Have you ever gone to the store to buy wine only to find yourself confounded by the myriad varietals, vintages, regions, producers, labels, and price points on display? Well if so, youâ€™re not alone. I started to pursue wine tasting as a hobby a couple years ago, and I know first hand that shopping for wine can be a confusing, overwhelming and downright frustrating experience if you arenâ€™t prepared. Iâ€™ve talked with a few wine-loving friends and interviewed a local merchant who runs a specialty wine shop in the Napa Valley, and weâ€™ve come up with the following list of tips and information to get you wine shopping with ease in no time.First, decide what type of store to shop at. Unless you live near a region sprinkled with vineyards and tasting rooms, you will generally have three options available to meet your wine retail needs: grocery stores, bottle shops (or liquor stores), and specialty wine shops. We have excluded restaurants and online wine shopping from this list because these two outlets involve a very different shopping experience and warrant a different approach.1.Â Grocery storesÂ will have a smaller selection of wines to choose from (usually 3-5 short aisles), lower price points for the selection available (most bottles will cost between $5 - $35), and limited help available if you have any questions. While grocery stores do not offer as much variety, they make wine accessible to everybody. Grocery stores may be good places to start if the large selections and wine experts in more specialized stores seem overwhelming.2.Â Bottle shops or liquor stores, as the name implies, are not limited to wine distribution. They carry a wide variety of beverages in addition to wine, including liquor, beer, spirits and nonalcoholic beverages. When it comes to wine, bottle shops will offer a larger selection - a wider range of varietals, brands, regions and price points. You will find widely distributed labels and some smaller, boutique labels depending on the distributors that the bottle shop owner works with. Unlike grocery stores, bottle shops usually have an employee or manager available to answer questions or make recommendations.3.Â Specialty wine shopsÂ will not necessarily have the largest selection of wine labels available, but they will have confidence in the labels they do carry. In general, specialty wine shop owners will have personally tasted and selected the wines featured in their store and may be experts in the trade. If you choose to shop at a specialty wine shop, the employees should be able to make great recommendations for bottles that will suit your palate and your needs.Once youâ€™ve selected your retail outlet type, consider the following two questions. These will help you narrow down your options for a more focused shopping experience:
Are you looking for a red or a white wine?This is pretty self-explanatory. Itâ€™s mainly just a matter of preference but may vary depending on the season, the meal or the occasion. Generally (and â€œgenerallyâ€ is the key here â€“ there are no ultimatums when it comes to wine flavors and styles), white wines can be quite refreshing during warmer months, while red wines are generally heavier and taste well during cooler times of the year. Itâ€™s also a good idea to serve red wine later in the day, as it generally has a higher alcohol content and may leave drinkers feeling groggy or tired.
How much do you want to spend?Price does not always reflect quality, but itâ€™s definitely a factor. The producerâ€™s marketing objectives, the labelâ€™s popularity and the wineryâ€™s production costs all play a role in the pricing of a bottle. Think about a time when youâ€™ve purchased a pair of off-brand sandals. Were these shoes as comfortable or long lasting as a pair that may have been made a little better or cost a little more, like, say, a pair of Steve Maddenâ€™s? Sometimes a higher-priced bottle may be worth the investment.That being said, it is possible to find great bottles of wine that wonâ€™t break the bank. From my own wine buying experiences, Iâ€™ve found that I have to spend a little more to get a decent bottle of red wine ($15 - $20) than I do to get a decent bottle of white wine ($9 - $12). Why is this? Well, producing red wine involves many moving parts: itâ€™s a longer process that is much more labor intensive (largely because of barrel aging â€“ most whites will never see time on oak). Thereâ€™s too much good wine out there to be stuck on bottles in the â€œunder $7â€ range, so drink less and spend a little more. Iâ€™m confident you wonâ€™t regret it.
When browsing the wine shelves, you may also want to keep these other things in mind:
- Â Shelf talkers, like tasting notes and wine scores, are not guarantees (much of this depends on the criticâ€™s taste preferences and is not a guarantee that you will like the bottle)
- Â If youâ€™re looking to buy wine for a crowd or a special occasion, consider buying a case (12 bottles). Stores will often offer a discount between 10 percent â€“ 20 percent for larger purchases.
- Â If you have a smart phone on hand, put it to use! There are plenty of wine apps available to help you find bottles to match your palate with your price range. These apps may offer critic or every-day drinker reviews, interfaces that let you search for wines by taste preference, occasion or meal, and some may even let you scan the bottleâ€™s UPC barcode to compare prices from different retailers. Here are a few noteworthy wine apps to check out:Â Hello Vino,Snooth Wine Pro,Â Pair It.