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Lessons in Wine Buying – Read The Labels

Decoding Wine Labels

Do you go to the same restaurant over and over again but order different things off the menu? Do you read different books from the same author? Do you buy cookbooks and cook different recipes from the same chef? Do you go see different movies simply because they star the same person?

We all do. Why? Because we feel that, if we like one thing from a certain person or source, it’s logical and comforting to assume we would like something else from that same source.

Most people think that, in order to “discover” a new wine that has a good chance of being a match to your taste, a person needs to go to a winery they like and choose another varietal or blend from the same winemaker. Single winery wine clubs are based on this idea. Or, once a person gets a little more experience with terroir, they can feel more comfortable choosing a wine made from certain grapes from certain regions. Those are all good ways to find what should be good wines with less risk of throwing money away on something you don’t like. But they also somewhat limit experimentation and exploration.

Be Adventurous

Looking to be a bit more unique and adventurous in your wine buying? Want to find lesser known wines that have a good chance of being good?

Here’s a tip: Read the back of the bottle and see who distributes the wine and/or who imports it. That’s right – follow the leader.

wine labelYou see, by some estimates there are over 2 million wineries in the world. Unless you have serious problems, there is no way you can taste that many wines in order to find what you like. That’s where importers and distributors come in. Distributors pay wine experts and sommeliers to go around the world, taste a lot of wine, and choose what wines they like and the wines they think you will like. They then get them into your local wine shop for you to purchase.

Just like a restaurant, chef, author, or actor, with a little effort it’s actually pretty easy to get a feel for what kinds and styles of wine certain distributors or sommeliers like. You can get a feel for their taste. This comes in especially handy when choosing wines from obscure wineries located in faraway lands.

Shoot The Label

Next time you taste a really good wine that you don’t know, from a winery you don’t know, probably at a holiday party hosted by someone you don’t know, take a look at the back of the bottle. Take a picture of it with your fancy phone. Take note of the importer, distributor, or negociant as well as the wine, winery, and region. Write it down or file the picture away in your  wine journal (What? You don’t keep a wine journal?) Do five minutes of internet research, then, next time you’re at your local wine shop, turn some bottles around and see if you can find a match.

Yes, it’s takes some effort. But, once you get the hang of it and start to learn some of the players, it becomes really easy to track who you like and what you like, dramatically increasing your chances of finding a wine that you like as you travel on your Wine Geographic Adventures.

Wine Knowledge is power….or at the least, leads to drinking better wine.



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