The Basics of Wine buying for a novice… Unfiltered

I have been around the wine industry for well over a decade and the question I get asked the most is “what does one to do in a wine shop?” There are all these bottles staring at you, a visual BottleShop_0025-1024x683overload of all sorts of labels in all shapes and colors, how does one discern from one to another.

After thinking of it for years and giving one answer or another your resident Dear Wine Abby may finally have a good answer.

The American Way.

I say throw the dart and grab whatever it lands on. Don’t listen to an employee, manager, owner, whomever is there and full of “expertise”, legit or self-serving.  Your odds of picking a dud are equal with a winedude impressing you with some shelf-talking rhetoric or you picking a random bottle blindfolded. You know why? Cause what works for him may not work for and vice versa. Think of it like inviting a girl to dance… don’t give anyone the power of screwing up what could be the worst 5 min of your life (all the way to a lifetime commitment). It is yours to screw up or benefit from.

So unless you a stanch believer in arranged marriages, social programs involving constant handholding or long meaningless lectures, go for it!!

We all have the same tool, which is our palate. That is equal justice at its best, baby.

(Not social justice, mind you, when we are repeatedly promised drinking Screaming Eagle, according to those who peddle the concept. Of course by the time we actually transfer the funds, we are served Smoking Loon instead, accompanied by a lecture that it is just as good)

So exercise your Freedom of Choice, self-appointed authority be damned. Let your palate is your Jedi Master… learn from it.

I believe it was Woody Allen that said that half of the Success is in Showing Up.

You are halfway there, you showed up at a wine shop. (Even if it was by accident, own it). Go ahead and make an executive decision even if it because the label had a pretty fish on it (I won’t tell). You won’t be sorry. Often, we learn as much from bad experiences as we do from good ones. You will learn what doesn’t taste good to you. I submit that it is as important to know as what does not appeal to your senses or else how would you know the difference?!

There are no more guarantees in wine than there are in life. The only guarantee I can give you is that if you don’t pull the proverbial trigger and pull that bottle off the shelf you will miss out on a discovery …

Here is the best part.

Once you consumed some of your choices (and poured some down the drain) you will be your own best advocate. You can then enlist the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator or any wine professional help with far more success. The trick is in asking the right question.

Example: “I am attending a party. Could you recommend a good bottle of wine under $25?”

WRONG!!! (Can you hear the screeching buzzer?)

The correct question:

“I am going to a party where no one knows anything about wine and I want to bring something I would want to drink. Do you have any Merlot under $25 that is a fruit-forward, ready to drink and is a crowd-pleaser?

See what an amazing feat you just pulled? First, you just told the salesman (don’t be fooled by the fancy “wine consultant” name tag) that you like wine with generous fruit characteristics, the wine that will show well, be palate pleasing and fun to share. Your drinking companions may not remember anything about the label, but I guarantee they will remember “tasty”, and you will become a Wine Hero in no time.

In the first case scenario you were about to leave with likely mediocre overpriced random bottle that is just as likely your shop owner’s distributor’s flavor of the day for reasons I don’t even care to speculate on.

In the second you have become your own first line of expert advice and know your expectations. If you know yourself you know what you want and ask accordingly.

So isn’t it worth studying your own palate? I know it is hard work drinking wine for homework but the grading curve makes up for it, and you always get an “A” for effort. Plus you will feel like a million bucks walking into a wine store or perusing a wine list at a restaurant, and rather than accepting some questionable random advice you’ll buy and dine like a winner, secretly smiling to yourself.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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