How to Buy Wine for You

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
How to buy wine


 How to buy wine–get a good wine guy.

An NPR story in March made us feel a lot better about the fact that most of us just can’t taste the nuances of high-priced wines, even when we think (or act like) we can. It’s biological, plain and simple. Those blessed with an acute sense of taste were dubbed “Supertasters.” Mercifully, they didn’t offer a term for the rest of us regular folks.

Supertasting genes or not, anyone can enhance their wine vocabulary and tasting skills for a better appreciation of wine and for smarter buying. But “better” doesn’t have to mean $100 or even $50 for a bottle of wine, even if your self-image does. Surely, in a world where the asparagus season never ends, affordable wines for every palate and every personality profile must abound.

Which begs the question we’ve been pondering for years: how do we non-Supertasters find our wines?

Hoyt Hill of Village Wines freed us from our price tag baggage when he told us that there is an ocean of great $15 red wines out there and in less than 60 seconds he filled us a mystery case of them. And they were all great. After that, Hoyt’s Sunday Wine Academy sessions taught with Elise Lohr of F. Scotts helped drive home the point. Hoyt and Elise served all kinds of great wines and by inviting the class to react to them (i.e., calling on us law school-style) we began to develop a vocabulary which helped us begin to understand region, terroir, style and grape (“Wet cement?” “Well, what kind of wet cement?”).

We also learned from the Academies that there are among us articulate supertasters blessed with discerning palates and the mental capacities for minute detail (and foreign languages) who are free to spend all they like on wine without feeling like poseurs.

At a recent Friday afternoon Watermark wine luncheon hosted by Hoyt and Chef Bob Waggoner we asked our relaxed tablemates for tips on how anyone can find the right wines for their tastes and budgets. Here’s the result of our very unscientific poll:

How to Buy Wine

When you walk into a wine store and you’re asked, “Can I help you?” say “Yes.” Even if the salesperson is not a sommelier, he or she will likely know more about the wines they sell than you do, including which $40 or $50 wine is currently going for $25. Wine salesfolk do not work on commission so they are more interested in seeing you again another day than upselling you (and running you off) today.

Shop regularly with a wine store you like. Developing a relationship with the staff will only help you make better choices that fit your budget.  Join their mailing lists and get in on a wine tasting if they offer them.

Learn about the style of wines that you enjoy and how to describe them. Then, just be open to the winemaker.  The styles stay the same no matter who makes them.  And when you’re unsure about a style or a grape, just ask “What do you have that’s like a …?” and the staff can hone in on your preference with something in the store.

Wine people are usually food people so ask for recommendations on pairings. The response to “What goes with roast duck and Brussels sprouts for around $20?” might surprise and delight you.

Buy wines that you have never heard of. And avoid wines with cute names.

Be prepared to spend about 50% more on white wine than on red wine for the same quality. White wine is transparent so its flaws are more noticeable.

Every day is a special occasion. When you buy wines above your normal price range go ahead and enjoy them, now. Unless you’re into cellaring, holding a more expensive wine can often end in disappointment when you realize you waited too long.

Hoyt suggested, near the end of lunch, never to take wine advice from a guy in a red beret.  No, it was just the wine talking.

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