A lesson in buying wine: what you should know
Okay – so you’ve got your friends, your budget, your glasses and your spittoons sorted – now what? Well, some wine would be good for starters – how do you go about that then?
Let’s buy some wine
First and foremost – take advice. It is easy to go to the supermarkets and just pick up wines according to pretty labels or bargain prices but you’re trying to learn here so a little direction is advisable.
My top tip is to find an independent retailer – I’d recommend Wine Concepts, Caroline’s or Vino Pronto in Cape Town, Wine Menu or Norman Goodfellows in Johannesburg and Meander Fine Wines or Buxtons La Cave in Durban but I’m sure there are plenty of others run by passionate wine-loving folk around the country – and register with them as if you were a book club.
Yes – that’s right – register your wine tasting club with a retailer, see if you can negotiate a discount (never hurts to ask) and then let them guide you as to your wine choices (I know that Wine Concepts do this and suspect most of the others will if you ask them).
The people who run these stores spend their days learning what’s new, what’s interesting, what’s good, what’s bad, what’s quirky. They taste wine all the time, all over the place – by listening to them, you get a crash course in interesting wines without worrying about buying them all yourselves. And independent businesses should be supported as well – it’s often the only way smaller wine producers can get themselves in front of the buying public.
Decide on a theme
With the help of your (now) pet retailer, decide on a theme for the tasting. If you are all absolute newbies to wine, then perhaps start on softer, sweeter styles of white and fruity, less tannic reds. If you’re all fairly seasoned drinkers, perhaps start on a cultivar – either one you all like or alternatively, one you’ve never heard of.
Within your theme, try and choose different regions, different price points and if you can, different styles (wooded, unwooded, left on lees, MLF permitted) so when you actually taste the wines, there may be one or two you don’t enjoy all that much. Don’t worry – someone else probably will and anyway, everything gets drunk at the end of the night!
If you really don’t have access to a good retailer, try online clubs such as Wade Bales Wine Society or Cyber Cellar. And if that’s too tricky then just do the best you can at the big retailers. As Mae West (almost) said “When faced with a choice between two wine labels, I always choose the one I’ve never tried before.”
Be brave and take a chance!
Next time I’ll be talking about tasting white wines.
Follow Cathy Marston on Twitter @CathyMarston.