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Buying Wine: A Guide When You Don’t Buy Enough

You can always get a good bottle of wine. At a restaurant, just ask the sommelier or the wait staff. At a wine tasting, follow the host’s lead. But what if you must get a few bottles for an intimate dinner or a social gathering at home? Panic may set in when you walk up to the shelves and see a line of bottles that seem to all look like.

When you don’t buy enough bottles or rely on others to choose your wine for you, buying on your own can be daunting. No one wants to buy a $15 bottle (the average cost of wine) and see the disappointment of those who’ll drink it.

So how do you buy wine — good wine?

Figure out what you want to buy

Never go to a shop without knowing what you want. Then, you’d end up with just any bottle, and it may not be the type of wine that’s fit for the occasion or the guests. What if you got a deep, bold Bordeaux but your guests are mostly into lighter-bodied wines? No point in getting wine if no one else but you will drink it, right?

So learn what your guests prefer to drink. Note the flavors you want from your wine. And make a shortlist of potential wines to grab at the store.

Choose the right store

Grocery shops are OK for everyday wines. But if you’re buying for a social event or a special occasion (e.g., anniversaries, job promotions, etc.), a wine shop is better. A wine shop is not intimidating; many are run by perfectly accommodating people who are more than willing to help you pick a good bottle.

Pick a few options. Visit them from time to time to get a feel for the customer service and their range of products. The right shop will have a good mix of wines from the New World, France, Italy or Spain, and the staff will be easy to talk to about what bottle goes with what food.

Ignore the awards on the labels

In the same way that the most expensive wine isn’t always the best wine, an award-winning bottle doesn’t always mean it’s the greatest. Wine awards are mostly for the big wineries that have the resources to enter, and ultimately, choices can be subjective; what is an artful blend of different varietals to a judge may just be muddled to others.

wine bottles displayed
Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

Talk to the shop keepers

If you have a list of different wines already, see if the shop keepers willing to go through it with you. You could start the conversation with “I have a budget.” The shop keeper, straight away, would know which shelves to point. Then, go over each option. Would the dry Riesling work for your backyard barbecue? Is the merlot a fine choice for a romantic evening in with the spouse or would a chianti fare better?

You should also ask the shop keepers what they’re drinking. They’ve been on wine tasting tours and likely sampled every bottle in their shelves. They would know the tastiest drinks — for whatever budget. Think of it like asking a chef where they go to lunch or dinner.

The shop keeper may also recommend what’s new on the rack. Be adventurous. Try other varietals from other regions and producers.

Ask about second-label wines

Second labels are approachable wines from the very best winemakers. Unlike their “cousins,” the first labels, these cost at a fraction of the price.

Sometimes, winemakers will have grapes that didn’t make the cut for the first label. Instead of wasting them, they process these using a similar process as they did with the first-label wines. But final product will be sold under a different name.

If you’re mixing wine for cocktails, go with a cheaper bottle

Sangrias. Kir royales. And something called a “frosé.” Wine cocktails are fun because you can get creative with the mixes, even for traditional drinks. And they taste luscious. If your party guests aren’t really wine drinkers, wine cocktails will work just fine. Because you’ll be mixing the vino with other alcohol and ingredients, you don’t have to get a pricey bottle. A cheap bottle, from a good winemaker, is good enough.

When you’re not yet a connoisseur and drink wine on occasion, panic isn’t necessary when shopping for several bottles. Practice what’s on our list, and soon enough, you’ll have stored a good few bottles at home without breaking the bank.

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