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HomeBlogMistakes To Avoid When Shopping For Wine

Mistakes To Avoid When Shopping For Wine

Life can be full of disappointments, but there’s no reason to add wine drinking to the already overcrowded list of little let-downs that plague us from day to day. Wine is by its very nature a mysterious thing, and until you’ve gotten home, popped that cork and poured yourself that first glass, there’s no real way of knowing exactly what you’re going to encounter. It might be an unforgettable thrill, it might be a new firm favourite, or it might be painfully underwhelming or outright unpleasant.

Let’s not mince our words here: choosing a great bottle of wine can be really, really hard. Labels rarely give too much away, and there is so much choice out there we can easily become overwhelmed, and end up buying something we would later regret reaching for. Heading to your wine store or local tasting room and coming home with something superb is something that takes a bit of practice, a bit of savoir-faire, and plenty of trial-and-error. However, to give you a helping hand, we have put together some key pieces of advice that are going to save you both that sinking feeling, as well as a few dollars, next time you head out to pick up a bottle or two.

Buying in a hurry

Now, we know this one can’t always be avoided. Sometimes things just pile up on top of each other, and suddenly you find yourself late for a date or a dinner party, and in need of a bottle to take with you – and fast! Last minute buying is always going to put even the calmest among us in a bit of a fluster, and dashing into your local supermarket and quickly grabbing the first bottle you see is pretty unlikely to end well. You’ll probably wind up with something boring, mass-produced and obvious – what we call ‘wine for people who don’t really like wine’.

Whenever possible, give yourself a bit of time to get to a reputable wine store, with a decently put together wine collection. If you can’t manage this, buy a bunch of flowers instead. After all, no wine really is preferable to bad wine.

Not chatting to the shop staff

It’s easy to see wine as an intimidating world to step into, but that doesn’t mean that wine shop workers, tasting room hosts or sommeliers are intimidating people to talk to. In fact, nine times out of ten you’ll find that the absolute opposite is true: people who work with wine are passionate, and keen to share their passion with the public. They are wine drinkers as well as wine workers, and they’ll want to give you the updates on the best bottles they’ve tried recently, as well as listening to your needs and picking out the best wine for you.

A lot of wine stores go to great lengths to train up their staff members, and it’s likely that your local wine store assistant will have attended classes and numerous tastings, making them great people to talk to when you’re looking for a particular type of wine. They’ll have personal as well as professional opinions, and they will most likely have tried to majority of what they stock – who wouldn’t want to tap into that kind of knowledge and expert advice?

Not thinking about your food

Food and wine pairing is notoriously tricky when it comes to the finer detail. However, with a bit of common sense and with a broader approach to the subject, you can do pretty well without having to be an expert on the subject. No matter your skill level; if you’re looking for a wine to take along to a dinner party, or if you’re hosting guests and there will be a meal involved, it would be a massive mistake not to think about the flavours of the food your wine will have to be battling with on your palate.

There are thousands of books and pamphlets designed to help you match up food and wine, but this is the 21st century: all you really need to have on hand is your smart phone, and a web browser or wine app in order to get it spot on. The internet is full of great advice and infographics on pairing your dinner with your wine, and hitting the right balance can elevate your dinner party to something really quite special. And remember: if the internet goes down, and you’re really out on a limb, go for a Pinot Noir, a Sauvignon Blanc or a Champagne – they tend to go well with more or less everything!

Hunting for bargains

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Getting something on the cheap is one of life’s great pleasures; it instantly fills us with a sense of superiority, self-satisfaction and smugness. However, reach for the bargain bucket and budget shelf in your wine shop at your peril: it’s likely to end pretty badly.

Now, wine is a world of extremes. The extremely expensive, highly collectible stuff which nobody really drinks is a bit of a joke in itself – rich fools are easily parted with their money, after all. However, the really low-cost plonk (no matter how pretty the label might be) is almost never worth the price of the bottle it comes in. Stick to the middle ground, and be aware that 20-25 dollars is probably the safer price to aim for. You want your wine to be full of pleasant surprises, lingering sensations and with a story to tell, and that usually involves a named appellation, a talented vintner and a small scale production… all things which never come cheap. Splash out a bit – you’re worth it, after all.

Not leaving your comfort zone

The wine shelves of your local wine store are likely to be dominated by a few big names. Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Barolo, Rioja… all regions which have risen to the top of the scene over the centuries, and mostly for good reason: they tend to produce brilliant, interesting, reliable and often age-worthy wines. However, even in smaller wine stores, it’s likely there will be at least a couple of shelves dedicated to the lesser known wine producing regions and countries of the world; regions which have plenty to prove, and which often try a lot harder to produce bottles which will propel them from obscurity. Going out of your comfort zone, and reaching for a wine which comes from somewhere less famous may end up being the best decision you make all day.

So next time you’re shopping for wine, why not take a risk and go for something new? Many parts of Europe are very much on their way up at the moment – Lebanon, Greece, Croatia and Bulgaria to name but a few – and Canadian wines and several other parts of the New World are also holding their own on the international wine stage, despite being overshadowed by the big hitters on the scene. Take a gamble, discover something amazing, and feel smug when you turn out to be ahead of the trend.

Not returning your flawed bottles

Wine is a natural product, and sometimes it turns bad. It’s an unfortunate fact of life, that all of us will come across sooner or later. Flaws in wine happen for a wide variety of reasons, most of them well beyond the winemaker’s or shop’s control. Fungus, heat, issues with the cork… all can negatively impact the wine, and many flaws make it undrinkable. The problem is, you often can’t tell if a wine is flawed until it has been bought, taken home, and poured. However, you absolutely shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to approach the store you bought it from, and ask for a replacement. Wine merchants know that wine has a tendency to spoil, and they might be grateful that you alerted them to an issue which may have affected more than one bottle in the batch.

So, there are some mistakes to avoid next time you’re shopping for wine. Do you have any other pieces of advice, or stories of disastrous wine shopping trips we could learn from? Let us know in the comments below!

Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris is a wine critic and journalist from Bristol, UK. He is a lover of life's finer things and has a particular fondness for Alsatian and Eastern European wines, which he fell in love with during his three years working in Budapest.

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