How do I select a bottle?

I was talking with a good friend the other day and the question came up how do I choose a bottle of wine?  Instantly, I responded “I pick the bottle with the cutest label!”  A good number of people actually use this technique to pick.  They select a bottle of wine based upon the label and really do not know anything else about it.  I read somewhere years ago that over 90% of wine selection is based on the label alone.  

Today’s article is about the questions that go through my mind when I select a bottle of wine. It always comes down to the same set of questions.

  • Who is the wine for?

In the book I’m writing presently, I spend some time talking about this very point.  First question that I have is ‘Who am I purchasing this for?’  Is the bottle for myself and family or am I purchasing this for someone else?

If it’s for someone else, then I have a series of questions that run through my mind:

  • What do they like to drink?
  • Do they like white wines, red wines, roses, sparkling or do I need to get them something else (beer always works)?
  • Am I taking this to drink only or do I need to worry about a potential food pairing?

While these are generic questions that can help me narrow down my selection, notice I never mentioned anything about price.  I have a mindset on this.  If you have invited me over and I feel the need to bring a bottle of something, then I’m not going to rank you or put a price in my head of how much I should spend on you.  If you have taken the time to prepare something for me, then I’m going to respect that and bring a good quality wine.  I’m not worried about price….I’m worried about bringing something you will enjoy.

I can find great bottles for under $15, between $15 and $30 and then above that.  I’m not going to put you in one of those categories of less expensive to more expensive.  I’m going to look at the selection available, look at the price of the bottles for value and make my selection.  If I feel that I’ve found one under $15, I’m probably going to bring two then.  Price should never be a factor in deciding what to bring….always look for what they like, quality and value.  Life is way too short to be drinking low quality wine.

  • Am I pairing this wine with something?

Is the wine going to be paired with some food?  If it is, then I have a series of questions that I go through again based on the following:

  • What course or multiple courses does it need to pair with?
  • What ingredients are used?
  • How is the meal cooked?
  • Is the meal heavy or light?

Notice one key point.  If the meal is already complete and I have not made it, I’m making the biggest guess of my life trying to pair a wine with this.  My philosophy on all pairings is that the food should be paired with the wine so they both elevate to be better.  I can change the food but the bottle is static for the most part.  So If I’m buying a wine for a meal that I’m not preparing, then that’s just it….I’m making a blind guess on what will work.  If I’m making the meal and have you over, then I can make changes to the food to get the pairing more inline.

  • Is the shop I’m purchasing from Reputable?

This is an important question that I would like everyone to think about.  The store that you purchase your wine (or any alcohol) should be able to back up the purchase.  There is a number that floats around related to the amount of faulted wine on the shelves.  Some people that I’ve talked with say that it’s upwards of 30%.  That means three out of every ten bottles of wine on the shelf has a fault in it.  Generally, I think this number is high but I have dealt with a shop in the past that one in every four bottles that I purchased was faulted. 

Some wine bottles are faulted…..that is just a fact of life.  That to me is not the issue.  A shop is reputable if they will let you return an open bottle for exchange or refund.  This is a key point.  If you ever feel bad about returning a faulted bottle, then you should not shop there.  Faulted bottles happen and the shop should be more than willing to take back a faulted bottle.  Please note that the bottle should be almost full (not empty like I’ve seen people do).  If they are not willing to stand behind the sale, then find a shop that will.  I’m really big on this point.  I know that when I worked at a wine shop in Texas, guests would purchase a bottle to drink on site.  I would open it and check to make sure it was good.  I was rejecting one out of ten bottles before the guest even tried the bottle.  However, by doing this, they were happy and the repeat business was amazing from taking 15 seconds to check the contents.

Again, a reputable shop should let you return the bottle for either an exchange or refund.

  • How much is the bottle?

Now we get to what everyone thinks is the big question.  How much should I spend on a bottle?  My answer is…whatever amount you would like to.  It’s ingrained in our mind that the more expensive the bottle, the better it is.  Well…..that tends to be true.  However, I can be happy with several bottles around $10 each.  Price again has no bearing on quality or more importantly if you like it or not.  On a blind tasting, you are either going to like a wine or not based on your taste profile.  When I look at prices, the question is do I feel like spending that amount on the bottle?

Do not worry about appearing cheap.  Who cares what you spend on the bottle as long as you like it.  If you like it, you will come back and purchase another one in the future.  You also may trust me more to pick out another bottle for you if I helped previously.  Ultimately, you are happy and that’s all that matters.

So how much do I spend on a bottle?  It comes down to the following questions:

Do I have a budget?

What price range do I want to stay within?

Is the bottle going to create an experience?

Consuming wine is about the experience.  Is the bottle in question going to make it a greater experience?

  1. Do I think the bottle is priced fairly?

Simply get on your phone to check prices.  Use the internet to see if the price they are changing is fair.

Do I really want to spend that much on the bottle?

Again, do I have a budget and am I staying in it or am I ignoring it?

Summary

Anytime I purchase wine, I always ask myself these questions.  We are getting closer to the holidays where it’s customary to purchase a bottle for friends and for parties.  The best advice in addition to the above is to ask for assistance at a good shop.  Tell them how much you want to spend and what it’s for and let them give you suggestions.  Please note….these are only suggestions.  If you don’t like the suggestions, do not feel obligated to pick what they pick.  Sometimes it’s better to go with your gut.  Always look around and see what is available…you can find some great deals out there with a little research.

My best purchase …BV Tapestry bottles from a butcher in South Carolina.  In Napa, with my discount, was $65 per bottle.  At the shop, it was $20.  Sorry everyone, I purchased all of them.

@artofthepair