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5 Tips to Make You a Smarter Wine Shopper

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

1. Understanding New World (anywhere that isn’t Europe) vs Old World (Europe) Wines

  • Generally, but not always:

    • New World wines will be oaky, fruit forward, bolder, and higher in alcohol

    • Old World wines will be earthy, aromatically complex, and higher in acid

  • There will always be exceptions to New and Old World wines, which is why you might find a high acid New World wine or a high alcohol Old World wine. Various wine growing regions have “microclimates”, which are local climate conditions that differ from the larger surrounding areas and ultimately allow for traditionally warm areas to produce cool climate wines and vice versa.

  • Do you need to understand climates and microclimates to be a good wine shopper, absolutely not; however, thinking of wine in terms of New/Old World and climate will allow you to become a better shopper. In any case, there will always be exceptions but as a rule of thumb,

    • If you want something bold and fruity, shop New World

    • If you want something light, acidic, and not as fruit-forward, shop Old World

2. Learn how to break down wine labels

  • Wine labels are so complicated. Each one is different and for the average consumer half of the things on the label provide no insight into the actual wine or what it will taste like.

    • Where is it from?

      • Do you see a grape (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc) on the front, this generally means it is a New World wine.

      • Do you see a place/region (Bordeaux, Rioja, Chianti), this generally means it is an Old World wine.

      • Old World wine producers generally label their wines based on where they are from (place/region), whereas New World wine producers label their wines with the grape.

    • Check the back of the label! Looking at the back of the label you should be able to see a couple of important things.

      • Alcohol %

      • Country/Region

      • Grapes – sometimes the grape varieties will be listed on the back

    • Story and Facts about the wine and winery

      • Some labels usually talk about the climate, soil, region, and winery. All of which can provide you some quick insight during the point of purchase.

      • I usually like to look for any notes on how the wine is aged as this can indicate some of the potential tasting notes of the wine

        • Oak – expect notes of vanilla, tobacco, toast, and smoke, with a creamier and fuller mouthfeel

        • Stainless Steel – light, mineral, stony, and allows the natural flavors/aromas of the grape(s) to shine

3. Shop regions, not grapes!

  • Chances are if you like a wine it is because of the region and climate it comes from. Yes, the grape and winemaking matters but the winemakers are also at the mercy of the climate they grow the wine in.

    • Cool climate – lower alcohol, higher acidity

      • Ever tried a wine that makes your cheeks pucker and salivate all at the same time? This is a cool climate wine with high acidity! Think Sauvignon Blanc from France, Italian Pinot Grigio, Spanish Albarino.

    • Warm climate – higher alcohol, lower acidity

      • There’s a reason your California Cabernets are always bold, fruity, and high in alcohol, because it is WARM!

      • Next time you want a red wine from California try a Bordeaux from France

  • How do you know what you like? Try a wine that you like, remember where its from!

    • You like Pinot Noir, try it from different regions (Oregon, California, Burgundy, New Zealand).

    • Start to do this and you will appreciate the nuances climate adds to a wine.

  • Your fun fact of the day - The closest you will get to French Pinot Noir in the U.S. is in Oregon (Willamette Valley). Any ideas why?

    • They are on the same northern latitude, meaning the climates (specifically amount of sunshine) will be similar! Both Burgundy, France and Oregon, USA have a cool maritime climate, which is ideal for growing the extremely gentle grape known as Pinot Noir.

    • This type of climate is ideal because of the shift in temperature from morning to night (known as diurnal shift). The days are sun-filled while the nights are cool providing the perfect balance for ripe, fruity, and acidic wine.

Source: https://www.cascadiafinewines.com/oregon/


Here are some good region to wine associations for your shopping experience:



4. Price doesn’t always equal quality, but sometimes you must spend to find quality.

  • Wine producers make different levels of wines, some of which will always be better than others due to factors like time, oak, technique, aging, etc.

  • When shopping and trying new wines, always try to average $15 a bottle.

    • This could mean you splurge to try a new $20 bottle of wine and buy a $10 bottle you know you will like.

  • If you find a cheap bottle you like, then next time buy a more expensive one from that same producer. If that producer can make good wine at a $10-15 price point, then what can they make at a $25-30 price point?

    • This also works in reverse. If you find an expensive bottle you like, buy a cheaper one from that same producer to see what their value wines taste like.

5. Like a wine, grape, region, or producer --> then write it down!

  • This one might sound like a no brainer and that’s because it is. There are too many wines to keep track of, so if you like something then keep a record of it somewhere

    • Can use apps like notes, Vivino, or others to log the wines you like and don’t like

  • Don’t be afraid to expand your palate. Try to buy 1 or 2 new wines each time you shop. If you aren’t sure where to start or what to buy, then reach out to me on here or through my Instagram (@montevinoblog).

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