We’ve all been the person standing in the wine aisle of our local supermarket, completely overwhelmed by the amount of choice on display.
Unless you’re a professional sommelier, knowing the difference between one bottle and the next can be tricky. Labels describing flavour notes, characteristics, and grape origin also make the choice more difficult if you don’t know how to read them.
Thankfully, by getting to grips with a few essential terms and tips, you can learn which wines are a good fit for you, and which you should avoid. Follow this simple guide to discover all you need to know about picking the best wine.
Know the basics
Just as with food, which wine you enjoy is completely subjective. But whereas food characteristics are self-explanatory (savoury/sweet, rich/light, spicy/mild), wine characteristics are a little more complex. Here are the terms you should get familiar with when it comes to wine characteristics:
- Sweetness/Dryness: Wines are often categorised as ‘sweet’, ‘semi-sweet’ or ‘dry’. A sweet wine will have more sugars in it, while a dry wine will be much less cloying.
- Acidity: An acidic wine will be tart, like citrus fruits. Low acidity wines will be rounder and richer.
- Tannins: Tannins are phenolic compounds found in the skin of grapes. Tannins are natural to the winemaking process, or can be added through aging. High tannin wine is more bitter, and while tannins do dry your mouth out, high tannin wine will not necessarily be described as ‘dry’. Red wine often has more tannin than white or rose.
- Body: This refers to how heavy a wine feels in your mouth. Red wines typically have more body than white, as do wines grown in warmer climates.
Consider the flavours you enjoy
The flavours you prefer in other drinks will help you identify which wines you’ll enjoy most.
Two questions wine experts commonly ask those unfamiliar with wine are: do you prefer apple or grapefruit juice? And, do you prefer lattes or black coffee?
People who prefer apple juice usually like sweeter wines, while those who choose grapefruit often take to dry wines. Black coffee drinkers are more likely to prefer Old World wine – meaning wine from France, Italy, and Spain – while latte fans should try New World wines – wines from the US, Australia, and South Africa.
Price doesn’t always indicate quality
When it comes to choosing wine, flavours and characteristics should be your primary concern, and price secondary.
Wine that is on sale is likely out of season or has been sitting in the store’s stock for a while. This doesn’t mean it won’t be a great wine, especially if it suits your tastes. Similarly, you might hate an expensive wine because it’s not suited to you. Don’t let yourself be drawn in either direction by a price tag.
Organic wines are wines which come from grapes grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
While there is some debate about whether they are actually healthier than other wines (some people swear they don’t produce as bad a hangover), they are certainly just as flavourful and diverse as other wines, and much better for the environment.
Match to the occasion
It may be that you’re not choosing wine to drink yourself, but to serve to guests or pair with a recipe.
The safest route to take when buying wine for the enjoyment of others is to select a moderate blend – one which is neither too sweet or too dry, too acidic or too rich – and to go for both a red and a white, unless you know the preference of the person you’re serving.
When it comes to pairing wine with food, the general rule of thumb is to match white wine with light food, white meat, and creamy sauces, and red wine with heavier food, red meat, and tomato-based sauces.
Wine selection is a code you can easily crack. Now sit back, uncork your bottle, and enjoy. Cheers!