Is there anything worse than coming home from the wine shop with a disappointing bottle?
Until you crack it open, it could be thrillingly good or crushingly underwhelming. You don't know until you've poured that first glass.
It doesn’t help that the world of wine can be an annoyingly pretentious one at times, filled with impenetrable jargon and elitist nonsense that stops you from understanding the content on the label half the time.
We aren’t all experts yet, but follow these pieces of advice, and see if you can avoid these typical mistakes we all make from time to time when choosing a bottle of wine.
Mistake 1: Grabbing a bottle at the last minute
So, this situation isn’t always an avoidable one. Maybe you’ve been called to a party or dinner, and haven’t had the time to head to your favourite wine stop.
Last minute buying is going to put you in a fluster, and you’ll end up picking something from a rack of limited options, more than likely made up of boring, mass-produced, supermarket friendly wine - what I call ‘wine for people who don’t really like wine’.
Give yourself a bit of time, and do the job properly in a shop with a well-curated list.
Mistake 2: Not talking to the shop assistants
Wine may be at times intimidating, but this doesn’t mean that people who work in wine shops have to be. In fact, generally speaking, wine shop assistants (at good wine shops) have a real passion for oenology, and love nothing more than sharing their recommendations with new customers.
Many good wine shops encourage their employees to try the new wines coming in, and many even go on wine tasting courses, meaning you easy access to expert knowledge and advice. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?
Mistake 3: Not thinking about food pairing
This can be tricky, as it takes a bit of knowledge and familiarity with wine to confidently pair different wines with food. However, if you are cooking for friends, or heading to a dinner party and you know what is on the menu, you can take a moment to find out which wine best suits the dish you’ll be eating.
There are thousands of websites and dozens of apps which can recommend sommelier-standard wine pairings for you, or you can do your own research and come up with a great match yourself.
Mistake 4: Looking for a bargain
Everyone loves getting something excellent for a cheap price. It’s one of the joys of shopping, and it fills us with a sense of smugness and superiority that is hard to beat. Unfortunately, risking the budget shelves at wine stores is more likely than not to end in disaster.
It’s an undeniable fact that really cheap wine is rarely worth the bottle it is poured into - just as really expensive wine is also something of a mug’s game. The middle ground is where you want to be, and something around twenty five dollars is likely to reveal something interesting and memorable. Try to lean towards bottles from a named appellation, and not those from some huge conglomerate.
Mistake 5: Playing it too safe
We all know the world famous wine regions of Australia and probably even those of Bordeaux, Chianti and Napa Valley, and there’s no doubting the fact that they produce excellent and reliable wines. But even in small wine shops, there’s often a huge variety of wines from all over the world, and the less famous regions generally have something to prove with their exports.
Take a gamble on something different - a Greek, or Croatian or Lebanese wine, for example. Stepping out of your comfort zone is not only exciting, it can also yield stunning and memorable results!
Mistake 6: Not buying a case
Almost all wine shops will offer a discount for a case of wine, sometimes as much as 15 - 20%. Once you’ve spoken to the shop assistant and got their recommendations, why not buy a case and take advantage of the savings?
You might only be needing one bottle on the night, but there is surely going to come a time in the near future when you’ll need another, and then another…
Mistake 7: Being scared of screw caps
In the latter part of the twentieth century, screw caps got a bad rap. Associated with cheaper, poor quality wines with no regard for standards or tradition, this bad reputation is still lingering and proving hard to shake off.
Of course, nowadays, plenty of fantastic wines use screw caps as an economical and environmentally-conscious alternative to cork, and there is really no correlation between how the bottle is sealed and the quality of the wine inside.
Indeed, here in Australia we use more screw caps than any other nation. And it's great because the quality of wine we've been producing has skyrocketed in the recent years, putting snobbish myths about screw caps to bed once and for all.
Mistake 8: Being distracted by pretty labels
The past few years have seen wineries and wine companies upping their game in terms of graphic design and label decoration. Remember the old saying: never judge a book by its cover.
A lot of big companies nowadays have cottoned on to the fact that people are looking for unique, ethically sourced produce from small, independent producers, and they’ve responded to this by designing labels which resemble those made by more interesting wineries.
Mistake 9: Not taking bad bottles back to the shop
It happens sometimes: wine goes bad. It can happen for a wide range of reasons, and the fault is probably not with the shop you bought your wine from. However, any good wine shop would happily take back an oxidised bottle, or one which has something wrong with it, and will be willing to replace it with something else. Don’t be scared to approach them if you have an issue - they’re professionals, and they would do the same in your shoes.
There you have it. You're well and truly armed for your next bottle-shop adventure!
But if you want to get the best wines without having to take the trip to the store, check out our wine palate quiz, which will recommend your top 3 bottles according to your personal tastes.