Trying to learn how to buy wine on my own, as much as I love the “go to a trusted wine store and ask” approach.
There’s a place near me that I think has an interesting selection with some older vintages, but I’m afraid with my inexperience I’m putting myself in a position where I’m buying a lot of past prime wine.
I’d love for some members to tell me some wines they would buy based on this site, and why it’s a good QPR.
I feel more comfortable exchanging the name of the site in DMs, so if anyone is interested please DM me, I’ll give you the site, and hope I can get a few suggestions.
I think this is exactly what a quality local wine store and its employees would be great for, so I would just go an ask for recommendations. Also, if the bottle has gone bad, I believe most decent shops would give you a refund, credit, or another bottle.
Read that you’re trying to build a cellar, good to see you starting young. Start with some second labels, they don’t break the bank and will give you a glimpse of the wine making team’s style and taste of the big brother bottle. The second labels are usually made from younger vines and are made to drink young. Napanook, Vice Versa Le Petit, Altagracia, Inglenook. Paso wines offer great QPR. Law Estate, Torrin, Terry Hoage.
Jordan: Let me give you another take–since you use the acronym QPR I am guessing you have an analytical approach to the world. Going to a wine store might work if you are lucky, understanding that every business has a built in conflict of interest (yes, even wine stores) but will you have learned anything? I suggest you go to CellarTracker site and join–annual membership contributions are optional. Then start using their search engine–pick a varietal you like–say Syrah, then identify how much you want to pay (say 15-30 bucks) and enter that under the “value” option. Then select a country ( I suggest you start with the U.S. just because of selection), select a vintage range say 2014-2018. You can then get a list of wines that fit your criteria–if there are still too many wines to research you can further reduce it using the other options. Hit the “score” column and the results will come out by order of the average score posted by members. Once you get a manageable list of wines, hit on each one and read the individual ratings and reviews. The reviews are all important–if you don’t like oakey wines, for example, it doesn’t matter what rating they get if they are oakey. Be aware that some wines don’t get many reviews so look closely at the number of ratings before going too far. Come up with a list of wines you like. The site has an easy way to tie into the “wine searcher” site to find wine stores that sell the wine and quote you a price (be aware of both the shipping costs and the hassles of ordering wine over the internet). Or you can take the list to your local wine store and see if they will order wine for you–and at what price. In my experience, most wine stores won’t want to mess with wine orders unless you make it easy–more on that later. That will give you a good take on how that store operates. Using this approach I think you will end up with some good QPR wines and learn a lot about wine in the process.
Tastes can differ dramatically so one person’s perfect QPR ir another’s dreadful rip-off. People new to the hobby often turn towards leading critics to guide them to great qpr, but that’s a flawed approach for that very reason.
What can someone do then?
Read for information, rather than buying advice. Learn what to expect from a Loire Cab Franc vs. a Californian Zinfandel vs. an Italian Amarone etc.
Make notes on what you like / don’t like about each wine you drink. Many of us use Cellartracker for this, but pen and paper, electronic notepad, etc. are fine for starters. At first you might struggle for words, but don’t worry too much about that. It might start with simple words such as ‘harsh’, ‘sickly’, ‘luscious’, easy-drinking, etc. etc. but that vocabulary will broaden in time.
Now, armed with that personal insight, head into a proper wine shop, and find someone working there who has tasted widely within the wines in the shop (i.e. not simply an enthusiastic but inexperienced salesperson). Tell them which wines you really liked and why, plus if they’re recommending something from a region / company that you’ve tried and didn’t like, then let them know and share those notes. The idea is that they are taking your own thoughts to pick wines you potentially will like, or at least find interesting.
Older wines. I do like older wines, but do expect a degree of hot and miss. I would recommend buying a few to see how you feel about older wines. Single bottles across a range of grapes / regions. There will be misses that are entirely down to bottle variation, so don’t necesasarily dismiss a region / grape on a single bad showing, but do follow-up on what you do like.
How to know if a wine is over the hill, just right, or still a little young. As per the first comment, this does also vary between us, so you’ll see varying opinions even on the same bottle of wine amongst people sat at the same table. The aforementioned Cellartracker is very useful (and very much shows that varying opinion), but look at a full cross-section of recent notes and you’ll start to get a rough feel, not only for where it is in maturity terms, but also what flavours / taste profile you might expect.
Hope this helps
I’d say check out budget shipping sites as well. I use EmpireWine because it’s a solid 20%-50% cheaper than my local shop. WineLibrary with the Library Pass also seems solid, but I don’t know a lot of the labels so I tend to avoid. Also, deals like the Berserker Quarantine Relief. The trick is you need to know some of the labels.
All great recommendations and I think the trick is finding a balance across them all. Building a cellar takes time and patience and you want it to express the depth and breadth of your palate. Often if you stick with one site or one store you will find yourself way overindexed on a particular region or variety because you are limited to that site’s/store’s selection (or what their distributors can provide them).
Here’s what I did when I started out:
I found two quality local shops. Selection process included Yelp reviews; I asked friends/colleagues/local restaurant wine managers who they preferred; and I made sure both stores were both in a location I frequented. For me, that meant my long commute to/from work. When I narrowed the search down to a handful of stores, I walked in to each and asked them to recommend two everyday drinking wines that were “Wowing” them. A white and a red. All I told them was I liked “crisp whites” and “big reds” and let them go from there. I then asked them to pick a third wine that was a wildcard. Something that was just unique or crazy that was blowing their mind. I also asked why. I then took the bottles home and figured out which store’s combination fit me. The goal with a local shop is to build a relationship and the best way to do that is to find someone who fits with your palate, but can also push you out of that comfort zone in a way you appreciate. The two shops I selected are still my “go to” stores today and they completely balance each other out (which is why I pick two). If one doesn’t have the bottle I’m looking for, the other can usually get it. One focuses on Old World and the other has crazy inroads with the New World. Again, it’s all about balance.
Online stores are your best friends for deals. While I love the in-store experience and the bond I’ve formed with them, it doesn’t always produce the best deals. I love a great deal, I mean REALLY love it. Here I break it up into two camps, the “full service” online retailers, (like WineLibrary or Wine.com) and the Flash Sale sites (like WTSO or LastBottle). Both are great for different purposes. The full service sites have variety and scale – typically at a fraction of the overhead costs of a full brick and mortar store. Flash sale sites do not have those qualities but they have something else . . . incredible prices on highly-rated wines. The downside is you don’t get to pick and choose. They show you one bottle at a time and you either buy it, or not. Occasionally, they’ll have Marathon sales to unload huge quantities of stock (list Last Bottle did last week!) and that’s when you tune out the world and stock up. With online purchases though you have to be careful of shipping charges. They can eat up any deal, so I typically purchase in quantities that give free shipping or – as I’ve done with Wine Library (and Wine.com in the past) – I subscribe to their annual free shipping program. That way it’s just one less factor to consider in my purchases.
Make sure to find an online resource you trust. As mentioned above, many folks enjoy CellarTracker for research, but there are others like Wine-Searcher or Vivino. Community Boards like this are also a great resource! Also, finding a critic whose palate best fits yours is important. This way when you see a solid rating from that critic on a bottle, varietal, or region you’ve never tasted, it will be that much easier to add it to your cellar.