Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between a nice bottle of wine and a nicely packaged bottle of wine. Being that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, read on to discover how to decipher the important details when purchasing wine gifts or wine at the store:
1) Appellation: Wines from noteworthy regions will proudly display the place of origin, which is often a major indicator of quality. Be wary of ambiguous appellations like “California” or “France.”
2) Vintage: Just because it is older does not mean that it is better. Some years have been very poor for certain grape varieties, such as 2005 was for California’s Zinfandel crop. Also, be careful of purchasing dust-covered bottles from the supermarket shelf; stores rarely have optimal environments for storing wine.
3) Producer: If trying a new type of wine, it is suggested to stick with a wine producer with whose quality you are familiar. If you didn’t like one producer’s Merlot, chances are you won’t enjoy their Chardonnay either. Also, smaller winemakers do produce outstanding vintages, but their consistency cannot always be relied upon.
4) Bottling: Wines bottled by the vintner typically indicate higher quality and care than those bottled by a third party. Look for indicators such as “Estate Bottled,” which means that the wine was bottled on-site and made from grapes grown and harvested from the winery’s own vineyards.
5) Variety: This tells you about the body and complexity of the wine according to the grape. A fundamental understanding of the major varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, etc.) is helpful.
6) Quality Designations: Labels that indicate “Reserve” or “Vintner’s Selection” demonstrate a higher quality of wine than what the winemaker usually produces. For instance, a bottle of standard Beringer will cost you $4 while a bottle of Beringer Private Reserve will cost you upwards of $90 and taste far better.