Choosing an Affordable Wine
The world of wine can seem a confusing place. Labels mention regions but not grapes, or grapes but not countries, or in some cases nothing at all. How does someone just getting started in wine make a good purchase at the local wine shop?
The first step, as in all purchases, is to know what you like. It won't matter if the wine shop owner finds you the best Pinot Noir on the market if you really like Beringer's White Zinfandel. Try a few wines in local restaurants, or attend a wine class at the local community college. Taste a wine or two from different types, and figure out what you like. Wine tasting has little to do with what "the perfect wine" is. It has everything to do with what pleases you.
OK, you've found that you love Shiraz and want to bring some to a dinner your friends are having. You don't know enough about Shiraz, though, to know which are good and which are just tolerable. Go into your local wine shop, and walk around that section. See what kinds of price ranges you are talking about, and decide how much in general you are willing to spend. Check out the blurbs on the wine racks. You can usually discard the "winery notes" supplied by the winemaker - these are of course marketing material written with the sole purpose of getting you to buy that bottle of wine. Your best guideline is the handwritten notes put there by the owner - he is staking his reputation on his recommendations.
If there is a wine shop employee free, call him or her over. Explain what kinds of wines you've tried in the past, and then what you are looking for. It's perfectly reasonable to say "I like White Zinfandel, and hate Pinot Noir, so what in this type of wine would I enjoy?" The wine shop employee has a good idea of what each type of wine tastes like, and can make a reasonable guess at what type of Shiraz would be best suited for you. He should give you three or four choices, and, depending on your price range, you can choose the one best suited for you.
What if there is no wine clerk available? Again, go by the ratings and by a type of wine you know you like. If there is more than one choice, write down the names of the ones you do not buy. The next time you're in a restaurant, if you see one on the menu, try a glass of it. Also, many wine shops now offer tastings to let you sample various types of wines to determine what your favorite is.
Most importantly, remember that what you enjoy is your personal preference. No wine reviewer or shop owner is going to have your exact taste in wine. Learn what types of wines you enjoy, and keep a note of them. A list on the fridge often does the trick - a running tally of what you enjoyed and what you did not. In short order, the wine shop owner will be making new recommendations to you when you walk into his shop, as he knows what kind of taste buds you have!
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