The process of selecting wine

I know that there have been posts before asking where zerkers get their wine. Now, when you go to a vendor, store, or website, how do you select? Do you go off recommendations from others in the know? Do labels ever amuse or interest you and tempt you into trying wines? Is price always indicative of quality, or can pricey wine be poor quality (and vice versa)?

I’ve been lurking in Wine Talk, and have been curious about how different people make their selections.

I usually will look around (really at every bottle if I have time because, like many here probably, I am an obsessive) to see if there are any that are on my mental list to try. I also will describe what I like in a bottle of wine to one of the floor attendants (try to find one who looks invested in the store) and will pick up suggestions that way. This is of course hit or miss depending on the location and knowledge of the person you’re talking with, so I always give the label a once over for information that might be helpful or look it up online to see if there’s any info about style or the producer. I’ll also just grab a bottle from a region/year I like too, but typically don’t take this type of risk on something priced over $25 without having researched it more first.

I did buy my first bottle of Ridge based solely on the font and colors on the label though. Got lucky I guess as they’re an objectively great producer and quickly became one of my favorites. I try not to buy based on packaging though.

How do you pick wine?

I’m relatively new to wine, so I haven’t really developed a process for selecting it. My parents are pretty into wine, I get information and get to try new kinds through them. When I go shopping, so far I’ve been trying a variety of different kinds (and, yes, label shopping) to get an idea for what I like. It’s been hit and miss.

I don’t really think there’s anything terribly wrong with label shopping except that it’s not going to yield consistent results. I could see it making sense though not to buy something because the label is just horribly tacky or cheap looking, or poorly designed. It could make you lack confidence in the thoughtfulness about what’s going in the bottle or the care that the owners have about their wine. (Or it could make you think they don’t care at all about the label and are 100% focused on the wine. Thus the issue with consistency–label shopping really can go either way.)

Talking to people who have experience generally, and in what you’re interested in learning more about, is a great way to learn. So is reading–there are a lot of good resources online.

For me it has gone thru phases: labels and shelf tags, staff recommendations, find the most esoteric thing that I’ve never had. Now that I have a fair bit of experience and have read a lot more (including from the crackpots on this board) it’s usually seeking out things on my “must try” list.

  1. tasting at wineries
  2. reading threads re: people’s fav wines/producers on this board
  3. finding a person at a local wine shop who has a similar palate
  4. joining a retailer wine club (we joined the 2 for $20 & explore wines we typically may not buy)
  5. finding wine obsessed friends who can guide you
  6. read blogs (I love Vinography)
  7. attend those big tastings (zap, family winemakers, Pinot days etc)

We select based on what we’re going to eat over the next week. We don’t care much for young cabs and merlots, only ones with lots of age on them.

Scott, it is an ever evolving process starting with what you like and then seeking out those wines that come close to offering such. Price is never an indicator of quality and in many instances, misleading.

To determine what you like, taste often and a lot. Form a tasting group with others. Taste different varietals and the same varietal from different regions/ producers/ vintages. You will develop a trust in your palate to lead you toward more pleasurable choices.
Once you have a few favorite varietals, then find those producers who make it in the style you prefer. Pay attention to the vintages and the methodology the winemakers uses so you can detect use of oak or not, malolactic fermentation or partial or not at all, food pairings, notice alcohol content and relate to any nuances that may be related and it goes on and on.

The key is drink what you like and not what someone else says you should.

It`s a fun world of wine out there to explore. Enjoy the process.

Hey Scott,
I was in your position a few years ago. The key, as many have probably told you, is to taste, taste, and taste some more. It’s a long, but fun, process of figuring out what you like and (maybe more importantly) what you don’t like. Here are a few things that really helped me:

  1. Take lots of notes. They don’t have to be detailed descriptions of the wine, just make sure you keep track of what you like (or don’t like) about a wine. Compare your impressions to what others are saying about it. After a while, you should be able to make some generalizations by looking over your notes. As you gain more experience, revisit some of the early wines you liked and see whether/how your impressions have changed.

  2. Find a reputable wine store and get to know some of the staff. A good salesman/shop will be able to offer recommendations based on what you like. If they tell you that you can’t find a good quality wine in your price range, walk out and find a new shop. Make sure you let them know what you thought of their recommendations. At first, it’ll be a little hit-or-miss. If you can explain why you didn’t like something, that’s helpful information. The more information you can provide, the better their recommendations will be.

  3. Look for people whose palates align with yours. Once you have a sense of what you like, seek out others that enjoy the same wines. Look at what they’re drinking, read their notes, and use them to find wines that you might enjoy. There are about 4-5 people on this board that I pay close attention to. Likewise, there are a few people I follow on cellartracker. If they really like something, there’s a decent chance that I’ll like it too. Conversely, there are a few people whose palates are in stark contrast to mine. If they like something, I probably won’t. It’s not that those wines are bad, they’re just not my style.

Above all, have fun. Wine is an amazing and wonderful thing, meant to be enjoyed.

I highly recommend joining a local wine club. You’ll be exposed to a variety of wines, meet new people who share your passion and will be happy to provide you recommendations. I joined one about 2 years ago. Best thing I’ve done in a long time. My humble collection has benefitted greatly and so has my palette.

I’m on several e-mail lists and often I’m lured by a description from the retailer. Other times I am seeking to fill a shortfall in my collection (I may want to increase the number of Pommards or Volnays or Rioja wines, etc.) Currently I’m purchasing some Sauvignon Blanc (mostly from the Loire Valley) and rose’ wines for summer sipping. I do pay some attention to critics’ ratings or reviews on this board or CellarTracker when I am considering purchasing a wine I’ve never tried. Price does not always indicate level of quality or match my palate (I don’t like highly tannic wines for example so prefer Cabernet Sauvignon that has a decade or more of cellaring.) In general terms, I do think Grand Cru and Premier Cru Burgundies are greater wines than the village or generic Burgundies as well as being much more expensive, but that isn’t always the case. There is the occasional village wine that drinks like a Premier Cru and plenty of Premier Cru and even Grand Cru wines that can be disappointing.

Scott - hit or miss? So write down the hits. Then look at what you liked and take that list to the store when you go. Ask if they have anything else by that producer or that region or that grape blend. Record those too. Eventually you’ll find out that there are a few things you really like and you’ll have a kind of base from which to explore.

As far as recs from those “in the know”, well, just read these threads and you’ll figure out how relevant all that is! There’s a lot of noise. It doesn’t mean anyone is wrong, but think about it - some people will actually go to somewhere like MacDonald’s and eat that stuff. To me, that says something about their taste. Eventually you’ll find some people who you agree with more or less.

One thing I’ve had success with is to sign up for what is called an over 50 party. Typically, 20 or so patrons of the sponsoring wine shop will sign up, each responsible for purchasing and supplying one bottle to the group worth a min of fifty bucks. Then, the host will pour a small sample for each of the group. In this way you get to try as many wines in the plus fifty range as there are participants. And it’s a great social event.

Being relatively new myself, my selection process is ever evolving so reading other peoples thoughts is interesting.

For me now, the majority of my wine selections come from tastings of some fashion. Originally, these tastings were in Napa but recently I have become good friends with a local wine shop where I am in NC who not only has tastings from all over the world but will gladly make recommendations based on what I like from them. To me, this will always be the best choice as there is no substitute for simply tasting many many wines.

In addition, the internet has so much information nowadays that I find I can match up my notes with those of others and general flavor profiles of new wines and make an educated guess on the wines which will appeal to me. I am a researcher when it comes to any of my interests so whenever I can I am reading about new releases, new regions (to me), new notes etc and I find learning about wines in general help me expand my reaches when that next bottle appears to buy.

Points pepsi

Seriously though, starting out I tasted as much as possible. I noted what I liked and why I liked it. I would then look at notes in CT on the same Wines and find others who shared my palate preferences. I would then mark them as favorite tasters and follow some of their recs. over the years my palate has changed as has my list of favorite tasters.

Coming here was the end for me. Since joining Wine Berserkers I have completely lost control.

My opinion?

Read as much as you can and taste as much as you can. If you don’t see anything on the shelf that coincides with your wish list, take advice from a salesperson. In my opinion, when starting out, you’ll do better if you think of this as an exploration rather than a sifting process to ferret out the wines you like. Gather as many data points as you can and try to let each wine tell you its story. Educate your palate. Try different grapes and regions. Start with the classics and then broaden. Buy and drink wines that will expand your knowledge base. Try to get some experience with aged wines so you can get a sense of how certain wines evolve. Try different vintages of the same wine so you can get a sense of how vintage can affect a wine. Wait awhile before stocking up on wines you might like early on. Your palate is likely to change as you gain experience.

I think one of the hardest things to do for some people is trusting someone at a local merchant for recs. In your regular old store, how do you know to trust the guy stocking the shelfs, or not to? Nonetheless, I try to find someone that is–as someone above mentioned–invested in the store, or appears to be.

What I tend to do is buy five bottles at my local store once a week, with two that I’ve tried or read about and want to age, then three I’ve heard a little bit of buzz about or had recommended to me by a friend, that I want to try ASAP. That usually allows me to stack up some bottles that I know I’m comfortable with and continue trying new ones that can maybe eventually becomes favorites.

True, that’s mainly why I stopped buying bottles out of recommendation and have been sticking to more wine tastings lately.

Now to find someone with a similar palate as me… [drinkers.gif]

I’ve been living in Colorado since 2007–came out for college and am just relocating back home to San Francisco–it’s been hard to be too consistent with tastings, so I had to forge a relationship with my local merchant. That was one of the hardest things to do in getting more and more invested into wine.

You’ll note on cc lots of times people sell off entire categories of wines, explaining their tastes have changed. So, taste, taste taste, when you’re sure you like, try a bottle of the exact one and if you enjoy it, stock up.