The good news is, understanding some basic information about wine can help you learn more about which wines are likely to be a good fit for you — and which ones you’ll probably want to avoid. By learning about your tastes and the general characteristics of wine, you can become a wine expert in no time and feel confident in selecting a delectable wine to pair with your meal!


The Basics of “Good Wine”

Choosing a good wine is completely subjective. How each person defines a good wine is unique to them and their taste buds. Whether you prefer delicate, bold, sweet, tart or even spicy flavors, it is possible to find a wine you adore. These essential characteristics that define each variety of wine can be helpful to keep in mind as you navigate picking a bottle.

  • Sweetness: Wine labels often use the terms “sweet,” “semi-sweet” or “dry.” A dry wine will not be sweet at all.
  • Acidity: Wines with high acidity will be more tart, whereas low-acidity wines will taste rounder or richer.
  • Tannin: Tannins are phenolic compounds in the skins of grapes. When tannins are naturally present in the winemaking process or added through aging, the wine will have a more bitter taste. Because tannins also tend to dry out your mouth, people often confuse the tannin level with the “dryness” of a wine, which actually refers to how sweet or not sweet a wine is. The red winemaking process incorporates more tannins, giving some red wines a distinctively dry and bitter finish.
  • Body: Wines get characterized as having a light body, full body or somewhere in between. The “body” of the wine refers to how heavy or light it feels in your mouth. Generally, red wines have a fuller body than whites, as do wines made from grapes grown in warmer regions, rather than cooler ones.
  • Alcohol: The higher the percentage of alcohol in your glass of wine, the more it will warm your throat and the back of your mouth. Measured in percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV), most wines contain 11 to 13 percent alcohol, but can range from 5.5 percent all the way up to 20 percent.

Everyone will have different preferences for each of these characteristics of wine, but with the right care, you can find a bottle that fulfills your taste preferences.

Tips for Picking a Good Bottle of Wine

Since “good wine” is so subjective, knowing how to choose the right wine means considering several factors — including occasion, flavor preferences, labels and price points. While the combination of these factors is different for each person, the tips below will help anyone in search of that perfect bottle of wine.

1. If you are new to wine, start with a white or rose.

Just as your food preferences evolve as you mature, the wines you enjoy are also likely to change over time. However, a study of consumer palates by Sonoma State University found most people first enjoy a sweet white or rose wine, then later fall in love with dry reds or wines with more distinctive flavors. Fifty-four percent of respondents in the Sonoma State University study said they preferred semi-sweet or sweet white or rose wines when they started drinking wine. While each person’s experience is different, an early distaste for drier wines or wines with high tannins may be due to their unique flavor and sharp bitterness.

If the thought of drinking a sweet wine makes you cringe, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should jump to reds. Instead, opt for a dry white or rose. Beginning with a lighter-bodied wine can be a step to learning to enjoy a variety of wines.

2. Reflect on other flavors you enjoy.

Wine flavors are unique, but that doesn’t mean the flavors you enjoy in other drinks and food don’t influence what you’ll consider a good wine. On the contrary, your other taste preferences can be a great identifier of which wine you will enjoy. For example, if you have a sweet tooth, chances are you will enjoy a sweeter wine. If you thrive on the sharpness of bitter black coffee, a more acidic wine may be perfect for you. It can be that simple. Here are two questions to help get you started:

  • Do you prefer apple juice or grapefruit juice? Apple juice lovers are more likely to enjoy sweet white wine, while grapefruit juice enthusiasts will likely find their match in dry white wine.
  • Does your favorite dose of caffeine come in the form of a latte or black coffee? Black coffee drinkers are more likely to fall for an Old World wine — that is, wine that comes from one of the places where winemaking first began, such as France, Italy or Spain. If you prefer a latte, try a New World wine, such as something from the United States, Australia or South Africa.

3. Consider the occasion.

Are you selecting a wine for yourself to enjoy, or are you sharing with friends? Will you be pairing your wine with a meal or using it to prepare a recipe? Wines can serve different purposes, and different occasions can influence how you choose a wine. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when shopping for a bottle of wine:

  • Are you searching for a crowd-pleaser? If you want to satisfy your friends or family, and pairing with food isn’t your primary objective, consider picking up a bottle of white and a bottle of red. Since wine preferences are so subjective, having one of each will cover plenty of palates. You can also opt for wines that fall closer to the middle of the spectrum on sweetness, acidity and body. More balanced or moderate flavors are likely to appeal to more of your guests.

  • Are you pairing with a meal? If you want to find a wine that complements your carefully crafted dinner, the general rule of thumb is white wines for lighter dishes, like chicken and fish, and red wines for heavier dishes, like beef and lamb. Read on for more specific ways to pick the perfect wine for your meal.
  • Will you be mixing the wine or drinking it on its own? If you are mixing your wine into a cocktail or summer sangria, the subtle flavors of the wine aren’t as important. If you are using your wine in a recipe, the flavors will blend into the sauce or meat and serve as an accent. Consider choosing a less expensive bottle of wine when you are mixing a cocktail or cooking with it. If you plan to enjoy your wine on its own, you can be more critical in selecting flavor notes you will enjoy.

4. Be sure to read the label— and learn what you’re reading.

Eye-catching illustrations, pretty fonts or a clever name can sometimes sway a person into purchasing a wine that may not be the best choice, especially when all the options seem overwhelming. However, it is essential to read the label, rather than just admiring it. While all the information may seem daunting, reading a wine bottle label can be fairly simple when you know what to look for, and you don’t need to know the precise definitions of all of the words on the label, either. First, look for the amount of information the label has listed — does it seem like there’s quite a bit of specific information about the region, valley and grapes? The general rule of thumb is the more details, the better.

Next, know what you’re looking at on the label. You will find the winery name, a variety of grape, the year the winery harvested the grapes, the region where the grapes grew, the alcohol percentage and, on the back, a description of the wine. Refer back to the definitions of those five basic characteristics: sweetness, acidity, tannin, body and alcohol. If you understand those, the wine descriptions will be much easier to decipher. The description of the wine may also list notes or aromas that will include familiar flavors, such as citrus, black cherry, apple, plum or chocolate. If you enjoy the flavors in the description, there is a good chance you will enjoy the wine.

While the information on wine labels is fairly standard, it may not always be in the same place. More prominent wineries may list the name front and center on the bottle. Other bottles may show the variety of grape in the center, with the name of the vineyard in smaller text at the top or bottom. The more you familiar you become with reading wine labels, the easier it will be to find the information you are looking for.

5. Look for “second-label” wines.

When vineyards harvest grapes, their very best, fully matured grapes go into the primary batch of wine, which they call their “first label.” These wines are often the ones connoisseurs praise, and overwhelmingly have two qualities in common — they are often available in limited quantities and, therefore, can be very expensive. Your search for amazing wine may lead you to some of the big-name vineyards, and rightly so. However, if you are just getting started and aren’t confident in what wines you enjoy, the price tag can be tough to justify. That is when second-label wines can be a great alternative to pricey first-label bottles.

As a vineyard pursues perfection in winemaking, they become more selective in the grapes they use for their first label. In this case, more grapes that may not be as mature or polished don’t make the cut. Rather than selling these grapes or disposing of them, the vineyard will often put them through a winemaking process that is nearly identical to the first label, but sell it under another name, or a second label. Because these wines come from the same expert vineyards, these second labels will still give you a taste of high-quality wine, but at a fraction of the price.

If you are familiar with some of the big-name wineries, you can usually spot a second label, as it will incorporate some part of their winery name. Some brief research can also point you in the right direction for finding a notable second label to try. Second labels are an excellent choice for budding wine enthusiasts, as they will help you decide which more expensive wines you want to splurge on in the future.

6. Don’t stress over the age of the wine.

While it’s a common perception that older is better when it comes to wine, this is not the case. Only some wines taste better with age, and different wines are best after different aging periods. Properly aging wine depends on many factors, including the region the wine is from and the amounts of tannins, sugars and acids it contains. In general, aging is more important for red wines than white wines, but any wine you purchase at the store will be ready to drink. In fact, most wines are not meant to be aged, and you should consume them within five years of purchasing them. However, if there’s ever a time to take a close look at the year on the bottle, it’s for red wines. If you’re looking for how to choose a good red wine and find yourself stuck between two different years of a variety, you may want to opt for the older.

7. Don’t let price dictate your choice.

If the wine is on sale, it is likely because it is not in season or it has been sitting in the store’s inventory for a while. These reasons do not mean the wine is of lower quality or won’t still taste great if it is a type of wine you enjoy. These discounts can even be a great opportunity to find a good deal on wine. Choosing an expensive wine for its price point may also lead you astray — a more expensive bottle of wine does not always mean it is going to be a better bottle of wine. When selecting the wine you want to buy, start with the flavors and characteristics you prefer, as well as the occasion, then allow price to be a secondary consideration.

8. Don’t write off bottles with screw caps.

While wine bottles with screw caps can get a bad reputation, they can still hold delicious wine. These caps are for bottles of wine to be consumed in the same year — due to freshness and acidity. So, if you are interested in a wine without a cork, don’t be afraid to take a sip. Screw caps can also be more convenient for occasions such as a picnic, where you might forget to bring a wine opener, and are easier to pack up and take home after an evening out.

9. Keep track of the wines you try.

Once you’ve made your purchase, be sure to make a note of the name of the wine, the region and the variety of grapes. Many wine apps for your smartphone allow you to record your perception of a particular wine. As we have said from the start, finding a “good wine” is really about what you prefer, so tracking what you like and dislike will help you pick better and better wines for you! Keeping these notes handy on your phone also means they are sure to be with you the next time you make a purchase.

Whether you love or hate the wine you try, you’ll have a handy list of great or not-so-great wine purchases you’ve made. When you find a wine you enjoy, go for something similar next time. Try the same region, but a different variety of grapes, or vice versa. Soon, you’ll begin to get a feel for exactly what your preferences are, and choosing a good bottle of wine will be easy.

10. Every once in a while, try a new variety of grape.

While your wine notes will be valuable in teaching you more about the kind of wines you enjoy, it’s important to branch out now and then. As you try more wines, your tastes may change, but without experimenting occasionally, you might miss out on your new favorite wine. When opting for something new, consider moving to the next step in Sonoma State University’s “Wine Palate Life Cycle Wheel” we mentioned earlier. Wine Folly also has a humorous article on the “Evolution of Your Wine Palate” that can direct you on your next step of wine-drinking. Or, check out Food & Wine’s helpful “Find Your Wine Style” illustration that helps you compare wines you enjoy to others that may be similar in some ways, and different in others.

How to Pick out Wine for Dinner

The tips above will provide a great start to establishing your taste in good wine. However, sometimes you aren’t looking for how to choose good wine, but rather how to pick the right wine for a particular meal. A great wine may not always shine in tandem with the wrong food. When it comes to wine pairing, you can revisit the basic characteristics of wine — sweetness, acidity, tannin, body and alcohol — and apply them to pairing.

The overall goal of choosing wine for dinner is to find a wine that either complements or contrasts the flavors. A good wine pairing will give you a more complex burst of flavor from your dining and drinking experience. Here are a few general guidelines for the best wine and food pairings.

1. Acidic food needs an acidic wine.

If you choose wine with low acidity to pair with a meal that has higher acidity, such as meals with citrus or fish, you’re sure to be disappointed. The acidity in the food will overpower the wine, leaving your taste buds with much to be desired. In this case, it’s best to find a higher-acidity wine to match your meal.

2. Salty food is the perfect partner for sweet wine.

The combination of salty and sweet is a classic that carries into the wine-pairing world, too. A sweet wine can help cut the saltiness of a dish, while also highlighting the pleasant sweetness of the wine.

3. Fatty foods work best withbitter, highly acidic or higher ABV wines.

If you’re indulging in a fatty dish, the good news is you have plenty of choices when it comes to how to pick a bottle of wine. The first pairing, found in bitter wines, is the classic combination of steak and dry red wine. The second match, fatty foods with high-acidity wines, is the reason beurre blanc — white wine butter sauce — is so popular. The acidity in the wine cuts through the fat. This pairing is also helpful when selecting an after-dinner wine to enjoy with dessert — a rich, fatty cheesecake is the perfect match for a high-acidity wine. The same flavor sensations occur in the final pairing of fatty foods with wines with higher alcohol content. Consider high-alcohol wines with caution, and only pair them with rich desserts or dinners to savor at a slow pace. Choosing a wine with a high alcohol content and taking a drink between every bite is going to leave you feeling loopy.

4. Foods and wines from the same region can make great pairings.

In addition to characteristics of the wine and food, another way to make a great pairing is through choosing wines that originate from the same region as the dish you are preparing. Regional pairings aren’t always successful, but for the most part, food and wines that grow together often taste great together. For example, when preparing a traditional Italian dish, consider pairing it with Italian wine that has complementary characteristics.

Matching Characteristics to Types of Wines

Now that you have reflected on the flavors you enjoy and characteristics of wine you desire, the trick is finding the right wine to provide those features. You know what flavor of wine you want, but where do you find it? Below are eight common types of wine, organized from light and sweet to full-bodied and savory. We’ve included a brief description of characteristics and common food pairings for each to get you started on your journey to becoming a wine lover.

1. Riesling

  • Light to medium-bodied white wine with lots of fruit flavors, moderate sweetness and high acidity
  • Pairs well with chicken, pork, duck, turkey, cured meat and many Thai, Indian, Moroccan, Vietnamese and German dishes

2. Pinot Gris

  • Light-bodied white wine with mid-level acidity and subtly sweet fruit and floral flavors
  • Pairs with salads, poached fish and light or mild cheeses

3. Sauvignon Blanc

  • Light to medium-bodied white wine with lots of citrus fruit flavors and a high level of acidity
  • Pairs well with fish, chicken, pork, veal, herb-crusted or nutty cheeses and many Mexican, Vietnamese and French dishes

4. Chardonnay

  • Medium to full-bodied white wine with plenty of yellow fruit flavors and mid-level acidity
  • Pairs well with shrimp, crab, lobster, chicken, pork, mushrooms, cream sauces, soft or nutty cheeses and many French dishes

5. Pinot Noir

  • Light-bodied red wine with fewer tannins and higher levels of acidity and red fruit flavors
  • Pairs well with chicken, pork, veal, duck, cured meats, soft or nutty cheeses, cream sauces and many French and German dishes

6. Zifandel

  • Medium to full-bodied red wine with a higher level of fruit flavors and low acidity
  • Pairs well with chicken, pork, cured meat, lamb, beef, barbecue and many Italian, American, Chinese, Indian and Thai dishes

7. Syrah

  • Full-bodied red wine with a moderate level of tannins with higher fruit flavors and acidity
  • Pairs well with beef, lamb, smoked meats, white cheddar cheese and many Mediterranean, French and American dishes

8. Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Full-bodied red wine, usually with a high level of tannins and alcohol
  • Pairs well with beef, lamb, smoked meats, aged cheddar cheese and many French and American dishes

How to Choose a Bottle of Wine at Marketview Liquor

Now that you know more about how to choose a wine for dinner, shop Marketview Liquor’s delicious selection of wines! With a range of prices, you can experiment with a new variety or invest in a wine you know you will enjoy.

Our resources can help you choose a good wine, whether you visit our store in Rochester, N.Y., or decide to order online. Check out “Mike’s Picks” in our weekly ads, on our website and in our store. You can also check out video tastings on our blog — “Wine Time with Mike and Holly” — to give you more specifics about any of our featured wines.

We’ve categorized our online selection so you can easily sort by country, region and type of wine — so you can select a wine you want to start with and quickly find a similar wine when you need a new bottle. Get started by browsing our online wine selection.

Want to kick start your ongoing exploration of wine? We’ve got you covered. These simple and smart guidelines will help you discover your palate and launch your long and tasty journey to understanding wine.

Getting Started with Wine Tasting

Learning to taste wine is no different than learning to really appreciate music or art in that the pleasure you receive is proportionate to the effort you make. The more you fine-tune your sensory abilities, the better you’re able to understand and enjoy the nuances and details that great wines express. The time and effort invested in palate training is rewarding—and very, very fun.

Photo by Fran Hogan / Unsplash

How to Taste Wine

The ability to sniff out and untangle the subtle threads that weave into complex wine aromas is essential for tasting. Try holding your nose while you swallow a mouthful of wine; you will find that most of the flavor is muted. Your nose is the key to your palate. Once you learn how to give wine a good sniff, you’ll begin to develop the ability to isolate flavors—to notice the way they unfold and interact—and, to some degree, assign language to describe them.

This is exactly what wine professionals—those who make, sell, buy, and write about wine—are able to do. For any wine enthusiast, it’s the pay-off for all the effort.

While there is no one right or wrong way to learn how to taste, some “rules” do apply.

First and foremost, you need to be methodical and focused. Find your own approach and consistently follow it. Not every single glass or bottle of wine must be analyzed in this way, of course. But if you really want to learn about wine, a certain amount of dedication is required. Whenever you have a glass of wine in your hand, make it a habit to take a minute to stop all conversation, shut out all distraction and focus your attention on the wine’s appearance, scents, flavors and finish.

You can run through this mental checklist in a minute or less, and it will quickly help you to plot out the compass points of your palate. Of course, sipping a chilled rosé from a paper cup at a garden party doesn’t require the same effort as diving into a well-aged Bordeaux served from a Riedel Sommelier Series glass. But those are the extreme ends of the spectrum. Just about everything you are likely to encounter falls somewhere in between.

“Good Wine” for Beginners

You have probably heard from both friends and experts many times that any wine you like is a good wine. This is true if simply enjoying wine is your goal. You don’t have to do more than take a sip, give it a swallow and let your inner geek decide “yes” or “no.” The end.

It’s true that figuring out what you like is an important component of wine tasting, but it’s not the only component. Quickly passing judgment about a wine is not the same as truly understanding and evaluating it. If you’re tasting properly, you will be able to identify the main flavor and scent components in every wine you try; you will know the basic characteristics for all of the most important varietal grapes, and beyond that, for the blended wines from the world’s best wine-producing regions. You will also be able to quickly point out specific flaws in bad wines.

Finding Wine Flaws

Rest assured, there are some truly bad wines out there, and not all of them are inexpensive. Some flaws are the result of bad winemaking, while others are caused by bad corks or poor storage. If you are ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant, you want to be certain that the wine you receive tastes the way it was intended to taste. You can’t always rely on servers in restaurants to notice and replace a wine that is corked. You are ultimately the one who will be asked to approve the bottle. Being able to sniff out common faults, such as a damp, musty smell from a tainted cork called TCA, will certainly make it easier for you to send a wine back.

Photo by Nacho Dominguez Argenta / Unsplash

Discovering Different Wine Types

A wine beginner might know the basic differences between a red and a white, but it’s also important to learn all the wine types and varietals. You can explore everything from Chardonnay to Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel in our guide to the most important red wine grapes and white wine grapes.

Exploring Wine Regions

Wine is made in virtually every country in the world. These countries are often referred to as “Old World” or “New World.” “Old World” consists of regions with long histories of wine production, such as Europe and parts of the Mediterranean. Some of the most well-known “Old World” wine regions include France, Italy and Germany, and these regions focus greatly on terroir—the unique characteristics of the soil and climate, which give their wine a sense of place. “New World” (as the name suggestions) is used to describe newer wine-producing regions, such as U.S., Australia and Chile. These regions tend to have hotter climates and generally use different labeling methods; they tend to use grapes rather than region on labels for recognition.

While learning how to choose wine, it’s helpful to know some of the major wine regions and the grapes they are best known for:

Most Popular Regions and Grapes

For more information on these popular regions and varietals, explore Wine Enthusiast’s Buying Guide.

Country Grapes
France Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Viognier, Chardonnay
Italy Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Moscato, Pinot Grigio
United States Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel
Argentina Malbec, Bonarda
Chile Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc
Australia Shiraz, Chardonnay
Germany Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner
Spain Tempranillo, Albarino, Garnacha, Palomino
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir
South Africa Pinotage, Chenin Blanc

Reading a Wine Label

At first glance, a wine label can be confusing to those just getting started. Luckily, New World wine producers have made it easier on wine beginners by listing the grape(s) directly on the label. Old World regions have typically relied on the wine consumer to be familiar enough with the region to know, for example, that Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir.

Old World Wines might read like this:
Château Moulin de Grenet 2009 Lussac Saint-Émilion

New World wines might read like this:
Cakebread 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley

The French wine lists “Saint-Émilion,” assuming the consumer realizes that wines from Saint-Émilion are mostly Merlot. The wine from Napa, California, on the other hand, lists both the region and the grape variety. As you study more about wine, you’ll become more and more accustomed to all the wine varietals and the Old World regions that produce them.

Old World wine producers are slowly realizing that in order to compete on the global market, they need to make it easy on the consumer. But as much as times may change, a deep understanding of how to read a wine label will always be a useful skill.

There are a few important components of a wine label. Their placement may vary slightly but if you know what you’re looking for, they’ll be easier to spot:

Alcohol Percentage

Optional extras:
Tasting Notes
Quality Level: AOC, DOC, etc.

Once you’re armed with the basic tools, you can explore more complex labels, such as the late harvest Rieslings of Germany.

Buying Wine

We live in an age in which sourcing wine has never been easier. Looking for a wine from Crete? The wine shop in your town will likely carry it, and if not, you can easily find a wine retailer online. It’s in the hands of the consumer to shop for the best deal or for the most elusive, rare bottle, which can often be shipped to your doorstep.

Savvy shoppers will stay on top of ever-changing wine shipping laws based on interstate policies. Some states cannot have wine shipped to them, while others have more relaxed laws.

Before you can start investing in a full collection, you’ll need to discover your palate by embracing opportunities to taste and determine what you like. When dining out with friends or at a party, be open minded! A rich Cabernet Sauvignon might woo you initially, but you may also take a liking to exotic Rieslings depending on your mood. There is no better way to discover wine than by tasting everything. We have plenty of tools that will help: Best Buy Cheat Sheet, Making the Purchase and Bargain-Friendly Bordeaux will all help guide you on your path to wine bliss.

Wine Serving Tips

Now that you have taken the time to learn how to taste wine, the regions and grapes of the world, reading a wine label and the essentials for buying wine, it’s time to drink it!

For starters, make sure that your wine is being served at its absolute best. To do that, pay attention to these three tenets of wine service: Glassware, temperature and preservation.

Each wine has something unique to offer your senses. Most wine glasses are specifically shaped to accentuate those defining characteristics, directing wine to key areas of the tongue and nose, where they can be fully enjoyed. While wine can be savored in any glass, a glass designed for a specific wine type helps you to better experience its nuances. Outfit your house with a nice set of stems you will reap the rewards.

All wine is stored at the same temperature, regardless of its color. But reds and whites are consumed at quite different temperatures. Too often people drink white wines too cold and red wines too warm, limiting how much you can enjoy the wine. A white that’s too cold will be flavorless and a red that’s too warm is often flabby and alcoholic. Here is a key to ideal wine service temperatures:

Wine Service Temperatures
Champagne, Sparkling, and Dessert Wine: 40° F
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio: 45-48°F
Chardonnay, Chablis: 48-52°F
Pinot Noir: 60-64°
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz: 64-66° F

While this is a helpful guide, not everyone has a thermometer on hand. A good rule of thumb is to note that white wines should be chilled before drinking and red wines should be have time to rise in temperature. Ideally, whites should be between refrigerator temperature (40°F) and storage temperature (55°F) and reds should be somewhere between storage temperature and room temperature, which is often as high as 70°F. If your wine is in a temperature-controlled unit, at 53-57°F, pop your bottles of white wine into the refrigerator half an hour prior to service and take your reds out of storage half an hour prior to service. This allows time for your whites to chill and your reds to warm up. If you have yet to invest in a wine storage refrigerator and your wines are kept at room temperature or in the refrigerator, you’ll do the opposite. Put your reds in the refrigerator for half an hour and take your whites out of the refrigerator for half an hour. Dessert wines, sparkling wines and rosés are best enjoyed at a cooler temperature than whites. Refrigerator temperature will do the trick.


When you have leftover wine in the bottle, preservation is key. As wine comes into contact with air, it quickly spoils. To slow down the deterioration process, use a quick vacuum pump to suck out the excess air. The less air in the bottle, the longer the wine’s lifespan.

The secret to picking the perfect bottle of wine might be on the back label

Wine trends change: For young wine drinkers today, seeing a bottle on an Instagram account of a restaurant or influencer they follow can be more powerful than the 100-point scores meted out by old-line wine media. But there’s a less talked-about trick that in-the-know drinkers use when buying global imported wine: The label on the back of the bottle sometimes tells you more than the one on the front.

Shopping by the importer whose label is on the back of the bottle has been a savvy wine hack for decades, a decoder ring for consumers to suss out quality amid the ever-expanding and always changing world of international wine options. Pioneering importers such as Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Becky Wasserman & Co., Louis/Dressner and Rosenthal Wine Merchant helped establish the practice for American wine drinkers back in the late 20th century, and it remains a true (if sometimes nuanced) way to shop today, aided and expanded by the work of a new generation of wine importers and distributors.

This is not a universal or fail-safe approach: Most — but not all — domestic wines will not list a distributor on the back label. This, too, varies state by state, but it’s not required by law in California and most distributors don’t bother. “It would be overly laborious” to put labels on domestic wines, says L.A. importer Amy Atwood. “But people can just ask, ‘Which domestic Amy Atwood wines do you have?’ at the wine shop.”


So it is a tactic that applies mostly to imported wines. Why? Wine sales in the United States operate under a complex three-tier system, based on antitrust laws dating back to the 1890s. Under these laws, overseas winemakers must contract with an agent to bring their wines into the country — this is the role of the importer. From there, a separate set of licenses is required to sell to wine shops or bars — this is the role of the distributor. Some distributors work with multiple importers, while other importers are themselves distributors, and every state has subtly different laws related to alcohol sales, which further complicates matters.

It’s helpful to think of importers and distributors as collaborators, working together (sometimes under the same roof) to create a portfolio that represents a point of view reflected in the juice — so if you like one bottle they bring in, it’s worth seeing what else they’ve put their name on. “I think of my role as like an A&R guy for a record label,” says Byron Bates. He’s a co-founder at Goatboy Selections, an influential wine importer based in Paris and New York City.

“I think it’s more like being a curator at an art gallery,” says Helen Johannesen. She’s the founder, owner and buyer at Helen’s Wines, with locations inside the Jon & Vinny’s restaurants on Fairfax Avenue and in Brentwood. On her podcast and with customers, Johannesen has long espoused the wonders of shopping by importer label.


“It’s a tool you can use at the wine shop, or at a restaurant,” she says. Helen’s Wines buys from around 20 different importers and distributors, a number that’s grown significantly from Johannesen’s early years as a wine buyer and restaurant wine list curator. “We’re seeing this convergence of marketplaces right now in Los Angeles. It’s such an exciting time for wine.”

Exciting, booming, spoiled for choice — if it’s a great time to be a wine buyer in Los Angeles, it’s an even better time to be a wine drinker. Here’s a handful of importers and distributors supplying the good stuff from around the world.

Amy Atwood Selections

(Amy Atwood Selections)

L.A.-based Amy Atwood Selections is the eponymous brand of California beverage dynamo Amy Atwood. Her work includes importing and distributing a range of wines from California, Australia and Europe, the latter in partnership with lauded importer portfolios from groups like Jenny & François Selections, Savio Soares Selections and SelectioNaturel.

She also co-produces her own range of wines under the Oeno label, based in Sonoma, as well as a new spirit line, Future Gin, made in downtown Los Angeles. “Anybody who sees my name on the back of a label should expect an interesting wine that leans natural,” says Atwood. “But my style runs toward the clean side of natural.” Today she maintains around 300 clients at any given time across California, a who’s who of hip young wine shops, bars and restaurants.

Look for: Back labels including Amy Atwood Selections, Jenny & François and SelectioNaturel.

Top bottles: Amy Atwood helped bring the wines of Austria’s Gut Oggau to California in partnership with New York importer Jenny & François. These wines, with their line-drawn face art on the bottles, are iconic in the natural wine scene. Atwood’s selections from Australia also are noteworthy — look for bright, lively wines from labels like Gentle Folk (Adelaide Hills) and Patrick Sullivan (Yarra Valley).


(Sylvester/Rovine) Advertisement

Erin Sylvester opened L.A.-based Sylvester/Rovine Selections in 2016. The project is a direct partnership with New York City-based Zev Rovine Selections, a well-regarded natural wine-focused importer. Sylvester’s role in L.A. is as a distributor for the Rovine portfolio across California — an enviable collection of winemakers with a focus on France, Spain and Sicily.

“Our job as the importer or distributor is to be the best conduit between the producer and the consumer as we can possibly be,” says Sylvester. “I don’t like to put my name on bottles and I only recently put my name on this company. At the end of the day we’re trying to bring the consumer as close to the producer as possible.”

Look for: The Rovine team’s “book” includes distribution of wines from importers like Selections de la Viña and Camille Rivière, all with a focus on minimal intervention and “natural” wines. Keep an eye out for back-of-the-bottle names including Sylvester/Rovine, Zev Rovine, Camille Rivière and Selections de la Viña.

Top bottles: At the L.A. Times Wine Bowl tasting in May, Sylvester/Rovine’s table seriously impressed attendees with a battery of sparsely allocated wines from cult winemakers like Gabrio Bini, who makes wine under the Serragghia label on the tiny Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, and Anders Frederik Steen, an ex-Noma sommelier who makes stunning wines in the Ardèche. She paired these with the wines of Fossil & Fawn, a relatively unknown winemaking duo whose estate-grown Willamette Valley wines embody the excitement and innovation happening now for young winemakers in Oregon.

Goatboy Selections

(Goatboy Selections)

Over the last five years Goatboy co-founders Byron Bates and Bill Fitch have spun the company into a national concern, partnered with distributors in 10 states and representing up to 50 winemakers at a time, with a focus on France and a growing presence from Spain, Austria and Italy. “We’re a little company,” says Bates, “and we like wines that push the edge.”

Look for: A back label that could double as a punk-rock show poster, featuring white and black block lettering that reads “Goatboy Selections” next to a cartoon interpretation of the brand name: a flying half-human, half-goat deity in the likeness of Silenus, soaring with a bottle of wine.

Top bottles: Thought-provoking, genre-defining natural wines by winemakers like Brendan Tracey and Sebastien David, both from the Loire Valley.

The Source Imports

(The Source Imports)

The Source Imports offers another glimpse of the hybrid importer/distributor model. Much of its portfolio is sourced directly through Source founder Ted Vance’s own importing arm, but that roster is expanded through partnerships with famed Burgundy wine importer Becky Wasserman Selections and Circo Vino, who focus on Austria. If you’re looking to dive into the world of Burgundy, the Source has you covered, offering hundreds of wines from noted producers large and small, ranging on the price scale from surprisingly affordable to positively Burgundian. Even better, the Source offers consumers the ability to shop direct online, shipping nationwide from its warehouse in Sonoma.


Look for: The Source Imports label on the back of each bottle. You can also look for the Becky Wasserman stamp on select Burgundy wines alongside the Source label — if you see it, drink it.

Top bottles: Glorious Burgundy from the likes of Simon Bize, Bruno Clair and Dominique Gruhier, all sourced in partnership with Wasserman, as well as some lovely grower Champagnes by small artisan winemakers including Clos Cazals, Remi Leroy and Guillaume Sergent.

Trumpet Wines

(Trumpet Wines)

I was turned on to Trumpet Wines when I fell for a simple $20 bottle of Conca de Barbera Parellada from tiny Spanish winemakers Succés Vinicola. I turned the label over to discover Trumpet, a San Francisco-based importer of “lively wine from Spain’s avant-garde.” Trumpet represents around 20 producers, distributed across California’s wine shop, bar and restaurant scene. I love Spanish wine but am always looking to learn and try more of it, so thank goodness for a brand like Trumpet, which offers a laser focus on importing from just one country, providing curious drinkers a useful entry point for discovery.

Look for: The brand’s own label on the back of the bottle, in a graphic depicting elephants and swans.

Top bottles: Definitely start with the aforementioned Succés Vinicola, whose wines represent not just an education and a delight but also a bargain. From there, branch out to the sun-drenched, steep-sloped Priorat wines of Trosset de Porrera, or the preindustrial take on Jerez made by Bodegas Forlong.

More back labels to watch include Percy Selections, Roni Selects, Critical Mass, Terrell Wines (focused on the wines of Georgia), Fifi’s Import, Farm Wine Imports, Palermo Wine Imports, Merchants of Thirst and Soil Expedition.

How to shop for good wine – 8 top tips

We all deserve to drink great wine, but grabbing the first thing that catches our eye on the shelf can often lead to disappointment. If you’re a supermarket frequenter who stocks up their trolley with wine, follow these eight tips and begin your journey to picking vino that will make you a whole lot happier inside.

Always read the back of the label

We’re all guilty of it; you see a nice label and before you’ve even glanced at the rest of the bottle it’s in the trolley.

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Just because it has a nice picture of a sheep wearing sunglasses or the label is made of some fancy fabric you can’t name doesn’t mean it’s going to taste as good as it looks.

Slow down, turn that bottle around and check out the description on the back.

Wine is a very subjective thing and chances are you already have a general idea of what you like.

Whether it’s light and fruity, intense and sweet or dry and acidic, the back label usually offers a wealth of information to help you match wines with flavour profiles that you typically enjoy – take advantage of it.

Make a note of the regions and grape varieties you enjoy

Remember that wine you had last week when you went out for dinner with the in-laws? You know, the dark, fruity, bold red everyone raved about with the main course?

No, you don’t. That’s because you didn’t make a note of it, or if you did it’s on that old receipt that got completely obliterated in the washing machine.

If you like a wine then you should be making a note of not only its name, but most importantly of the region and grape.

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you today. Not every wine within the same region will taste identical, as winemakers use many different methods to produce them, but it does give you a good idea of what you are more likely to enjoy.

Finally, ditch the paper and use the notes section in your smartphone or a wine app. When you’re next in the supermarket, whip out your notes and seek out something similar based on the region and grape variety you enjoy!

Don’t fall for marketing spiel

Marketers use many different terms in an attempt to drum up intrigue from consumers, so always be in the know as to what terms are real and what could be bogus.

Stickers and labels that read ‘Gold Medal Standard’, ‘Grand Vin’, ‘Winemakers Selection’, ‘Reserve’ and ‘Grand Reserve’ have no official meaning.

While they may very well be good wines (and can sometimes be some of the better picks), you should never base your judgment alone on seeing these words plastered across the bottle.

Know your VAT

Very few people know that there’s a standard VAT on wine, meaning for every bottle you buy, the following goes straight to the taxman:

£2.08 for a standard bottle of still wine.

£2.67 for a standard of sparkling wine.

£2.78 for a standard of Port wine

If you’re picking up a £4 bottle of white Zin, the remaining £1.92 is split between transport, logistics, labelling, admin and corks etc. leaving very little for the winemaking process itself.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that in general the more you spend the better the wine, but I am saying that you should always be vigilant about how much money has gone into actually creating the juice and in this case, it’s really not a lot.

Avoiding that second walk down the chocolate aisle and adding a couple more £’s to your wine budget may be the saving grace.

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The secret supermarket sweetness symbols

Sounds like a bit of a tongue twister doesn’t it? Well, this can actually be really useful for finding wines that hit your sweet/dry tolerance.

Varieties like Gewürztraminer and Riesling come in both really sweet and really dry forms, so it’s important to know which end of the scale your wine falls at before you buy.

There are two forms of ‘sweet identifiers’, the first is found on the shelf plaque as a picture of a wine bottle, the second is found on the back of the bottle as a bunch of grapes.

Both usually have a rating between 1-5, the higher the rating meaning the sweeter the wine. Not all supermarkets have these, but in my humble opinion they should.

Explore the shelves beyond just eye level

It’s no secret that brands pay a lot of money to be placed at eye level on the shelves.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we’re lazy and typically go for whatever looks best within easiest reach, especially when it’s been a long and strenuous day.

In peak periods its typically big budget brands with wines of all quality levels sitting in the centre. During periods where those no special holiday or reason to purchase there’s a bit of a mixture; everything from cheaper and special offer wines to those heavily discounted in order to shift stock.

To avoid being tricked, explore the full extent of what is available and make your decision based on what you actually enjoy.

Make sure you have a good gaze at the entire shelf space, from top to bottom and especially in area’s where wines could be going unnoticed. That’s where you’re likely to find the hidden gems.

Wines are often separated by both colour and country. A little trick I follow is finding the ‘Other’ section built up from countries that aren’t represented as well to find the lesser available bounties.

If you fancy exploring something new seek out this section if there’s one available. If there isn’t one, then hey, at least this article made you look a little closer.

Don’t fall for discounts

Just because a wine is reduced from £9 to £5 doesn’t mean you should be hoarding as much as you can. If you think about it, out of season discounts usually take place when stock isn’t selling as well as intended.

So are you the recipient of a great deal or just some shoddy wine that wasn’t shifting?

If a wine you know and like is on offer, by all means grab as much as you can, but just be wary and understand that a higher price tag doesn’t always mean a better wine, especially when there’s a price reduction involved.

Take advantage of technology

There’s a wide range of smartphone apps that have been built with the sole intention of making your wine discovery easier.

Such apps allow you to discover everything from enhanced tastings notes and food pairings to ratings from millions of wine lovers around the globe and even where you can get your hands on the same bottle at a cheaper price.

Examples include Cellartracker, Wine-Searcher and Delectable with Vivino taking the prime spot according to the industry professionals.

There are plenty of wine shops with online presence. I like the ones which give me some information about the bottle and some tasting notes. I stay away from the ones which only present the bottle with no other information.

Step #6: be brave and adventurous

I have started the professional wine courses just because I wanted to be able to select for me, my friends and family, high quality wine and to strip out all the BS that there is out there. I think it is a little bit extreme to dedicate a couple of years of your life to study about wine if you only want to enjoy a bottle from time to time.

But, because I had to learn about wine, I had to taste and learn about a lot of grape varieties and wine styles which I have never dreamt of drinking or which I was dismissing completely out of pure ignorance. Being forced to be adventurous, I discovered new things that I adore and I also learned what I don’t like.

My advice is to go out of your comfort zone and try new regions and new wines every month. Taste them with food or without food. If you follow the budget rule, it is unlikely that you will be disappointed. You might discover something about yourselves and you will embark on a journey of new experiences.

How to Buy an Awesome Bottle of Wine Every Time

We’ve all bought a bottle of wine based solely on the fact that we liked the label. And while that strategy may win you “funniest wine name” or “coolest-looking bottle” honors at your dinner party, the taste is what counts. So the next time you’re buying a bottle, follow these timeless tips from winemakers and you can’t go wrong. (P.S. We have the truth about wine’s health benefits.)

1. Great wine doesn’t always mean expensive wine.

“Look for wines in the $12 to $20 price range that come from winemakers who also make expensive wine,” says Charles Smith, winemaker and founder of K Vintners. “They’ll also make great affordable wine to uphold their reputation.” And no, the more expensive bottle isn’t always better. “A $100 bottle of wine doesn’t usually taste five times better than a $20 bottle of wine,” says Pat Henderson, Kenwood Vineyards’ chief winemaker.

2. Search on the right shelf.

“At your eye level, you’ll find the most popular products at a medium price range (least expensive wines are at the bottom, most expensive at the top),” explains Chandon’s head winemaker, Pauline Lhote. “This is also where retailers will place their favorite wines and the brands they believe in the most.”

3. Think regions, not countries.

“When looking for a varietal, consider looking for specific regions as opposed to countries,” says Paula Borgo, winemaker for Bodegas Septima. (Read: Not every single bottle of French wine will be amazing.) Choose malbec from the Uco Valley in Argentina and garnacha from Priorat in Spain. Dennis Cakebread, vintner and owner of Mullan Road Cellars, adds that you can’t go wrong with cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley, sangiovese from Chianti (that’s right, it’s not just a wine, it’s also a region in Tuscany), and pinot noir from Anderson Valley. “For red wines in general, check out Columbia Valley in Washington,” he adds.

4. And explore new regions.

“Expand your horizons by trying a wine from a new region (appellation) from a familiar variety,” Henderson suggests. “If you like a particular wine like chardonnay from Monterey, consider trying one from Sonoma County to see how its taste is different.”

5. Match your wine to your cuisine.

“If I’m in a pizzeria, I’m going to drink a Chianti. If I’m going to eat a steak, I’m going to drink an Argentinian wine,” Smith says. “The cuisine of a country probably goes really well with its wine.”

6. Buy current-vintage whites.

“Always look for white wines that are on current vintage ,” says Bob Bertheau, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s head winemaker. “Whites that linger are not normally being stored at ideal temperatures,” which affects the quality of the wine.

7. But buy older reds.

“If you see a mix of 2014 and 2015 red wine vintages, go for the older one,” says Sarah Cabot, head winemaker for Primarius and Battle Creek Cellars. “Reds are more aromatic and flavorful when they’ve had more time in bottle.”

8. And read the labels of sparkling wines.

Look for the term “methode traditionnelle,” Lhote says. “This tells you that the wine was made using the same methods as they use for Champagne-and that’s a great indication of the quality of wine.”

9. Ask for help.

“Understand if you like dry or sweet, then talk to the person in the store,” says Nicole Carter, Hess Collection’s director of winemaking. “Then they’ll get to know you and your preferences, and when they get something in that they think you’ll like, they’ll tell you.”

10. Or ask Siri.

“If there is an unfamiliar wine that looks interesting, look it up on your smartphone to read reviews and see what it tastes like,” says Henderson, who personally looks for real brick-and-mortar wineries that are experts on a specific region or area.

  • By Brittany Risher @Brittany_Risher

How to Select a Wine When Dining Out

By Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan

When you order wine in a restaurant, you usually have few details about the wines listed on the menu. And if you’re new to the wine scene, you may have trouble remembering which wines go well with which foods. Don’t panic! You don’t have to give in to your uncertainty and skip ordering a glass of wine.

Credit: Photo © Johns

The following table lists some wines that are on most restaurant wine lists and are consistently reliable choices with the specified foods.

Reliable Wine Choices When Ordering in a Restaurant

When you want: Order:
A crisp, dry white wine that isn’t very flavorful, to
accompany delicately-flavored fish or seafood
Soave, Pinot Grigio, or Sancerre
A dry white wine with assertive flavor; perfect with mussels
and other shellfish
Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa or New Zealand
A medium-bodied, characterful, dry white wine, for simple
poultry, risotto, and dishes that are medium in weight
Mâcon-Villages, St.-Véran, or
A full-bodied, rich white wine, for lobster or rich chicken
California or Australian Chardonnay
A full-bodied white wine with a honeyed, nutty character; works
with meaty fish, veal, or pork entrées
A medium-dry white wine, for Asian-inspired dishes Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, or German Riesling
An easy-drinking, inexpensive red; perfect with roast
Beaujolais (especially from a reputable producer, like Louis
Jadot, Joseph Drouhin, or Georges Duboeuf)
A versatile, flavorful, relatively inexpensive red that can
stand up to spicy food
California red Zinfandel
A lighter red that’s delicious, young, and works with all
sorts of light- and medium-intensity foods
Oregon or California Pinot Noir
The basic French version of Pinot Noir; try it with simple cuts
of steak
Bourgogne Rouge
A dry, spicy, grapey, and relatively inexpensive red wine
that’s perfect with pizza
Barbera or Dolcetto
A very dry, medium-bodied red that’s great with lots of
Chianti Classico

Ed Paladino and Richard Edlen opened E&R Wine Shop in 1999 with the idea of finding the best wines possible in every price range, and 15 years later the shop is a monument to that huge undertaking. We set out to get some tips and tricks for sounding like an expert when you sit down at a restaurant, but what we got was a wealth of expertise that will hopefully keep you from being intimidated when you pop open that wine list. No tricks or secret methods here, just two enthusiasts sharing their hard-earned experience with our readers.

Red or white wine? How do you choose? How do you play with the old “white for seafood and chicken, red for everything else” rule?

Richard Elden: The old fashioned rules work fairly well, except you throw in the wrinkle nowadays of sparkling wines, which are equally fantastic with both types of food, I think it’s the way of the future. One of the other things we have to get into now is that people are eating a lot more Asian cuisine, which can be tricky. Whether it’s Japanese, different types of Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese, sparkling wines are great, and they’re one of the few types of wine that go well with spicy food. Rules are made to be broken, but there’s also a reason and tradition behind pairing certain types of wine and cuisine.

Ed Paladino: I think one of the major factors with this question is whether you want something that’s going to go well with the food, which means that the wine is going to taste better, and the food is going to taste better. If that’s really what you want, then you need to be careful to avoid two common pitfalls: The first is picking a wine from the list that you’re familiar with because you don’t see anything else you recognize. The second is picking a bottle that you think is going to impress someone else. Even if the restaurant has a good wine person, and they’re recommending wines that are genuinely going to match the food, if the person ordering isn’t comfortable with those wines it can be an awkward situation. My best advice if you’re going into it and don’t know that much, try to get some information from the people serving the wine.

Richard Elden compiles a case from choice bottles

Richard: America has an interesting wine culture, because here people will have a glass of wine as a beverage, or as a cocktail, and don’t think about it as an integral part of the meal experience. Often in France you’ll go out for dinner, and there will be less choices, because you’re eating a certain type of food in a specific region, so it narrows down your choices to those which have, historically, matched well with that type of food. It’s part of a meal, enhancing the food and being enhanced by it in turn, which is part of the holistic view of why you go out to dinner.

Ed: There’s also the question of the wine itself. If you’re having a dish that theoretically goes well with a chardonnay, where is the chardonnay from? How is it made? Is it a big, oaky wine that bears no relationship to the grape? Or is it a wine that’s done in an easier style where you can actually taste the fruit? An easier style like a chablis that’s not particularly wooded is going to taste different than bigger wines. Everything gets lost in translation, and it’s a learning experience – the more people can try different things, the better they’ll start to form their own ground rules, because something that works for you might not work for me. So when you’re at home and have half a bottle from yesterday, or you’re going to open a new bottle, it can be really helpful to taste a few different wines and see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes a wine will taste okay on the surface, but when you find some food that’s a really good match, the wine and the food will both taste better, and you’ll have that “woah” moment.

Ed Paladino advising on the balance of red and white

What kind of homework should you do before heading into battle? What questions should you ask to get the wine you’re looking for?

Richard: One thing, going into the restaurant, is have an understanding of what they’re trying to cook. If it’s more French, or Italian, or Pacific Northwest influenced, you should use that to lead you. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d get disgruntled if I’m in an Italian restaurant and they’re suggesting a non-Italian wine, unless it’s been selected by someone super talented.

Ed: If the restaurant has a good wine list and a good wine program, you would hope that the server might be able to give you, or get for you, a little bit of information about the characteristics of the wine: Is it spicy? It is heavy on alcohol? Is it aromatic? The kinds of qualities that will help you make a better decision. If somebody comes in here and tells us they want a wine to go with this appetizer or that entree, or that tastes a specific way, between the three of us, we can tell you about every wine in the shop. From a restaurant standpoint, you would hope the server could answer those questions similarly, or could find someone that can.

Richard: If it’s a wine that’s offered by the glass, some establishments have been known to bring you a taste so you can get an idea of it before you buy a bottle. Depending on the restaurant they may want to bring you one as part of the process.

A lot of people suggest buying the second cheapest bottle for good value, is that accurate?

Ed: That depends on the restaurant you’re sitting in. If they have a good wine program, and the people making those decisions are really on top of it, you ought to be able to find something that’s good in any price range. There shouldn’t be a fear of taking the cheapest wine or the most expensive. There’s a lot of great value out there, and it has much more to do with the person who put the wine list together and what their ideas are, than how much money it makes. There’s a distinct difference between buying a bottle and buying glasses too, but it has more to do with personal preference. If the table is getting a bottle, then everybody, for better or worse, is drinking that. If a restaurant has a good glass program, I’ll order two or three different wines by the glass, it’s more fun and interesting, but it comes down to choices again.

The E&R Wine Shop is well stocked with over 2000 wines from the USA, Italy, France, Spain, Austria and the rest of the world. You can visit their physical location in Southwest Portland or check them out on Facebook for selections, pairings, and reporting from wine events all over the world.

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Wine Wisdom With A Wink: A Slacker’s Guide To Selecting Vino

Having trouble picking the perfect wine? Meg Vogel/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Meg Vogel/NPR

Having trouble picking the perfect wine?

Meg Vogel/NPR

A few months ago, we told you all about the bologna advice swirling around in the wine-tasting world. And then we offered you a few tips to quickly master the art. (Yes, it is highfalutin, but there is some real science behind it.)

Now we’ve decided to do the same with wine selection.

Turns out, picking out a great bottle at Safeway, or even just a glass while out for a nice meal, isn’t as hard as some wine connoisseurs might make you think.

Just ask Madeline Puckette, who runs the website Wine Folly. She’s a graphic designer and certified sommelier — that person in fancy restaurants who helps you decide between a California cab or an Oregon pinot. She has combined the two skills to create an infographic that boils down wine selection to a flowchart. (Here’s a full version of the graphic for you to explore.)

The chart bases its recommendations on essential questions like:

  • Are you trying to recover from a hard day’s work? (Then wake up your senses with a nebbiolo or pinot noir.)
  • Are you just trying to get drunk? (Grab a high-alcohol shiraz or zinfandel.)
  • Do you actually like the friends you’re buying the wine for? (Splurge with California pinot noir.)

Wine Folly’s cheeky flowchart also has some useful bits of wisdom: For blind dates and birthdays, try a sweet variety, such as a riesling. But for occasions that call for cheap bubbly, pick up a Spanish cava. Courtesy of Wine Folly hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Wine Folly

Wine Folly’s cheeky flowchart also has some useful bits of wisdom: For blind dates and birthdays, try a sweet variety, such as a riesling. But for occasions that call for cheap bubbly, pick up a Spanish cava.

Courtesy of Wine Folly

Yes, the infographic is a bit tongue-in-cheek. For instance, Puckette suggests a bottle of merlot for your second anniversary because “complacency is a b*tch,” while anniversary numero uno, on the other hand, earns a “hedonistic joyride” of a California pinot noir.

But between the wine jokes and cheeky bits of wisdom there is solid buying advice for newbies. Here are four rules of thumb that will take you far when selecting wines:

1. If you can’t pronounce the words on the wine list, ask for the “Coat Do Roan:” This rule comes straight off of Puckette’s flowchart, and we love it.

Cotes du Rhone (pronounced Coat Do Roan — no “s”) is a red wine from southern France made with a cornucopia of grape varieties (the Frenchies name their wines by region, not by the type of grape, as Americans and Aussies do).

French wines can be uber expensive in the U.S. But Cotes du Rhone gives you the biggest bang for the buck.

“The best Cotes du Rhone are only about $15. It’s the best taste for the dollar,” Puckette tells The Salt. “On the other hand, if you want to enjoy the best Burgundy, you’re going have to pay about $50 to $80.”

Plus, the Rhone region pumps out a boatload of Cotes du Rhone each year. So chances are, you’ll run across it at French restaurants or on the grocery shelf.

2. When your only choices are cheap ones, take a cab: Making wine with the grape variety cabernet sauvignon is easy peasy. The cab fruit thrives even under less-than-ideal conditions. So it’s hard for winemakers to mess up a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, even when they’re working with cheap grapes.

That means cab sauv (as wine lovers sometimes say) is the go-to wine when you are penny-pinching or your only choices are low rent. Even at bargain-basement prices, these wines can be drinkable.

So when the vino is served in plastic cups (hello, transatlantic flight) or from 1.5-liter bottles (hello, intermission at the local theater), your best bet is the cabernet sauvignon.


For those on a budget who prefer a white, go with chardonnay. It may have some fake vanilla or oak flavors added, but at least the wine will taste like something.

3. For fancy noirs, think pinot: Oh, pinot noir, you’re so picky! The pinot noir grape is the opposite of cabernet sauvignon: It’s hard to grow and do right.

“Thin-skinned and temperamental,” Paul Giamatti’s character says about the grape in the 2004 movie Sideways — a film that, among other things, can be read as one man’s singular obsession with pinot. “Only somebody that really takes the time to understand pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest potential … then … its flavors are the most haunting and brilliant, thrilling.”

And Puckette agrees. She recommends buying this “hedonisic joy ride” for “wine lovers” and “your favorite people in the world.” Or to help you get through a dreaded birthday.

But all hedonism comes at a cost. To enjoy the pinot joy ride, you’ll have to be willing to fork over about $20 bucks for a bottle or $10 for a glass at a restaurant. Cheap pinots just aren’t very good or worthy of your taste buds.

4. For cooking, remember the sauvignon blanc: Puckette performed some experiments with a chef cooking with different types of white wines. Her conclusion? Sauvignon blanc was the best for use in white sauces, because it adds a jolt of acidity, like a lemon or lime. And decent ones are readily available for about $10.

“Sauvignon blanc is a wonderful wine to cook with,” she says. “Why add lemon to a sauce when you can add a wine that’s got more acidity? Plus, sauvignon blanc adds a herbaceous character, adds a little spice to the sauce.”

When a recipe calls for reds, try a Chianti or sangiovese.

How Many Glasses in a Bottle and Other Wine Facts

Tips & Tricks August 11, 2014 – Updated on September 9th, 2019

How many glasses in a bottle of wine? A standard bottle of wine contains a little over 25 ounces of wine (25.3 oz / 0.75L), but how much is that really?

The chart below illustrates the visual relationship to what’s inside a bottle of wine including the number of servings to how many grapes it took to make it.

A bottle of wine contains 5 servings of wine (at 5 oz / 150 ml)

That said, this number isn’t really exact. It ranges from about 4–6 glasses per bottle depending on the alcohol level. In some cases, such as Port wine where the alcohol level is higher, you can get 10 glasses per bottle!

What’s Inside a Bottle of Wine

Fun Fact: In Australia, wines are required to list the number of servings based on the alcohol content. So, a bottle of Shiraz with 15% ABV has 8.9 servings per bottle. In contrast, a bottle of German Riesling with 8% ABV has just 4.7 servings.

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Wine Drinking Facts

  • On average, 2 people can finish a full bottle of wine in 2.5 hours.
  • A 750 ml (0.75 L) bottle of wine is 25.36 oz
  • If you drink a bottle of wine a week for your entire adult life you will consume about 2,970 bottles of wine.
  • If you drink a glass of wine a night every night of your adult life, you will drink an equivalent of 4,160 bottles of wine.
  • A bottle of wine has an average of 750 calories (range is 460–1440 depending on style).
  • Dry wine has zero fat and 0–2g carbs.
  • Sweet wine has zero fat and ranges from 3–39g carbs.

How Heavy is a Bottle of Wine?

  • An average full bottle of wine weighs 2.65 lbs.
  • An average bottle of wine contains 1.65 lbs of wine grapes.
  • A case of 12 bottles of wine weighs about 30–40 lbs.
  • Heavy glass bottles can account for over 50% of total weight of a wine bottle.
  • In 2012, the EU exported 1.57 billion pounds of bottled wine (includes weight of glass) to the US.

Wine Production Facts

  • There are 1,368 confirmed wine varieties in the world.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape variety in the world.
  • In 2010, the world produced enough wine for everyone to have 5 bottles.
  • The average bottle of wine contains 520 grapes (varies from 300–900 grapes).
  • About 5.5 bunches of grapes go into a bottle of wine.
  • There are 5 bottles in a gallon of wine.
  • In the US, you can legally produce 200 gallons of wine for personal use.
  • There are 295 bottles in a standard wine barrel.
  • About 600 bottles are made with a ton of grapes.
  • An acre of vineyard can make anywhere from 600–3600 bottles of wine.

How we came up with the numbers

To determine number of berries in a bottle of wine:

juice in a grape = 70-80% water + ~7% other dissolved substances in juice = an average of 82% juice.

1.65 lbs (weight of wine) = .82(x)

Range is 300 – 910 grapes per bottle depending on wine grape for example:

  • 550 grapes in a bottle of Merlot
  • 600 grapes in a bottle of Chardonnay
  • 910 grapes in a bottle of Albariño (on average)

To determine grape bunches in a bottle:

1.65 lbs (weight of wine) = .82(.95x)

Where x = .375y
and y = number of bunches. (.375 lbs per bunch is an average, see sources)

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