How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Last Updated: March 26, 2020 References

This article was co-authored by Samuel Bogue. Samuel Bogue is the Wine Director of the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group in San Francisco, California. He gained his Sommelier certification in 2013, is a Zagat “30 Under 30” award winner, and is a wine consultant for the San Francisco Bay Area’s top restaurants.

There are 17 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 163,596 times.

Selecting a bottle of wine can seem nearly impossible when you’re at the liquor store, in the grocery store, or at a restaurant. There are so many choices, like picking red or white, choosing the type of wine, selecting the year, and pairing the wine with food. Luckily, there are some basic rules that can help you select a bottle of wine for any occasion, for any purpose, and to go with any food.

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Consider the flavors in the dish. Sam Bogue, a sommelier, says: “First, I’ll try to match the intensity of the flavors. If the dish is more delicate, like a crudo of fish, I want a wine that has a lighter alcohol body, for instance. From there, I try to find complimentary flavor profiles, like choosing a wine with a citrus base tone if there are citrus notes in the dish. I also think about the texture. A wine with a lot of tannins feels disjointed if you serve it with a light, fresh dish like the crudo, but it’s perfect for a juicy dry-aged steak, because it helps cut through the fat and the salt.”

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

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Here’s a shocker: Good wine is neither expensive, nor old. So how do you know what makes for a good bottle of vino? Well, for starters, it’s deep, complex and stays with you long after you’ve tasted it. You’re saying, “but there are so many. How do I choose?” The general tasting rules of swirl, sniff and sip are a start, but there’s more to learn when determining if a wine is worthy of your taste buds and cash. We went to the experts to find out exactly what to look for.

1. Check Out the Backside

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

First appearance isn’t everything. Front labels can be enticing, but check out the full package before you purchase. Read back labels for more information about a wine. Sometimes there are some clues about the wine like fruits, flavors, the aging process, importers and region. Keep an eye out for any stamps of approval like awards or reviews—all signs of a good wine. Go ahead and ask for recommendations. Don’t be shy! “Ask the wine steward or a friend for a recommendation to help make your selection,” says Peter Click, president and founder of The Click Wine Group (Fat Bastard Wines). “If you’re on a date, chances are the woman across the table will appreciate your humility, vulnerability and security to ask for help from a trusted expert.”

2. Scent of Attraction

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Swirl and sniff. Here’s where two rules of tasting 101 come into play. Does it have nice legs? You know those slender lines of liquid that slowly drip down the sides of the glass. Legs mean little when it comes to a good wine, but it can clue you in on its alcohol content. Sniff. What do you smell? Honey? Peppers? Apple? Oak? Chances are, the more you smell, the better the wine may taste. “Juicy impressions of three types of fruit or aromas of three things (that you like) the nose knows,” says wine industry veteran Tim McDonald. “I am a big believer of sniffing and swirling; the taste is confirming what you sense. Good [wine] is the combo of all of it, the sum of the parts. If you think it’s bad, it probably is.”

3. Use Your Tongue

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Sound sexy? Well it is, but focus. Once you’ve swirled and sniffed your way around the glass, go in for the sip. Let the liquid move around your tongue. Do you taste dark cherries, grapefruit? Use your taste buds to figure out how many different flavors you can pick up on. Hint: as long as it’s in balance and isn’t putrid-smelling, the more you can taste the more complex the wine. When all of the flavors stay on your tongue for some time, even better! “If the wine’s fruit flavors (think plums, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, citrus, melon, peach) dance across your tongue and the finish lingers you know you’ve got a complex and balanced wine,” says Click.

4. Get its Digits

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Is that a 2005 Bordeaux? Good vintage. If you do some homework and know your years and some favorite regions, you’ll know if climate and weather conditions produced a perfectly ripe harvest—and good wines. Extreme heat or cold or too much rain can take a toll on the quality of some grapes. Do some research before you buy, particularly if you’re trying a new region, and don’t be fooled by age. “Older wines aren’t necessarily better,” says Click. “Many wines under $15 are intended to be enjoyed young. In general you can drink whites one to two years and reds two to three years after bottling. Higher-end wines have more staying power and can last three to 10 years or more.”

5. Embrace What You Really Like

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

If you purchase the wine again, chances are you like it. When you find one you like, stick to it. It’s simple, but be mindful of the grapes varietals in the wines you prefer. If you like Pinot Noir from Oregon, you just might dig a Burgundy from France. Then again, a Syrah from the Rhône region may be slightly different from a South African or Australian Shiraz. Explore the world of wine. “Taste is subjective, which means the best wine is the one you like,” says Click. “Take time to try new varietals from regions all around the world and find your own personal style.”

Wine Tip: Screw It!
“Don’t be afraid to try wine with a screw cap closure,” says Click. “A screw cap doesn’t mean the wine is cheap, it means the winery is committed to quality. Approximately 8 percent of wine bottled under cork is cork-tainted or undrinkable.”

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There can be a lot of stress and confusion that can go into selecting the perfect bottle of wine. You can find great bottles of wine anywhere, from the limited list at a restaurant to a vast selection at an upscale wine store. We will break down some tips into selecting the perfect bottle of wine in each of these locations, as well as how to get a $2,000 bottle of wine for as low as $129.99 with this trick we learned from FoodNetwork.com!

Selecting The Best Bottle Of Wine In A Restaurant

When selecting a wine in a restaurant, we suggest reviewing the menu beforehand and deciding what you would like to order so you can narrow down your type of wine based on the dish. In the event you can’t, we suggest having a wine and food pairing chart handy on your phone or asking the waiter/waitress their recommendations. Here are some more tips you should follow when trying to decipher a restaurant wine list:

  • Set a budget: Having a number in your head as to what you’re willing to spend will make it easier to narrow down your choices. A good rule of thumb is to take the priciest entree on the menu and add 50% more to the price. Typically, restaurants assume their guests will pay about that price for a good bottle of wine.
  • Eliminate half the menu: How you ask? It’s easy. Choose either red or white.
  • Ask to sample: Restaurants will almost always let you try their wines before you commit. Always ask!

Selecting The Best Bottle Of Wine At A Wine Store

Going to a wine store can be an educational experience. With hundreds to choose from, how can you decide? Try narrowing down your search by following this advice:

  • Try inexpensive bottles: Each grape is distinct with its own flavor so sampling a lower-priced bottle of wine will narrow down the type of grapes you enjoy.
  • Pick the popular brand: These bottles have been enjoyed by thousands of wine drinkers, whether they’re an expert or a beginner. There’s no room for error when going with the brand that has brought thousands of consumers satisfaction for a reasonable price.
  • Price isn’t everything: Just because a bottle is twice the price, does not mean it will be better. Higher priced bottles can have an acquired taste, so if you’re just getting started try something more universal to avoid altering your palette.
  • Ask the experts: Wine stores are staffed with knowledgeable experts who can help find the right bottle. Offering as many details as possible can help them suggest the best wine for your taste. Some points of reference would be having a price range, knowing what you will serve with the wine and even the occasion you’re celebrating.
  • Get the best deal: If you want a high-quality wine without having to shell out the cash, here is a tip we found. Ask the wine store if they have any “second-label wines.” These grapes are given the same first-class treatment that their main-label wines get, but due to the limited production and exclusivity of these wines, they create a second-label. So, for example, you can purchase the “attainable sister” of a $2,000 bottle of wine for only $129.99!

Selecting The Best Bottle Of Wine At A Liquor Store

Choosing what wine to purchase at the liquor store doesn’t need to be a stressful situation either. Typically, the store associates are less educated than the experts at the wine store but they can still guide you to the right choice. These brief tips will make the selecting process a breeze when entering the liquor store:

  • Know your price range: As suggested above, knowing the price range you are willing to spend will make it easier to narrow down your options once you are in the store.
  • Browse the store catalog: Depending on the liquor store, they may have a seasonal catalog that shows you different seasonal wines and possible food pairings.
  • Trust the signs: Stores may have signs such as “Manager’s Favorite” or “Seasonal Sippers” that are the store’s attempt to make the wine buying experience less stressful. These signs may also have recommendations for what to serve with the wine.

It’s Time To Uncork And Unwined With Us!

Leave our wine experts at Cork Bar & Restaurant to pair your dish with the best wine option. Or if you want to educate yourself further and learn how to taste like a sommelier, join us for our Fall Wine School Series: Bling Tasting on October 29, from 7-9 pm.

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

We’re not really sure when the transition from drink-all-the-vodka-sodas-you-can-muster to we-should-probably-just-order-a-bottle happens, but it does. But when it does, unless you’re like Hallie from The Parent Trap who grew up around vintages and varietals, you’re left kind of fumbling around, swirling whatever you ordered at the restaurant in the glass and smelling it in an attempt to seem like you know what the hell you’re doing. Even worse? The wine store, where all wino knowledge goes out the window in favor of a bright bottle with some cool calligraphy on its label. (That means it’s fancy, right?)

BUT NO MORE. You are an adult, goddammit, and you should A) at least have a working knowledge of varietals, AKA the type of grape used for the wine, lest you become one of those poor fools who, thanks to Waka Flocka Flame, goes into a bar to order Moscato only to realize it’s a sweet wine, and B) talk about something you imbibe on the regular with some kind of authority.

We caught up with Michael Turley, manager and wine director of NYC’s Irvington restaurant, for the easiest-to-remember tips on choosing a great wine. (‘Cause we know you’re not going to write this down.)

*Read* the label

I know, I know. We just said we’re not going to look at the label, but we’re not talking about looking for a cute font. Read, young grasshopper. While wines that say “table wine” or “California wine” might be perfectly delicious, they also raise red flags. “These wines are composed of grapes from a very large region (a state or even an entire country) and, although sometimes just fine in quality, tend to be noticeably bland or unbalanced,” says Turley.

Recognize why something’s on sale

While your local wine store might just have crazy deals all the time, most stores put wine on sale for two reasons, according to Turley. 1) The ideal consumption window for the vintage has come and gone, or 2) the wine just isn’t selling and the store wants to clear out inventory. Neither of these things necessarily equal a bad wine, but it’s something to look out for before stocking up on that Pinot Noir just because it’s marked down 10 bucks.

Know your adjectives

This is a big distinction—especially for those who say they hate “sweet wines.” “There is a difference between a sweet wine and one that is fruit-forward,” notes Turley. “Sweet wines, like a port or some Rieslings, tend to be more syrupy, which is wine’s way of exhibiting sweetness. But a wine may have a nose of tropical fruit and honeysuckle but, upon tasting, are crisp, clean and wash out the mouth in a quick flush.” So stop with the vague terms, friends. (And know which one to ask for.)

Choose easy pairings

Pairings—this is when things get interesting. As Turley notes, there are two schools of thoughts when it comes to wine and food pairings: complementary and contrasting. Neither is wrong. (So if someone tries to argue with your Twinkies and Gewürztraminer, remind them that it they are both sweet and pull a Jan from Grease: “It says right here, it is a dessert wine.”) If going the complementary route, just remember light with light and rich with rich. Meaning seafoods and chicken pair amazingly with crisp white wines and red meats and cheeses pair well with full-bodied reds. As for a great contrasting pairing? “Classic oysters with a New World Sauvignon Blanc, such as a great option from New Zealand,” says Turley. “The salty brine of the oysters is balanced by the fruit-forward expression of this grape. Think of it like peanut butter and jelly.”

When in doubt? Go for a rosé

I know you’re probably saying “whaaaaat?” but it’s true. “A crisp, dry rosé will have refreshing acidity and lively effervescence to help accent most dishes,” says Turley. “Rosés also work especially well with cheese plates.” Turley recommends a *sparkling* rosé. (Ooh la la.)

If all else fails, download an app

“I am a committed fan of the Wine Spectator app, which has a comprehensive database of wine ratings organized by price points and varietals,” says Turley. “Comparing ratings with prices can help make the decision a no-brainer.”

Seven rules of thumb for finding good wine without wasting good money.

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Save While You Sip

Our 401(k)s may have turned into 201(k)s, but plenty of people are still drinking wine, according to industry research. We’re just looking for better value, and the good news is that great-tasting, inexpensive wine is overflowing store shelves. Here are seven ways to find those liquid gems.

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Location, Location, Location

Look to value regions around the globe for wine that really delivers in price and flavor. Right now, some of the hottest (and cheapest) wines in the world are coming from:

  • New Zealand (Sauvignon Blanc)
  • South Africa (Chenin Blanc)
  • Australia (Riesling and Shiraz)
  • Argentina (Malbec)
  • Chile (Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Spain (Cava)

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Make a List and Check it Twice

Look for these widely-available brands from our favorite value regions:

  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: Brancott ($10) and Kim Crawford ($16)
  • South African Chenin Blanc: Kanu ($6) and Ken Forrester ($15)
  • Australian Riesling: Banrock Station ($6, sweeter) and Yalumba ($11, drier)
  • Argentine Malbec: Bodega Septima ($12) and Tittarelli Reserva de Familia ($16)
  • Australian Shiraz: Black Wing ($13) and Greg Norman ($14)
  • Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon: Root: 1 ($12) and Los Vascos ($13)
  • Spanish Cava: Segura Viudas ($9) and Freixenet ($10)

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

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Winding down your day with a glass of wine or pairing it with your favorite meal or dessert can be such a treat for your soul and taste buds. But from a health perspective, some wines are healthier than others. If you’re focused on making the most of your glass of wine, we asked dietitians for their input on the best bottle you can buy. They told us that a dry, red wine is the healthiest type of wine you can drink.

Before we get into that, we first want to address that the key factor when it comes to your health and drinking wine is about quantity, not the type of wine.

“There are actually quite a few health benefits to moderate alcohol consumption related to cardiovascular health and cognitive functioning,” says Whitney Linsenmeyer, PhD, RD, LD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Saint Louis University and National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Alcohol has the potential to raise HDL (‘good’) cholesterol levels, prevent damage caused by LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, and reduce the formation of blood clots.”

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate consumption as up to 1 drink per day for women, and up to 2 drinks per day for men. In terms of wine, 1 drink is 5 fluid ounces.

“The story flips when people consume more than 1-2 drinks per day; we then see an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and liver disease,” says Dr. Linsenmeyer. (Related: Dangerous Side Effects of Drinking Too Much Wine, Says Science.)

From a calorie standpoint, wines hover around 120-150 calories per glass, so no matter which type you’re choosing, the differences are somewhat negligible from that standpoint,” says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Head of Nutrition and Wellness at WW (formerly Weight Watchers). “As a rule, the more naturally-occurring sugar there is in the wine, the higher calories overall.”

If you’re concerned about calorie-intake from wine, an easy way to keep it in check is to look at the wine’s alcohol percentage.

“Alcohol content of 12.5% or below is considered lower,” says London. “And look for a ‘dryer’ type of wine, as dryer blends which help to keep sugar content-per-serving in check.” (There are, actually, some low-calorie wines that are specifically made with calorie counts as low as 80 calories.)

Although quantity is the #1 factor to consider for your health, there is one small nuance to consider: all wines made from grapes provide antioxidants (i.e. resveratrol, quercetin, and polyphenols), but the antioxidant levels in red wine tend to be higher than white wines, given that the skins of the grapes remain in the wine for a longer period of time during fermentation.

Specifically, which red wines should you grab?

“You can feel extra good about that glass of pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon,” says Dr. Linsenmeyer.

But before you buy your next bottle, it might be worth reading about the People Who Should Never Drink Wine, According to an Expert.

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One of the top questions I get asked by wine enthusiasts is how long to age a wine. We’ve previously discussed the 4 basic traits of an age-worthy wine. In this article we’ll take a deeper look at specific varietals and what to look for when aging wine.

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

How Long to Age Wine

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have great success cellaring and aging wines. In fact, cellaring affordable wines is very gratifying. Aged wines have amazing nutty, dried fig-like flavors and they’re something that anyone can enjoy with a little thinking ahead.

What Variety is it?

Many wine varieties will age quite well. However, some of these same varieties are typically produced in a ‘drink now’ style, making it less likely that they will cellar. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, so look more carefully into the producer if you’re not sure.

Varieties that Improve Over Time

  • Classic Red Wine Blends (see list)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Nebbiolo
  • Tempranillo (Reserva and above)
  • Sangiovese (Riserva and above)
  • Red Burgundy and other cool climate Pinot Noir
  • Tannat, Sagrantino, Monastrell/Mourvèdre (See more Full Bodied Red Wines)
  • Quality Portuguese Red Wines (See Examples)
  • Vintage Port
  • Vintage Madeira
  • Tête de Cuvée Champagne
  • Pinot Noir (about a 50/50 split depending on producer and region)

Youthful “Drink Now” Varieties

  • Malbec
  • Zinfandel / Primitivo
  • Merlot
  • Barbera
  • Dolcetto
  • Lambrusco
  • Garnacha
  • Beaujolais
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir (about a 50/50 split depending on producer and region)
  • Chardonnay

Chart: See the wine aging chart for more specific examples.

What’s The Structure?

Hopefully you’ll have a chance to taste the wine before you consider cellaring it as this will help you identify its structural elements before deciding to store it. If not, try to get your hands on a wine tech sheet or tasting notes that talk about things like tannin, acidity and balance (see: wine descriptions chart)

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

For example, a red wine that is all tannin and the fruit is a faint whisper, barely fighting for a place on your palate what can you expect it to become? By the time the tannins mellow the fruit has as well and the wine will have grown old a taste accordingly. Charming? Maybe, but world class, not likely.
–Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, sommelier and winemaker, WT Vintners

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Structural Elements of Age-Worthy Red Wine

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Structural Elements of Age-Worthy White Wine

Who made the wine?

The techniques and style of winemaking can have a large effect on how long you can age a particular wine. Not all wine is made equal. You can still find plenty of affordable winemakers out there making superior age-worthy wines if you are willing to venture outside of the popular trends. Here is one technique to start identifying great winemakers:

  1. Check reviews/tasting notes for wines described as ‘benefit from age’ or ‘needing time in the cellar’.
  2. Figure out if the winemaker has any other side projects, unique varietal wines or offers any 2nd label wines (an introductory off-brand release by a top producer).
  3. Buy the side project wine, especially if it’s from a good vintage and taste it/cellar it.
  4. Use this wine as a benchmark for bare minimum quality and then expand your search to other lesser-known winemakers who may offer more affordable quality wines made with better grapes.
  5. Rinse and repeat in regions you love.

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Was it a hot vintage?

Watch out for hot or “ripe” vintages. These wines will taste crazy delicious early on, but will fall apart and often get flabby (ie lose acidity) sooner, due to the physiology of how grapes ripen. Since acidity is a key component to slowing the development of faults in aging wine, it’s an essential component of an age-worthy wine.

Finally, does it taste perfect now?

One final thing to note about whether or not a wine will age well is how it tastes right now. Most cellar worthy wines have quite a bit of structure (e.g. tannin and acidity) and are often described as ‘closed’ or ‘tight’ early on. Read more about wine descriptors. So, if it’s tasting perfect right now, that probably means you should drink it.

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

By understanding the 5 basics characteristics below, you’ll have a better chance of choosing great wines.

In recent history, there has been an increasing focus on analyzing and rating wines. Unfortunately, wine ratings don’t really help us understand our unique sense of taste.

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

How Basic Wine Characteristics Help You Find Favorites

The best way to learn about your taste is to learn to classify wines by their fundamental traits and then pick which traits you like best.

Basic Wine Characteristics
  1. Sweetness
  2. Acidity
  3. Tannin
  4. Alcohol
  5. Body

It’s important to understand the basic characteristics of wine, to learn how to taste wine. Learning to identify wine characteristics helps to identify what you like about a wine.

Sweetness

“How sweet or dry (not sweet) is the wine?”

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

Our perception of sweet starts at the tip of our tongue, and the first impression of a wine is its level of sweetness.

To taste sweetness, focus your attention on the taste buds on the tip of your tongue. Are your taste buds tingling? (An indicator of sweetness!) Believe it or not, many dry wines can have a hint of sweetness to make them more full-bodied.

If you find a wine you like has residual sugar, you may enjoy a hint (or a lot!) of sweetness in your wine.

How to Taste Sweetness in Wine
  • Tingling sensation on the tip of your tongue.
  • Slight oily sensation in the middle of your tongue that lingers.
  • Wine has a higher viscosity; wine tears on the side of the glass slowly. (also an indicator of high ABV)
  • Dry red wines such as cabernet sauvignon often have up to 0.9 g/L of residual sugar (common with cheap wines).
  • A bone-dry wine can often be confused with a wine with high tannin.

Sweetness is one of subtlest aspects of tasting wine, because so many factors can affect how you perceive sugar. Check out our Sugar in Wine Chart to sharpen up your palate!

Acidity

“How tart is the wine?”

Acidity in food and drink tastes tart and zesty. Tasting acidity is also sometimes confused with alcohol.

Wines with higher acidity feel lighter-bodied because they come across as “spritzy.” If you prefer a wine that is more rich and round, you enjoy slightly less acidity.

Acidity Characteristics
  • Tingling sensation that focuses on the front and sides of your tongue. Feels like pop rocks.
  • If you rub your tongue to the roof of your mouth, it feels gravelly.
  • Your mouth feels wet like you bit into an apple.
  • You feel like you can gleek.

Tasting acidity is tricky but we’ve created a handy graph comparing different beverages in out Understanding Acidity in Wine article.

Tannin

“How astringent or bitter is the wine?”

Tannin is often confused with Level of Dryness because tannin dries out your mouth!

What exactly are wine tannins? Tannin in wine is the presence of phenolic compounds that add bitterness to a wine.

Phenolics are found in the skins and seeds of wine grapes and can also be added to a wine with the use of aging in wood (oak). So how does tannin taste? Imagine putting a used black tea bag on your tongue. A wet tea bag is practically pure tannin that is bitter and has a drying sensation.

Tannin tastes herbaceous and is often described as astringent. While all of these descriptors sound very negative, tannin adds balance, complexity, structure, and makes a wine last longer. It’s also one most important “good for you” traits in red wines.

How Does a High Tannin Wine Taste?
  • Tastes bitter on the front inside of your mouth and along the side of your tongue.
  • Tannin makes your tongue dry out.
  • After you swallow, you feel a lingering bitter/dry feeling in your mouth.
  • Tannin can often be confused with the term “dry” because it dries your mouth out.

Tannins have incredible utility in wine and add complexity to wine that elevates the drinking experience. Plus, they have healthy aspects – Learn More About Wine Tannins

Alcohol

“How much does the wine warm your throat?”

The average glass of wine contains around 11–13% alcohol. That said, wine ranges from as little as 5.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) to as much as around 20% ABV.

We interpret alcohol using many different taste receptors, which is why it can taste bitter, sweet, spicy, and oily all at once. Your genetics actually plays a role in how bitter or sweet alcohol tastes.

Regardless, we can all sense alcohol towards the backs of our mouths in our throats as a warming sensation. Experts at tasting wine can guesstimate the level within 0.2%!

Alcohol Characteristics

  • Wines with higher alcohol tend to taste bolder and more oily
  • Wines with lower alcohol tend to taste lighter-bodied
  • Most wines range between 11–13% ABV

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

Body: Light to Full-Bodied.

Are you in the mood for a light, medium, or full-bodied wine? Body is the result of many factors – from wine variety, where it’s from, vintage, alcohol level, and how it’s made. Body is a snapshot of the overall impression of a wine. You can improve your skills by paying attention to where and when it’s present.

Getting familiar with boldness in wine is one your best tools for predicting new wines you’ll enjoy – dip into the Boldness in Red Wines and take your next big wine learning leap.

Wine Characteristics Conclusions

Wine characteristics help identify and relate different wines to each other. Since over 250,000 different wines are released every year around the world, it’s helpful to think about wine characteristics in terms of the varietal and where they’re from. What’s next?

Develop your palate

Now that you’re up to speed on the basic elements of wine, it’s time to develop your palate to identify all the tasty parts of your favorite wines. Dive into our How to Taste Wine guide.

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

The Best Wine Tools

From beginner to professional, the right wine tools make for the best drinking experience.

How to choose a good bottle of wine that is worthy of your taste buds

About Madeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

Why collect wine when more than 95% of the world’s wines are meant to be consumed within a year or two after release? I can give you two compelling reasons: first, a small percentage of the greatest wines–mostly reds, but many dry white and sweet wines, too–need anywhere from a few years to several decades to achieve their mellow, multifaceted maturity. By then you won’t be able to find them or afford them–unless you already own them. Second, the wines you age yourself will probably be in better condition than most older bottles you’ll find withering away on retailers’ shelves.

All you need is a place that is dark, humid but not too damp, reasonably cool (preferably below 60 degrees but definitely below 70) and safe from daily temperature fluctuations. That, plus a few suggestions to help you avoid the most commonly made mistakes.

BEGIN WITH A GAME PLAN: Some wine lovers buy without making a realistic estimate of their future needs and quickly accumulate more bottles than they can possibly drink over a lifetime. Other collectors cellar too many wines that mature quickly and fade, or overload on one type of wine.

Do some reading, or take a course on the world’s major wine regions, or join a wine club that holds frequent tastings before you embark on collecting. Tastings of older vintages can show you what to expect from the wines you are laying down. If you realize now, for example, that you prefer the youthful, spicy red fruit flavors of Pinot Noir to the earthy notes this variety shows in its golden years, you won’t waste the time and space aging them.

DON’T OVERLOOK WHITE WINE, BUT CHOOSE CAREFULLY: It’s a matter of personal taste, of course, but as a rule of thumb you may want to stock your cellar with a rough ratio of three reds to one white. Remember that most white wines don’t reward extended cellaring and that it’s always possible to find an excellent, ready-to-drink young white wine at your local shop. Moreover, many dry whites–with the notable exception of some top Chardonnays and Rieslings and Loire Valley Chenin Blancs–quickly lose their freshness and begin to oxidize if subjected to less-than-wonderful storage conditions. On the other hand, far too many of the world’s greatest, collection-worthy whites are consumed before they have reached their flavor-filled potential. A young Alsatian Riesling might be austere today, offering only a hint of its future richness and personality. How can you know which whites to cellar? Ask around, read up and, best of all, taste for yourself.

DON’T OVERBUY BORDEAUX: Red Bordeaux has traditionally been the foundation of most great cellars–owing not only to the wine’s slow development and legendary longevity, but to its track record for price appreciation. (Case lots of classified-growth Bordeaux from the best years remain the safest investments in the notoriously conservative auction market.) If you’re cellaring wine to savor rather than resell, keep in mind that a top-notch red Bordeaux may need at least a decade of aging, and may go through a muted stage during which it will disappoint your expectations.

Some non-Bordeaux, world-class reds to look for: Hermitage and Côte Rôtie from the Rhône Valley; Italy’s Killer Bs: Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello; and California’s Cabernet Sauvignons. Red Burgundy, though tricky to buy due to high prices and limited production, can be transcendently good, and is infinitely versatile with food. The underappreciated wines of Provence and the Languedoc deliver an exhilarating range of spicy, herbal flavors. Spain’s already well-aged Rioja reservas and gran reservas offer the elegance of claret without the weight–or the wait. Many of the wines above will provide delicious drinking soon after reaching wine store shelves, yet can still improve in bottle for a decade or more.

DON’T LOSE IT ON A SINGLE VINTAGE: Collectors often trample one other in a rush to acquire wines from vintages hyped by the wine press–almost invariably the superripe years. Yet these vintages frequently yield wines that are fiery with alcohol or short on balancing acidity. Drought conditions common in hot years can produce tannic monsters that may require decades to soften. Although the so-called great years may be your best bet for investing in wine, they do not always provide the most user-friendly bottles to enjoy with a meal. Good wines from less ripe vintages will often prove far more versatile with food because of their thirst-quenching acidity and subtler flavors.

REMEMBER SWEET AND FORTIFIED WINES: Just as no self-respecting food lover would think of leaving the table after the meat course, no wine lover wants to end a great meal on a dry note. The best Sauternes, along with late-harvest wines from Germany, Alsace and the Loire Valley, are ideal candidates for cellaring because they require a decade or two of aging to unleash their volatile esters. But because these lovely “sticky” wines are generally made in small quantities, they tend to disappear early from retail shops and thus deserve space in your cellar. So do vintage ports. These special-occasion fortified wines can take up to 25 years to reach their full, mellow maturity and can last for generations. You may drink only a couple of bottles of vintage port a year, but no serious cellar is complete without them.

THINK BIG, THINK SMALL: At a dinner party for eight, a bottle of wine (750 ml) will give everyone one small glass; a magnum (1.5 liters) will please your guests twice. Magnums also age more slowly due to their greater mass. And, a few magnums of nutty, mature Champagne will dazzle your guests on special occasions.

It’s also wise to think small. Sometimes a half-bottle is all you want, or a half bottle of white for starters and a half bottle of red for the main course. Half-bottles of luxury dessert wines are a perfect size, since such rich wines are best served in small doses. Wines high in sugar, alcohol and acidity are more resistant to oxidation, so you should not have to worry about premature aging in smaller bottles.

TASTE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM: How do you know if a wine is ready unless you taste it? Pop a cork from time to time, and judge for yourself. Thanks to later harvesting and modern winemaking techniques, today’s wines are often accessible in their youth, even if they are capable of extended aging. Besides, storage conditions vary and your wines may reach maturity a lot faster–or slower–than the vintage chart suggests.