How to Shop for the Perfect Bottle of 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.
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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 LabelClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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.
Flavours you may Notice
Light Bodied and Fruity
appetizers, soft cheeses, pizza
Beaujolais France, Camay Noir Ontario
Medium Bodied and Fruity
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
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
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:
Intense and full bodied, they are blended with Brandy
nuts, hard cheeses, dried fruit, smoked meat
Marsala Italy, Vermouth Italy, Sherry Spain
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.
Malbec, Cabernet Sauvingnon, Shiraz, Red Bergundy, Rhone
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Carmenere, Primitivo, Syrah
Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Bordeaux, Barolo
Cabernet Sauvignon, Mouton Cadet, Malbec, Pinot Noir
roast turkey, chicken
Gamay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Crackling Cider
Merlot, Baco Noir, Chardonnay, Red Burgundy
Riesling, Viognier, Tempranillo, Alsace
Riesling, Gamay, Rose, Red or White Burgundy, Alsace
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Soave
Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Alsace
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling
Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Loire
Sangiovese, Baco Noir, Merlot, Montepulaciano
Carmenere, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Nero d'Avola
Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Gamay, Loire, Valpolicella
Torrontes, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir Rose,Chenin Blanc
Dry Riesling, Gamay, Chardonnay, Beaujolais
Sangiovese, Grenache, Shiraz, Rhone, Chianti
Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Alsace, Vinho Verde
Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Gamay, Viognier, Alsace
Riesling, Pinot Noir, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Alsace, Beaujolais
Riesling, Gamay, Gewurztraminer, Beaujolais, Alsace
Any Sparkling Wine
Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay, Zinfandel
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?
Sources and Resources
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)