Monolithos Wine Dimensions: November 2017
We all deserve to drink great wine, but grabbing the first thing that catches your eye on the shelf of a wine shop or supermarket can often lead to disappointment. The numerous labels of white, red and pink can be so overwhelming that you either end up picking the most decorative label or opting for the special offers when at a loss about what to choose.
There are masses of tempting discounts screaming at us from the corridors, and although some are genuine bargains, the ones to ignore are the bottles you recognize for being on discount all the time, because it probably means they wouldn’t have been worth the full price tag in the first place. More often than not, these wines will be older vintages offered at reduced prices when a winery wants to get rid of unwanted stock.
There is a plethora of suggestions of how and what wine to choose. Some will advise you to focus on varietals from specific regions. However while a wine might be designated a “regional wine”, it does not necessarily mean it is going to be the best; it simply denotes that it is produced to certain regional standards. Others point out that a way of choosing can be based on your preferences on the wine’s features such as sweetness, alcohol and acidity, all of which are dependent on climate. The warmer the climate (Mediterranean regions, Australia and California) the fruitier and sweeter the wine is. The cooler the climate (Germany, Austria, Alsace, New Zealand), the more tart and acidic the wine.
Another warning frequently circulated is that you should not be overwhelmed when you see an attractive label. Just because there is a picture of a sheep or rabbit wearing sunglasses, or the label is made of some fancy fabric, this does not mean the wine is going to taste as good as the label looks.
A good recommendation is to always read both back and front labels before purchasing a wine. The Alcohol by Volume (ABV) is listed on every bottle, and it can give you a good glimpse of what’s inside. The higher the ABV, the richer the wine. If you like lighter, drier wines, stick to wines with an ABV lower than 13%. The back label usually offers a wealth of information to help you match wines with flavour profiles that you typically enjoy – take advantage of it. Often wineries will have their own tasting notes, and they may also tell you more about their winemaking, like the use of oak fermentation if you enjoy richer wines with hints of vanilla, or sustainability practices.
The internet offers another channel through which consumers are now able to purchase online wine. The growth of the internet wine business has enlightened wine drinkers with price transparency and access to wines from around the world, all at a fraction of what buyers are used to paying. However, it is impossible to know if you will have a bad experience with any merchant online. In an ever more digital world, there are a few things that remain reassuringly analogue. Wine is a good example. Buying bad wine is like pouring money down the drain. To know for sure that you will like the wine that you bought for your party, you first have to taste it. This is perhaps the most obvious reason why internet accounts for only a tiny fraction of worldwide wine sales.
The most valued benefit of a winery tasting room is considered to be the opportunity to sample, taste and decide what you like most. However, for the majority of wine consumers, a trip to the local supermarket is sufficient enough to fill their needs. Either way, it is fair to say that most shoppers will buy wine at a supermarket at some point. Most of the bottles sold there are medium-to-low priced so the most expensive bottles tend to stay on the shelves for months. With shelves and shelves full of bottles, it is a lot easier to get things wrong than it is to get things right. Therefore passing through the corridors of the supermarket, trying to choose a good quality bottle of wine, can be a daunting task. Below we make some suggestions of how to get a decent bottle when you are in doubt.
One of the most practical strategies to employ is the three “P”s (Price, Preference, and Pairing) of selecting wines. Keep these “P”s in mind when visiting your local wine shop and in most cases, you will be successful in picking a winning wine.
The price issue refers to the amount you are willing to pay (or not pay) for a bottle. This is a key determining factor in selecting a wine that is right for you. The pressing questions to be answered are: does quality always increase in line with price? How much should you spend for a decent bottle?
A lot of the things you get in a bottle of wine are fixed prices e.g. the bottle, labels, cork, VAT, transport, etc. So if you buy a bottle of wine for less than say €4, the value of the wine inside is just under 50 cents. Unlike a lot of consumer products, with wine you tend to get what you pay for. That is not to say that there are not great bargains available, but the difference in quality between a €3 bottle and a €30 bottle of wine is usually quite significant. It is also true that many higher-priced wines are excellent, and that the world’s best wines rarely cost €5 or €10. But some of the best wines are often relatively inexpensive. Conversely, some much more expensive wines have had mediocre scores. With all this in mind, the answer to the price tag may be incredibly simple – choose a bottle that costs between €5 and €15.
The second criterion involves personal preferences. We all have them. You know a bad coffee from a good one, and it’s the same with wine. Trust your taste. If you don’t want to be adventurous, find something you like and stick to it. And if you want to step out of your comfort zone, use your personal preferences and previous experiences to determine what you like and don’t like simply by assessing if it’s too heavy, too bold, too light, too acidic, etc. Choose a wine that you would want to drink by itself, rather than hoping for a food match. But note that preferences in choosing the right kind of wine do not necessarily mean personal preferences. Wine preferences can be influenced by who you will be sharing it with. Take into consideration what you are planning to do with it. Are you having a dinner party? Or just a quiet evening with no one but family and a few close friends?
Thirdly, if you are looking for a wine specifically to pair with a particular meal, then take into account what the key ingredients will be. Will it be white or red meat? Will you be using fresh or dried herbs and what types? Will you be serving pizzas, macaroni, cheese and/or snacks? These questions can play a key role in deciding which wines will pair well with specific dishes. In general, white wines accent lighter flavoured meals really well, while red wines often complement heartier meals better. Keep in mind that pairing foods and wines is 99% personal preference and 1% science.
Everyone – from consumers to wine shop owners, to wine critics, to winemakers – all are in the business of distinguishing good wine from bad and communicating those distinctions to others. However, the days when the word of half a dozen wine critics was taken as gospel are over. Wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers. There is a good deal of subjectivity involved and there is no one “correct” way of tasting or experiencing wine. Wine recommendations should be treated like movie reviews: they can give you a general idea of what you’re going to get, but your actual reaction will be intensely personal.
One last thing to remember is that there are very few wine and food pairings that are truly bad. Most work just fine, so stop worrying and make an educated guess, based on the simple pairing guidelines mentioned above. What works and what doesn’t is of course totally subjective. Eating a good meal while sharing a bottle of wine is a bonding experience. Wine brings people together. And it does that just as well at €6 as at €36 a bottle. Drink what tastes good or whatever you can afford.