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Strategies for Wine Shopping


Most wine lovers discover (at least eventually) that wine shopping can be fun. You can guarantee yourself of more positive wine-buying experiences than negative ones by being aware of your knowledge — or lack thereof — of the subject.

Too much information about wine is constantly changing — new vintages each year, hundreds of new wineries, new brands, and so on — for anyone to presume that he knows it all, or for anyone to feel insecure about what he doesn’t know. After realizing this, you can really have fun in wine shops. And trips to other cities to check out their wine offerings provide opportunities to explore.

Following are some good questions to ask in a wine shop:

What kind of storage has this wine experienced? Ask this if a wine costs more than $10. Hemming and hawing on the part of the wine merchant should be taken to mean, “Poor.”

How long has this wine been in your store? This is especially important if the store does not have a climate-control system.

What are some particularly good buys this month? (Provided you trust the wine merchant, and you don’t think he’s dumping some overstocked, closeout wine on you.)

If applicable:

Why is this wine selling at such a low price? The merchant might know that the wine is too old, or is otherwise defective; unless he comes up with a believable explanation, assume that’s the case.

Will this wine go well with the food I’m planning to serve? The more information about the recipe or main flavors you can provide, the better your chance of getting a good match.

See a chance, take it

If you find that you buy the same wines again and again because you know what to expect from them, and like them, you may be stuck in a rut. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on something new. If exploring wine is really going to be fun, you need to be a little more adventuresome.

If you want to experience the wonderful array of wines in the world, experimenting is a must. New wines can be interesting and exciting. Now and then you might get a lemon, but at least you’ll learn not to buy that wine again!

Explain what you want

When you come across a wine you like in a restaurant or at a friend’s house, write down as much specific information about the wine from the label as you can. Don’t trust your memory. If your wine merchant can see the name, he can give you that wine or — if he doesn’t have that exact wine — he may be able to give you something very similar to it.

It’s clearly to your advantage to be able to tell your wine retailer anything you can about the types of wine that you have liked previously or that you want to try. Describe what you like in clear, simple terms. For example, for white wine, you might use such words as “crisp, dry,” or “fruity, ripe, oaky, buttery, full-bodied.” For red wines, you might say “big, rich, tannic,” or “medium-bodied, soft.”

Name your price

Because the price of a bottle of wine can range from about $4 to literally hundreds of dollars, it’s a good idea to decide approximately how much you want to spend and to tell your wine merchant. Fix two price ranges in your mind: one for everyday purposes, and one for special occasions. These prices will probably change over time; the $6 to $10 range you start with for everyday wines often rises to $12 to $20 as you discover better wines.

A good wine merchant is more interested in the repeat business he’ll get by making you happy than he is in trading you up to a bottle of wine that’s beyond your limits. If what you want to spend is $10 a bottle, just say so, and stand firm, without embarrassment. There are plenty of decent, enjoyable wines at that price.