How to find good wine on a budget
Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 10:13 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 10:13 a.m.
When people walk into a wine shop, the continuous racks and shelves of wine can be overwhelming. If you are not familiar with the different kinds of grapes, brands and regions, it is easy to buy a bottle you think will taste good because of its price. Well, that is the first mistake in the art of enjoying wine — price does not make it great. Factors such as grape growing and storing make the difference, and finding that $10 bottle that tastes like a $20 one should be the goal.
So how do you discover these great buys and drink them like a pro? And how do you do it on a budget? Here is some advice from experts and wine lovers.
Reading the label
Everything has a beginning, so if you want to learn how to pick a "great" wine, start by understanding the label. Some things to know:
Brand name: The winery or individual that produces the wine.
Vintage: The year the grapes are harvested. According to Merryvale Vineyards Web site, 95 percent of the wine must be harvested in the year on the bottle. If not, it is considered non-vintage such as many sparkling and fortified wines are.
Varietal: The type of grape it is, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. According to Merryvale, it must be 75 percent of that varietal to bear the name. If not, it is given a proprietary name.
Vineyard designate: The vineyard that harvests the wine.
Origin: Indicates the state or country the grapes are grown in.
Keep in mind domestic and international wines are sometimes labeled differently since each country has its own rules and regulations, says Wade Taylor, co-owner of The Wine & Cheese Gallery. For instance, European bottles tend to be labeled by villages, vineyards or communities, whereas domestic wines are labeled by varietals.
Kris Sullivan, assistant manager of The Wine & Cheese Gallery, recommends reading the label whenever you drink a bottle or glass of wine.
"If I don't know what something means, I'll go look it up in a book," she says. "If you're sitting down drinking a bottle of wine, you should look at it just as you'll smell it and look at the colors, and try to learn something from it."
Pairing wine and food
The next step in picking a wine is to know what food will complement it. University of Florida students and wine enthusiasts, Nicole Vignolo, 22, and Aileen Jesus, 23, recommend picking one that does not outweigh your meal.
For example, Gewurztraminer goes well with spicy foods because it is sweet, Sullivan says.
"Read a little bit about the fruit balance in them, and keep trying different kinds (of varietals) and different brands until you find something you really like," Jesus says. "What you're eating will change how the wine tastes to you."
Taylor agrees the food nor the drink should overpower the other.
"Drink dry before sweet because sweetness taints the palette and its ability to taste the wine or the food after that," he says. "That's why we have dessert at the end."
Know your taste buds
People go through a natural progression with wine. Typically, beginners prefer fruitier or sweeter wines and therefore favor whites over reds, Taylor says.
"You can also relate it to foods," he says. "As one eats more, you become more sophisticated and like different kinds of flavors."
But constantly trying new things is the trick.
"Sometimes you totally fail and hate the wine, but you have to be willing to broaden your horizons and try different things," Sullivan says.
Learning wine-tasting skills
Follow the five S's — see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor — to learn about wines.
See: Notice the color of the wine. As whites age, they become golden and as reds mature, they lose color.
Swirl: The movement releases aromas and flavors, which will help you smell it.
Sniff: Smell the wine from a few inches away. Note the different types of aromas and flavors. Vignolo, for example, smells for wood and fruit. If it smells like wet hay, chances are it is not good, Taylor says.
Sip: Taste the wine and enjoy it. You will either taste sweetness, saltiness, bitterness or acidity. This technique, Taylor says, outweighs the rest.
Savor: Do not forget to think about what you taste. It can be full, light, crisp or well-balanced.
Sullivan, whose husband calls her a "super smeller," agrees all the senses are part of enjoying wine and how it tastes.
"Every bottle to me is a living organism. It's important to smell it for a while before you even taste it and look at the colors."
Money matters .?.?. not!
One of the first mistakes in the art of enjoying wine is to assume price makes it good. There are many vendors from South America and New Zealand with wines that taste great and are priced under $10 a bottle, Sullivan says.
"Presently the best bargains in the world are coming out of Spain and Australia. I would also put Italy relatively close," Taylor adds.
Since domestic wines tend to be pricier, they recommend looking for:
Italian Pinot Grigio, such as a Mezzacorona ($9).
German Riesling, such as Two Princes ($12).
Spanish Garnacha, which is a type of varietal and often available for less than $10.
Argentinean Malbec, which is also a type of varietal and typically less than $10.
Other ways to save
A perfect way to buy is by the case, which includes 12 bottles. At Wine & Cheese Gallery, for example, Taylor offers 10 percent off a case and 5 percent on half a case.
He recommends having nine "Tuesday" wines — ones you can open if a friend comes over or if you want to randomly have a glass. The other three should be the "good guys" for a special occasion or meal.
If you are worried about not drinking the case fast enough, keep in mind most wines have a three-to-five year lifespan and improve with age, Taylor says.
Another way to inexpensively learn is to have a themed wine party. Each guest can bring a different bottle and share the flavors and aromas they get from each one.
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