.
Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Wine should be fun and enjoyable – everything BUT intimidating. Be open-minded and be willing to go off the beaten track and try something new.
Posted in: Education, Michelle Bouffard, Wine 101