December 10, 2012

Picking Out a Bottle, Part 1: Letting the Label Speak

As someone who often pops into a wine store/Costco/the supermarket, and returns with a wine that I've never tried before, I get asked:  How do you actually pick out wine and know that it will be good?

Well, first of all:  you never do know.  But, I'm generally pretty successful.  I have a series of questions I ask myself (is this going with a meal? am I in the mood for something particular?) when I am looking for a very specific wine, and I will go into detail on this in future posts.

But let's say, you just want to pick out a wine to enjoy, and you want to try something entirely new.  I did that the other night.  I went into the store to pick out one wine for dinner that night, but decided it was in the budget to buy one more to try.

What do I do?  I LET THE LABEL TALK.  Yep, my friends: I use the very scientific of label searching.

First of all, I scan the racks for any labels that stand out.  Any regions I know?  Any years that I love?

Then, I look at the label artwork.  Yes, I said it. The artwork. Or lack thereof.  Usually I tend towards simple, uncluttered labels, maybe a single image or interesting logo.  Once in a while, I will buy the bottles with hilarious or vibrant labels (mostly this happens at Trader Joe's), but usually I stick to the basics. I also try to steer clear of wines with cutesy, punny names--and I love a good pun.  But I've found sometimes, cute names and pretty colors sometimes....overcompensate for the quality of the wine.

So, let's say something catches my eye. I pick up a bottle. Then, I flip it over.  This is where things get important.  Let's use a bottle I recently drank as an example:
The review for this bottle is coming soon. Spoiler alert: AWESOME
What am I looking for?  The wine's description on the back of the label.  Sometimes a wine store will have a little sign or placard that also denotes "notes" in wine, but sometimes, the back of the wine is all you got. Yes, it's marketing: but it's there for a reason. It's a start.

 I always initially ignore verbs and adjectives, and just focus on nouns.  In the case of the example bottle:   blackberries, cherries, vanilla, fruit flavors.  Sometimes, I will then look for a few adjectives: in this case, I pick up "creamy texture."

Let's say I wanted to buy a fruit forward wine to drink and not one that is really spicy or oaky or heavy. I see all fruit on the label, no tobacco or black pepper or meat or anything--just fruit and vanilla and light texture.  Sounds perfect.

So I buy it.  It may be awesome.  It may not be.  (This particular one WAS awesome).  This method is perfect for the person who knows their budget and a few factors that they enjoy.  This method is also perfect for the person who is not afraid of a little failure, or who is not ashamed to take a bottle of wine and turn it into cooking wine.  I wouldn't buy a $100 bottle this way, but it's a great way to experiment and find a new favorite inexpensive table wine.  

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