Whether you’re recently 21 or have been buying wine for years, picking out a bottle can be stressful. If there’s not something specific you’re looking for, where do you begin? For college kids on a budget, it’s probably the cheapest bottle with the highest level of alcohol. More moderate buyers may discern between a Cabernet and Pinot Noir, but beyond that just pick their favorite label. To really seem like you know what you’re doing, do your research on different wine regions and styles.
But if that’s too much to ask, here’s a cheat sheet.
1. Don’t ask how they got those flavors in the bottle.
If there is one thing I beg you never to do, it’s read the back and ask the cashier how they got those flavors in the bottle. For the love of God: they are not actually in the bottle. They are simply descriptions the winemaker included so you can imagine how the wine may taste before you buy it.
2. Know which ones have class.
An easy way to rest assured whatever you choose will be good is to pay attention to the appellation. If you have no idea what that is, read this. Basically all over the world there are defined regions with rules to ensure the wines produced from there are of high quality. Of course there are a few outliers, but generally speaking understanding the different classifications (or at least being able to recognize them on a bottle) is key to picking out great wines.
3. Not all champagne is created equal.
Where does champagne come from? All over the world? Think again. The actual term champagne only refers to wines produced in the Champagne region of France. The rest of the world is simply producing sparkling wine, prosecco or cava, depending on where they come from. So the next time you walk in looking for bubbly, remember while they might all look and taste similar in a mimosa that does not make them all “champagne.”
4. Age is just a number.
Contrary to popular belief, older wines are not always better. In fact, many wines today are made to be drunk young. So don’t think just because you found a 2009 New Zealand Sauvignon Blac it’s suddenly going to be better than the 2016. In general, cheaper whites are ready to drink and mid-to-high range reds could stand to be cellared. But remember, every wine is different. Which brings me to my next point.
5. Cheating is allowed.
If you’re not exactly an expert on the best producers of Riesling from Germany or Shiraz from Australia, there’s no shame in cheating. Believe it or not, there’s an app for that. Delectable and Vivino both work great. Just scan the label and voila! Instant description and ratings, right at your fingertips. Plus you can follow friends and see what they’re drinking. It’s like wine social media and it’s great.
You can also start paying more attention to the importers you like and go from there!
In truth, the only way to know what you like is to constantly try new things. So happy drinking and if you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments!