How to Shop for the Perfect Bottle of Wine

Florence - Large wine bottles in front of a wine shop.
Florence - Large wine bottles in front of a wine shop. | Source

Choosing Wine

Choosing a wine as a gift or to serve at a dinner or casual engagement can be confusing and intimidating. Many of us love to entertain but are not comfortable enough with the 'language' of wine to make a confident, informed decision when buying. There are a number of factors which influence wine selection and a number of methods by which you can choose the perfect bottle or bottles for your intended function. A basic knowledge of wine selection can be beneficial whether you are dining out at a formal restaurant or a casual bistro or you are having a dinner party at home or a back-yard barbeque. Certain wines do pair better with certain food types but the old adage of red wine with red meat and white wine with fish is no longer a fast rule. Understanding basic characteristics of wine and finding a comfortable method to put that knowledge to good use relieves the confusion and intimidation and makes for a pleasant and fun shopping experience!

Did You Know?

  • Screwcaps keep wine purer than any other closure including the traditional cork which contains imperfections that may add undesirable flavour to the wine.
  • Letting wine breathe really does improve its flavour. A wine allowed to sit in a carafe, large glass or decanter for 15 minutes will have much more flavour than wine consumed right from the bottle.
  • Most reds taste best at a temperature range of 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit while whites taste better between 41 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit. To achieve these temperatures, remove white wine from the fridge 20 minutes before serving and cool room temperature reds in an ice bucket for 10 minutes.

Important Characteristics Of Wine

There are four main characteristics of wine everyone should be aware of no matter what method of wine shopping you adopt.

1. Type of Wine:

  • red wine: the juice used includes the skins, stems and seeds of red or black grapes
  • white wine: the juice used can be from any color grape but only the clear juice of the grape is used
  • sparkling: can be either red or white but the process used to produce the wine involves the production of carbon dioxide gas resulting in bubbly wine

2. Tannin Content: Tannins are an important ingredient in all wines but most importantly in red wine as it comes from the stalks, skins and seeds of grapes.

  • Tannins result in a bitter taste in young wines but as the wine ages the flavour from tannins becomes more subtle.
  • Tannins affect the 'length' of a wine which refers to how long the taste and aroma permeate the senses after swallowing.

3. Acidity of Wine: A number of different acids are present in wine.

  • The longeviity and taste of wine are directly linked to a wine's acidity.
  • High acid content results in a tart and sour tasting wine.
  • Low acid content results in a 'flat' tasting wine that spoils quickly.
  • The right amount of acid enhances the flavour of wine by making the other flavours including those of fruit, spice and herbs stand out.

4. Alcohol Content of Wine: This characteristic directly affects the style of wine indicating a full-bodied or light body wine.

  • Full bodied wines tend to be strong and flavourful.
  • Lighter wines tend to be more thirst quenching and crisp.
  • There are many variations of body within these two extremes.
  • 7.5% to 10.5% alcohol content indicates light body.
  • 10.6% to 12.5% alcohol content indicates medium body.
  • 12.6% alcohol content and over indicated a full bodied wine.



Read more to become a Wine Expert

Four Methods To Choose Your Perfect Bottle Of Wine

Most upscale wine shops or formal liquor stores should have the information to easily navigate through all four of the following methods through large shelf signs easily visible as you peruse the aisles and/or on the shelf-tickets beneath each wine selection. Most of the information necessary may also be found on wine labels if your preference or only availability is to shop supermarket shelves.

Information Provided On A Typical Wine Label

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Front label of my favourite red wine.  Note: the name of the wine (Misterio) and the varietal (Malbec).  The vintage (year the wine was made) is also present as is the country of origin in this case Mendoza, Argentina.Back label of the same wine bottle.  Note the brief description followed by the varietal composition, ageing process and under tasting its style is indicated.  It also provides ideal serving temperature and suggested food pairings.
Front label of my favourite red wine.  Note: the name of the wine (Misterio) and the varietal (Malbec).  The vintage (year the wine was made) is also present as is the country of origin in this case Mendoza, Argentina.
Front label of my favourite red wine. Note: the name of the wine (Misterio) and the varietal (Malbec). The vintage (year the wine was made) is also present as is the country of origin in this case Mendoza, Argentina. | Source
Back label of the same wine bottle.  Note the brief description followed by the varietal composition, ageing process and under tasting its style is indicated.  It also provides ideal serving temperature and suggested food pairings.
Back label of the same wine bottle. Note the brief description followed by the varietal composition, ageing process and under tasting its style is indicated. It also provides ideal serving temperature and suggested food pairings. | Source

Ways To Shop For The Perfect Bottle Of Wine

1. Shop by Country

  • Choosing by country, whether because you have visited the area before or because you crave an adventure in exploring new wines, is a great way to expand your appreciation for new to you grape varieties and flavours.
  • Wine flavour is directly impacted by soil, sunlight exposure, climate under which the grapes were grown, handling and fermentation of the grapes and the types of yeast used. The same grape type may have subtle differences depending upon the country it was grown in. Trying your favourite variety grown in a different country may produce some surprising and pleasing results.

2006 Colli Orientali Pinot Grigio Fruili, Italy & 2004 Vina De Barrancas Malbec mendozza, Argentina
2006 Colli Orientali Pinot Grigio Fruili, Italy & 2004 Vina De Barrancas Malbec mendozza, Argentina | Source

2. Shop by Varietal

  • The varietal is the type of grape used to make the wine.
  • It is the most important factor regarding the taste experience.
  • However, as mentioned above, taste of the varietal can be greatly impacted by the area within a country or the country of origin of the grown grape.
  • New world wines tend to be labelled based on the type of grape; whereas, Old world or European vintages tend to be classified by the region where they were produced (example Burgundy and Champagne).
  • Within the country designations in a wine store, you will find that most often the wine is grouped according to its varietal type.
  • My favourite red varietal at the moment is Malbec.
  • For white, I love Pinot Grigio. I will often gravitate towards this varietal in different country designations to experiment with possible new flavours. I am rarely disappointed.

3. Shop by Style

  • This method is very appropriate when hosting a dinner party and you are concerned about pairing and appropriate wine with your main dish and/or dessert.
  • It is also appropriate if you have a favourite style and wish to experiment with different wines in the same style category. You may find a new favourite!
  • The following table lists the styles of red, white and specialty wines flavour notes that may be present and food pairings that match the style.

Wine Style
Flavours you may Notice
Food Pairings
Examples
Reds:
 
 
 
Light Bodied and Fruity
raspberry, cherry
appetizers, soft cheeses, pizza
Beaujolais France, Camay Noir Ontario
Medium Bodied and Fruity
plum, cherry
grilled chicken, pasta, pizza
Valpolicella, Monttepulciano Italy, Cabernet Franc, Merlot Ontario
Full Bodied and Smooth
plum, vanilla, clove, cinnamon, blackberry
steak, sausage, lamb
Shiraz Australia, Ripasso Italy
Full Bodied and Firm
plum, clove, blackcurrant, cinamon, blackberry
steak, roasted red meat
Amarone, Barolo Italy, Bordeaux France
Whites:
 
 
 
Light and Crisp
citrus, green apple, mineral notes
appetizers, light chicken, light seafood, light pasta
Unoaked Chardonnay France, Dry Riesling Ontario, Pinot Grigio Italy
Off Dry and Fruity
peach, melon, red apple, citrus
spicy Thai dishes, Indian curry, smoked meat
Riesling Germany, Muscat/Moscato California
Aromatic and Flavourful
lychee, melon, papaya, mango, cantaloupe
baked salmon, sea bass, pork, cured meat
Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand, Torrontes, Argentina
Full Bodied and Rich
vanilla, fig, hazelnut, pineapple
cream sauces, lobster with butter, roasted turkey
Pinot Gris Alsace, Chardonnay California
Sparkling:
 
 
 
 
stone fruit, blossoms ripe apple, biscuit notes, citrus
 
Prosecco, Asti, Lambrusco Italy, Sparkling California and Canada, Cava Spain, Champagne France
Light and Fruity
 
desserts, soft cheeses, salty snacks, spicy food
 
Medium Bodied and Flavourful
 
Salty snacks, spicy food
 
Rich and Complex
 
Formal dinners, lobster, cream sauces
 
Fortified and Dessert Wines:
 
 
 
Fortified Wines
Intense and full bodied, they are blended with Brandy
nuts, hard cheeses, dried fruit, smoked meat
Marsala Italy, Vermouth Italy, Sherry Spain
Dessert Wines
Made from a number of varietals they are naturally sweet
desserts that are less sweet than the wine you are serving
Late Harvest, Icewine Ontario, Sauternes France

4. Shop by Food Match

  • It used to be said that red wine should be paired with red meat while chicken and fish should be served with only white. Because of the myriad of styles of wine that are now produced that old adage no longer holds true.
  • Check out the table below to see some pairing suggestions for some popular foods. However, do not stick to this table as a hard and fast rule.
  • Experimentation is the key to finding your our preferences and unique combinations of menu and wine. If you find you like it stick with it!
  • So, have fun and find new tantalizing combinations.

Food Type
Wine
Red Meat:
 
steak
Malbec, Cabernet Sauvingnon, Shiraz, Red Bergundy, Rhone
burgers
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Carmenere, Primitivo, Syrah
roast beef
Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Bordeaux, Barolo
lamb
Cabernet Sauvignon, Mouton Cadet, Malbec, Pinot Noir
Poultry:
 
roast turkey, chicken
Gamay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Crackling Cider
BBQ chicken
Merlot, Baco Noir, Chardonnay, Red Burgundy
Pork:
 
roast pork
Riesling, Viognier, Tempranillo, Alsace
ham
Riesling, Gamay, Rose, Red or White Burgundy, Alsace
Fish/Seafood:
 
grilled fish
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Soave
poached fish
Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Alsace
lobster/crab
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling
oysters
Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Loire
Pasta:
 
tomato sauce
Sangiovese, Baco Noir, Merlot, Montepulaciano
meat sauce
Carmenere, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Nero d'Avola
cream sauce
Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Gamay, Loire, Valpolicella
Salads
Torrontes, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir Rose,Chenin Blanc
Pizza:
 
veggie
Dry Riesling, Gamay, Chardonnay, Beaujolais
meat
Sangiovese, Grenache, Shiraz, Rhone, Chianti
International:
 
Sushi
Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Alsace, Vinho Verde
Thai
Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Gamay, Viognier, Alsace
Indian
Riesling, Pinot Noir, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Alsace, Beaujolais
Chinese
Riesling, Gamay, Gewurztraminer, Beaujolais, Alsace
Japanese
Any Sparkling Wine
Southwestern
Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay, Zinfandel
Middle Eastern
Dry

Searching For The Perfect Wine

Regardless of the wine shopping method you use, keep these things in mind when searching for your perfect bottle.

  • Know the context or occasion for which you are shopping. Buying a bottle of wine for a friend's formal dinner will probably entail a more pricey wine than attending a back yard barbeque.
  • Know how much in advance you want to spend. If you need to ask a question of a shop employee, it can make the search for what you need much easier.
  • If the shop in which you are considering purchasing your wine is warm, the wine's are not being stored properly. Turn around and move on to the next shop!

How Do You Shop For Wine?

How do you approach wine shopping?

See results without voting

Sources and Resources

http://www.barinacraft.com/food-drinks/wine-food-pairing-chart.html

Bund, Paul. How to Buy Wine: Some Purchasing Tips

Houston, Kimberly. How to Shop for Wine: 6 Tips

LCBO. Introducing...5 Ways to Shop for Wine, 2012 (pamphlet)

Lindemuth, Jeffrey, Bryan Miller, Ashley Primis. What's the Best Wine With.... Women's Health., May 2008.

Maclean, Natialie. Delicious Wine Picks and Pairings.

Wine Basics - How to Choose and Buy Wine. Fun and Food Blog for Good Food and Fine Living, 2008.

LCBO. Introducing...5 Ways to Shop for Wine, 2012 (pamphlet)

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Comments 22 comments

DonnaCosmato profile image

DonnaCosmato 4 years ago from USA

Good tips and I loved the tables because it made quick comparisons so easy!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks Donna. Glad you found it useful!


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

What a complete and helpful chart, both of them. I must print out and post!Thanks for sharing


Daishi1 4 years ago from Merrimack NH

A good read. Nicely done charts.


NBradshaw profile image

NBradshaw 4 years ago

This such a helpful article!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Glad you found the info useful. I will be using my new found knowledge often this summer!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks for reading and commenting Daishi1,


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

NBradshaw happy you found it helpful. Hope you can put it to good use this summer.


BlondHairBlueEyes profile image

BlondHairBlueEyes 4 years ago from Aventura, Florida

Awesome article. I took a couple of wine classes in college and seem to have forgotten a lot of this information. This was a nice overview, thanks for this.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Happy you found it useful BlondHair! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!


Angela Brummer profile image

Angela Brummer 4 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

fabulous hub and chart!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks Angela for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the hub!


kgala0405 profile image

kgala0405 4 years ago from Michigan

This is a great hub. I always choose my wine by type and then by country. Since it is summer I have been stuck on Pinot Grigio wines from Italy. In my opinion they make better wines than the Pinot Grigio wines that come out of California. Voted useful.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks Kevin for your comment. I will often choose by style when I'm looking for something new but with a familiar body. Right now I am stuck on a Malbec red from Argentina but I discovered it by exploring wines within my favourite style. I also like Pinot Grigio and have found a few Ontario labels that are very nice.


kgala0405 profile image

kgala0405 4 years ago from Michigan

Malbecs from Argentina are my favorite red, I usually drink red wines in the winter and drink white in the warmer months. I'll have to try an Ontario Pinot Grigio. I go to Toronto a few times a year and noticed a lot of the tourist type places promote ice wines.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Kevin, nice to find a kindred spirit in wine preference! Ice wines are nice sipping wines but very sweet, good but sweet. They are often spiked with brandy! The Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County are two areas very well known for producing quality vintages. They are definitely worth a try!


Redberry Sky profile image

Redberry Sky 4 years ago

I used to spend a lot of time and care choosing my wines to go with my food (I had no idea of the vast majority of information in this Hub, though!), but I let that slip somehow and now I usually end up with a mid-priced Merlot I like the look of. But this is such fantastic information you've really whetted my appetite to start choosing with more care again. Great information, voted up and awesome! :)


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Redberry Sky, Thanks so much for the positive feedback. I hope you can put the information in this hub to good use at your next party or get together!


Jenn-Anne profile image

Jenn-Anne 4 years ago

Fabulous hub! Tons of info and I learned a lot. My only question is, what would be the best wine to sip while perusing hubpages? :o)


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Jenn-Anne, I haven't met a bottle of wine that wouldn't go well with hub pages! Glad you enjoyed the hub!


dhenwinez 4 years ago


erorantes profile image

erorantes 22 months ago from Miami Florida

I like your hub. It is great. Congratulations for the editors choice. You did a great job finding a lot of information about choosing the correct wine for different occasions and food. I like your hub.

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