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Buying and Rating Wine
How to Buy Wine
Whether you want to buy wine online or locally, it does not have to be a confusing or daunting task. Here are some guidelines to make the experience enjoyable.
Nobody can tell you what wine to buy, since what you like is the best test. The more you taste different wines, the more you will come to know what you like. Your strategy can be as uncomplicated as choosing a few brands you like and sticking to them. Or, it can be as complex as collecting verticals (different vintages from the same producer) of the world's greatest wines or buying wine futures (the right to buy a certain wine before it is actually made).
Many wine drinkers maintain brand loyalty since it is a tried-and-true way to keep a wine cellar stocked with trustworthy wines that suit their taste and budget. More enterprising collectors broaden their hobby of wine collecting into a more sophisticated venture. They keep tabs on new wines and vintages from old-guard producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Italy, Spain or Germany, and are on the alert for up-and-coming producers from the New World, such as California, Oregon, Washington, Australia, New Zealand and Chile.
No matter what your level of interest is, you're in for some fun, challenges and gratification. Wine is a living thing and is continuously changing. Each year will offer a seemingly infinite assortment of new wines, producers, appellations and vintages. Even if you find a winery or style of wine that appeals to you now, your taste will likely change over time and you'll discover new horizons. The combination of possibilities is endless. Consult your favorite wine shop or local restaurant. Stay with the independents. They are the ones who will take the time to get to know you and your likes and dislikes. Be honest and let them know your wine knowledge.
The first rule is to trust your own taste. Only you know your taste preferences. Your favorite may be French wine, or Italian wine or a cabernet wine. Whatever your preference, it is important to be comfortable deciding which wines appeal to you and which don't. Before you commit to several bottles or a case, taste a wine by buying a single bottle. This is important because it makes no sense to pay $20, $30 or $40 for something you've never tried and might not like. You'll be much happier with your buying decisions if you taste a wine and decide you like it before committing to more bottles. Today's range of wines is wide at every price level, with literally thousands of different possibilities. So many choices can be daunting. Even when your friends or wine critics rave about a wine, there's no guarantee that you'll like it too.
It takes time to gain experience with the world's fine wines, but it can be an intriguing journey. You're likely to learn as much from your buying mistakes as you will from your triumphs.
Assess your needs by asking yourself some questions
Determine how much you can realistically afford to spend on wine. Remember, it's easier to buy a case of wine than it is to drink it. Buying wine on a whim can be fun, particularly when you spot a special bottle you've been looking for. But simply curious buying also boosts the odds that you'll end up with a wine you may not need for which you may have paid too much. You should plan ahead to set aside a specific amount of money for buying wine by the case. Most retailers and wineries offer a 10% discount for purchasing wine by the case. On the other hand, discount stores usually pass along the 10% discount on all purchases.
Where to Buy Wine
After your needs are outlined, you'll need a place to shop. Not too long ago, about the only place to buy fine wine was the traditional fine-wine merchant. Today your options are much more plentiful.
You can find fine wine in countless discount chain stores and upscale supermarkets (depending on what state you live in). Some present a very impressive selection. Retailers have also become more aggressive with sales promotions, selling wine through ads in newspapers and magazines via telephone and toll-free "800" numbers and via the internet. Many retailers also publish catalogues, particularly during the holiday season, offering hundreds of wines and special gift packages. You can also join a wine club, where they select wines for you and ship them to your home for you to sample. However, most of the time, you'll purchase wine at a retail store, so get to know your local wine stores and merchants, including what kinds of wines they stock and their pricing strategies.
A well-informed retailer is an excellent source of sound buying advice and tips about what's new and interesting in his store. Retailers can also help find special wines that may be hard to find. Some retail stores even do the shopping for their customers. When a special wine comes in, they set aside a few bottles or a case and bill the customer, holding the wine until it's picked up.
If you find a wine you like, write down the name and vintage on the bottle. Just because a vineyard's 2000 Chardonnay was great doesn't guarantee its 1999 was good.
While you're visiting wine shops, take special notice of how the wines are stored and if the temperature is cool. Light and heat are enemies of wine. Wine shops that are warm or hot in summer months may not be the best place to buy your wines. It's also wise to examine wine bottles to make sure the fill level is good--up to the neck of the bottle--and that wine hasn't leaked through the cork. If wine leaks out, that means air is getting into the bottle and oxidizing the wine. Avoid bottles with low fills or leaks.
No matter what, insist on quality for price. Quality of wine is always a factor of price. If you can find a comparable wine for less, you have found a better wine. Only snobs insist on the most expensive bottle on the shelf. True wine appreciation understands value and cost.
If you like to take risks, you can buy wine futures, where the initial release prices are usually the lowest at which the wines will ever be sold. It's also one way to obtain hard-to-get wines. With wine futures you buy and pay for your wine now, but receive it when it is ready. You lock in the price. But the wine investment firm or retailer has your money and pays you no interest.
Speculation is another reason some buyers purchase wine futures. The wines are made available for tasting to wine journalists and the large wholesale buyers in the spring following the vintage. The brokers and merchants sell on the wine to their customers. The wine is generally bottled and shipped around two years later. It is their expectation that the price they pay for futures is sufficiently lower than the price will be when the wine is released to the general public. If that holds true, they resell the wine at a profit.
However, there are risks. One big drawback is that you're buying a wine you haven't tasted. Unless you're thoroughly knowledgeable about the producer, vintage or style of wine, you're taking a gamble. You may also pay more for a wine than is necessary. If the economy sours, the price on release may be far less than expected, reducing the savings you wanted to realize. As a result, buying futures ties up your money with one or two producers and you can miss an opportunity on some of the other bargains once that vintage is released. There's also the risk that your retailer may go out of business before the wine is released, making it almost impossible to recover your wine and your money.
When you're on the road touring wine country, you'll also discover that many wineries have specialty wines or older vintages that you can no longer find on the market that they sell only at the winery. Be alert for some of those rarities, but don't be too hopeful in expecting to find great bargains. Most wineries give only a 10 percent discount on sales, but this is after they have mark their wines up to full retail price. You can often find them less expensive at your local retail outlet.
10 Tips to Buying Wine
Remember, have fun. You can't make a mistake and you don't have to spend a lot of money. Don't be afraid to ask for help. True wine lovers love to educate and are very helpful. Become friends with your local wine shop owner.
Things to Look Out for When You Buy Wine
If the cork has popped above the rim of the bottle and is pushed out on the lead or plastic capsule that covers the top of the bottle, look for another bottle to buy. If the wine was exposed to very high temperatures it will expand in the bottle, putting pressure on the cork and pushing it upward against the capsule. And the highest-quality wines, those that have not been overly filtered or pasteurized, are the most susceptible to the ill effects of poor transportation or storage. Any wine that has been frozen in transit or storage will likewise push the cork out, and although freezing a wine is not as damaging as heating it, both are hazardous to its health. Any cork that extends beyond the rim of the bottle is a bad sign. The bottle should be returned to the shelf and never, ever purchased.
Film on The Glass
After the wine has been decanted, there is a sign indicating poor storage conditions that can generally be determined. This sometimes can be seen in the neck of the bottle. Wines that have been exposed to very high temperatures, particularly deep, rich, intense red wines, often form a heavy coat or film of coloring material on the inside of the glass. With a Bordeaux less than 3 years old, a coating like this generally indicates that the wine has been subjected to very high temperatures and has undeniably been damaged. However, be careful here, because this type of sediment does not always indicate a poor bottle of wine. Vintage port regularly throws it, and so do the huge, rich Rhone and Piedmontese wines.
Not a Flaw
Alternatively, there are two conditions consumers often think are signs of a flawed wine when nothing could be further from the truth. Some uninformed consumers return bottles of wine for the wrong reason - because of a small deposit of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. In fact, this is the healthiest sign one could find in most bottles of wine. The tiny particles of sandlike sediment that can be found on the bottom of a bottle simply indicates that the wine has been naturally made and has not been subjected to a traumatic flavor and character-eviscerating filtration. Such wine is truly alive and is usually full of all its natural flavors. However, keep in mind that white wines rarely throw a deposit, and it is rare to see a deposit in young wines under 2-3 years of age.
A second reason that some wine consumers erroneously return bottles to retailers is the presence of small crystals called tartrate precipitates. These crystals are found in all types of wines but appear most commonly in white wines from Germany and Alsace. They often shine and resemble little slivers of cut glass. They simply mean that somewhere along its journey a wine was exposed to temperatures below 40°F and the cold has caused some tartaric crystals to appear. These are harmless, tasteless, and totally natural in many bottles of wine. They have no effect on the quality.
Wine Price Guide
These are the wine price codes used in the industry.
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