A familiar dilemma. You’re in a store and you’re looking at a wall full of bottles of wine that you know nothing about.

Many, if not most, of the names are unknown. If you’re in the grocery store, you probably see a sea of mass-produced bottles of wine under private labels with names made up to grab your attention.

So how do you choose a good bottle of wine?

Unfortunately, there is no reliable method unless you open them all up and try them out. And because we’d rather not hold you up, we’re here to share some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned in ten years of choosing good wines, we publish Reverse Wine Snob.

Let’s start by using only the information on the label.

What appears on the wine label (front and back)

Region and grade

Although the label always mentions the region and usually the variety or varieties, preference plays an important role here. What other wines do you like? What regions did they come from? What kind of people were they? As you expand your wine tasting experience, you begin to focus on the regions, varieties and combinations that appeal to you.

It also helps to know something about the different regions (you can find this information on several of our category pages). Our best advice here is to look for high quality combinations such as Spanish Garnacha, Washington Merlot, California Petite Syrah, South African Chenin Blanc, etc. If you read our letters, we will inform you.

Often lesser-known regions can offer tremendous value without the added costs associated with high land and grape prices. Let’s take the example of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The price of a ton of Cabernet grapes in Napa Valley in 2020 was about $6,200. In the big AGMs on the North Coast, the price was less than a third, and in places like Washington State, prices in Napa were more like 20-25%. Go to Lodi AVA and the prices are almost a tenth of those in Napa! This makes a big difference in the final cost of your bottle of wine.

Probably the most important piece of local advice when it comes to choosing a good bottle of wine is that anything considered smaller is usually better. This is not a one hundred percent guarantee of quality, but the more specific the region, the less likely the wine is to come from vineyards.

One vineyard is the gold standard here, but even going from a Cabernet labeled California (635,000 acres of grapes) to Sonoma (60,000 acres of grapes) to Dry Creek Valley (9,000 acres of grapes) speaks volumes, and we would choose the smaller one 9 times out of 10 if we knew nothing else about the wine.

Finally, wines from the Old World often do a lot of this quality work for you, as many European regions have many rules and regulations for grape growing and winemaking, so the wines have specific appellations on their labels (Chianti and Rioja are good examples).

This is in contrast to many parts of the New World, where terms such as Reserve and Old Vine can appear on any label, and wines referred to as being from one grape variety may only contain 75% of that variety. In other words, many of these New World wines are actually blended with the addition of 25% other grapes. This does not necessarily mean that the quality is lower, but it does mean that it is more difficult to understand what you are buying if the winery does not state this on the label.

Manufacturer

Reputation is important when choosing a good wine. Some producers are so reliable that it is impossible to go wrong with any of their wines. Again: If you follow our emails, reviews or special offers, we’ll let you know.

If you know nothing about the winery or producer, you can turn the bottle over on the back label and search for the following terms on wines from the United States:

  • Homesteading bottled or grown, produced and discharged: These two terms mean that 100% of the grapes have been grown in own vineyards within the same AVA and that the wine has been made on own plot within the same AVA. Every part of the vinification process must take place in the cellar. This does not necessarily mean that it is a wine from a single vineyard (where 95% of the grapes must come from one particular vineyard), but simply that it is a wine from their own or controlled vineyards and that every aspect of the winemaking process is done by them.
  • Produced and sold in bottles: The grapes produced and bottled are not so limited in that only 75% of the grapes must be fermented at the winery itself. The remaining 25% may be finished wine which has been purchased and blended. However, in most cases this label simply means that the winery buys the grapes and produces the wine itself, which is a very common scenario.
  • Screws and bottles : This means that the wine was largely made by someone else, but that the winery selling the wine put a cellar treatment (which may not have been as extensive as simple aging) or much more effort into it, for example. B. by mixing the wines.
  • Sellared and Bottle are side by side: That means all the wine was made by someone else.

In general, bottled, grown, produced and bottled by can be a good sign that the winery is heavily involved in the growing and production of the wine.

There are some snags in this. Some large companies control tons of vineyards so they can label everything that is produced and bottled. Some small wineries that produce great wines cannot do this, which is why their wines are labeled Vinted and Bottled by. Cellar wines and bottled wines can also be excellent, but they were not produced by the winery selling them.

One last note about the manufacturer – if you’re in a store like Trader Joe’s, Aldi or even Costco, where many wines are private label, we have more tips and tricks for you on these pages.

Want more good content like this article on choosing a good bottle of wine? Register for a free guide: How to drink good wine without breaking the bank

% alcohol

The alcohol content can vary greatly from wine to wine, but this is usually due to the region, the grape variety and the style of the producer. Therefore, when looking for a good bottle of wine, I prefer to focus on these elements rather than the absolute quantity. However, a very high or very low rating that matches what you expect from a wine style may indicate that that particular wine is made very differently than you expect (for example, a Pinot Noir with over 15% alcohol or a California Zin with only 12%).

Year

The vintage reflects the year in which the grapes were harvested. For a price under $20, I wouldn’t put too much value on age. Everything has gone right for the Reds in recent years. If you know nothing else about wine, I would stick to whites and rosés from the last two or three vintages. Chances are, if you’re in the store and use these tips to pick out a good bottle of wine, it’s for immediate consumption anyway. If you’re looking for a cellar wine, you’ll probably want to do a little more research before heading to the store.

Sugar content of sparkling wines

 

The sugar content of a sparkling wine is normally indicated on the label using the following table. (Note that these are not the same classifications as for red wines, and that the terms used here reflect perceived sugar content, which is also determined by acidity).

  • Brut Nature (Brut-Zero): 0-3 grams per litre (g/L), no added sugar.
  • Very heavy: 0-6 g/l
  • Crude: 0-12 g/l
  • Very dry: 12-17 g/l
  • Dry (Secco): 17-32 g/l
  • Semi-dry: 32-50 g/l
  • Dox: 50 g/l

Importer

Imported wines must bear the name of the importer on the back label. Keeping an eye out for importers of wines you like is a good way to find new wines you might like, as the rest of their portfolio is likely to be of similar quality. For example, we can almost guarantee that we will like anything imported by Kermit Lynch of European Cellars.

Some things outside the wine label that I wouldn’t worry about when choosing a good wine.

Price

If you’re reading this, you’re probably buying wines under $20, but even in that class, a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean a better wine.

Cabinets

It doesn’t matter if the wine has a cork or a screw cap. Although cork seems more traditional, the type of box used is not a good indicator of the quality of the wine.

Other things you can do in the store to help you choose a good bottle of wine.

Ask for help!

If you leave the company with other wines that you usually like, they can point you in the right direction.

Know the tastes

Take advantage of in-store tastings when available. This is a great way to compare different wines at once.

Use of technology

Of course, if you have a phone/computer, you have a lot more information. This is essential when you are in a store where almost everything is private label and the real manufacturers are often hidden. This is the case with Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Kirkland Signature wines at Costco.

Here are some useful places to check on your phone:

  • Check the reviews on the internet. It’s best to start with the reverse wine snob!
  • Look at reviews on sites like Vivino and Cellartracker. Vivino is by far the most popular, but we’ve found that the reviews and ratings contradict each other tremendously (often one tasting note directly contradicts another). This is to be expected when different people with different tastes, preferences and experiences evaluate the same wine. (We’ve also found that the prices of the wines Vivino offers for sale are quite high, with wine search being a much better indicator of price competition).
  • To get information on the exact number of varieties (which is particularly useful for red blends), maturation or even residual sugar, although they often don’t like to specify this.
  • Another tip for finding residual sugar is the LCBO website in Canada, as they often test the wines they sell and publish this information (just type the name of the wine into Google + LCBO).

And finally, when all the research is done, our best advice is to experiment with a new wine! Here’s how we found our favorites.

And here are our best tips and tricks for choosing a good bottle of wine! We hope you can use them.

And finally : Don’t be disappointed or discouraged if you try a wine that everyone else likes and you don’t. This journey is about finding your own wine preference, not someone else’s. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. Have a good trip!

frequently asked questions

How to recognise a good bottle of wine

Playhouse

What is the best Cabernet?

Articles ‘ 25 best Cabernet-Sovignons 2020

How much should you pay for a good bottle of wine?

For the best value, spend between $15 and $25 per bottle when buying wine. A $12 price tag is a limitation to finding something that is truly made with intention, Broglie told an audience of wine lovers who tasted a range of rosés at 10 a.m. Mountain Time.

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