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Tell the Truth... How Do You Choose A New Wine To Drink TONIGHT?

Let's say you're going to be buying a bottle or two of wine to serve at home this evening, with or without food. Let's say that your selection will be made at either a grocery store or wine shop. Let's say further that--if you're drinking with food--you're picking from among a number of wines of the same varietal(s) or blend(s) that will pair well, and that you will be choosing a wine you have not tried before. For purposes of this question, ignore red/white and the specific varietals.

Do you pick by:
(A) The label's eye pop or shelf placement;
(B) Your recognition of the maker;
(C) The pricepoint;
(D) The shelf tag's display of a critic's rating or sensory description;
(E) The country/state/AVA of origin;
(F) Asking the staff for a recommendation;
(G) Referring to a published review; or
(H) Something else?

Now, here's the tricky part.... After you answer for YOURSELF, how do you think YOUR answers differ from average American wine drinkers?

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  1. I wrote a long answer, and hit the back button and lost it all !!! ( not really... but I did hit the back button ...)

    AFAIK, most people will go in the store, ask for recomendation in the price range they have and will be happy with what they get; unless the wine is really bad, they will not change.

    Most people do not care about producers, ratings (ok, maybe a little bit), origin, reviews ...

    Personally, I tend to buy wine that fit what I like (wine style) and ask for suggestions to expend my horizons (either style-wise or country-wise).


    1. If I am not on a "mission" resulting from my own research for something particular...
      then I go by country first, then read the sensory descriptions that I think would suit my mood and food for the night.

      My daughter (in her mid 20's) grew up with wine collecting parents and family and has had world class wine. BUT, she loves all wine, is a poor college student and shops at Trader Joes. She shops by price point first, then country, then eye pop. If she sees $3.99 per bottle on a TJ end cap...her cart is hovering in front of it. I think she is typical of the young wino's.

      1. Since my regular price point is less than $20, I rely on eye pop and I am a sucker for clever names and or logos. Studious French labels with lots of info make me feel like I'm going to latin class and my eyes glaze over. Seven Deadly Zins will get me everytime. I don't advise this for others and I don't just buy silly names, But if I am free styling the purchase for a simple dinner at home, then it's Caberneighs.

        4 Replies
        1. re: budnball

          I do exactly the same thing, and you know what? Mommy's Time Out is a very decent, drinkable wine.

          1. re: budnball

            I avoid cutesy names, critters, and "interesting" bottles as a matter of principle. Life is too short to drink wine from silly bottles! Yeah, many of the wines inside are fine, but there is lots of great wine with inoffensive packaging.

            When faced with unfamiliar producers, I usually look for wines and regions that have more consistent quality and value--I don't mind have ordinary wine as long as I don't pay too much for it. But no $50 bottles of indifferent Burgundy, please.

            1. re: zamorski

              I dunno -- I guess I've never purchased a bottle of "indifferent Burgundy" -- any color, any price . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                zin: LOL, I wasn't planning on doing a PN in 2011, but if I do, you gave me the name!

          2. When I have a few bottles stored in the basement I pick one of those.

            If I go to a wine shop, the following apply. I'm not a strong devotee of pairing, as most of my cooking is vegetarian yet I prefer red wines usually. Many experts prefer whites with vegetarian food, but reds are what I like (I do like whites in hot weather or as a change of pace.)

            C. D (sorry to say it, but I do pay some attention to "ratings" and I'm trying to get away from that) and E. I do have to be concerned about price, especially for daily fare. Also my tastes are changing, and I'm picking up more OW style wines; my palate has gotten tired of the very fruity ones.

            1. It's not very often that I pick up a wine from a wine shop or grocery store, unless I suddenly realize I am out of Champagne, for example, or I am out of inexpensive wines and company is coming over soon.

              That said, following your instructions -- that I am choosing a wine for dinner tonight that will pair well with my meal, and it's a wine that I have never personally tried before . . .

              Typically I will be looking for an imported wine, and if I am completely unfamiliar with the specific wine, I will look to see who the importer is and make my selection based upon that. So I guess that's "H".

              If I am buying a domestic wine, it's usually from someone I know personally and/or used to work for. So I guess that is letter "B", though it's more than "recognition" and more friendship.

              Pricepoint? I do *not* set myself a price of (e.g.) $12 and will not go over that point. OTOH, I don't look at bottles that are $500, either, so -- sure -- price is ALWAYS involved to some degree or another. So that takes care of "C" -- I guess.

              The only time that "E" comes into play is that, I admit, there are times when I "feel" like having a bottle of __________ -- be that a Rhône, a Muscadet, a Gruner Veltliner, a Vinho Tinto Douro . . . .whatever. But if that's the case, and it's still a wine I am unfamiliar with, again -- I pick by importer, if I don't know the winemaker.

              As for "F", that only works in a very few stores. It certainly isn't something I do in the average store or market.

              That leaves "A", "D". and "G", and while I never want to say "never" -- it's too restrictive of an absolute -- I rarely if ever rely on "G", and *never* on "A" and "D".

              / / / / /

              >>> Now, here's the tricky part.... After you answer for YOURSELF, how do you think YOUR answers differ from average American wine drinkers? <<<

              I am certainly NOT the average American wine drinker -- not after spending 35 years in the wine trade. But the average American wine drinker is DEFINITELY influenced by "A", "C", and "D". More "serious" wine drinkers -- and these are people I would not describe as average -- are influenced, in some cases heavily, by "G".


              8 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                zin1953: Thank you.

                I hadn't thought of discriminating by importers, but I can see the utility. Can you share the names of some importers you look for?

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  It depends upon the sort of wine I am looking for . . . certain importers focus on certain regions.

                  That said, in alphabetical order:
                  Broadbent Selections
                  Jorge Ordonez
                  Kermit Lynch Wine Imports
                  Kysela Pere et Fils
                  Louis/Dressner Selections
                  North Berkeley Imports
                  Robert Kacher Selections
                  Terry Theise Selections

                  . . . among others.


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Add Peter Weygandt and, often, Domaine Select, to your list :)

                      1. re: Shooley

                        It's not a question of "adding them to my list." I was asked what importers I look for, and I mentioned some. Peter Weygandt is a very good importer, yet many of his wines are very difficult to find in the California marketplace. The same with Eric Solomon or Neal Rosenthal. Their wines can be quite good, but are often difficult to find here -- ergo, I don't really look for them.

                        Nor, for example, do I want to imply -- and forgive me for not making this clear before -- that EVERY wine in __________'s portfolio is good. For example, when to comes to the Loire and to Beaujolais, I really like what Louis/Dressner brings in, but I'm not in love with his wines from Champagne, the Southwest, Provence, or (with a few notable exceptions) his Italians.

                        OTOH, I love Terry Theise's Champagne producers and Austrian wineries. Kysela? Mostly his Burgundies, Rhônes, and Languedocs -- not so much his Portuguese table wines (I prefer Diamond Wine Merchants and Broadbent Selections for those) ... and so on and so on and so on. EACH importer has his or her strengths.


                        1. re: zin1953

                          Nice reply zin1953! This is a useful and insightful information. Sort of like looking at the names of the producers or production companies for movies which I notice more and pay more attention to in recent past.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Didn't mean to step on your toes... Naturally, you have to pick amongst the offerings of an importer, which I do everyday ordering wines for my shop. I agree with your comments re. Kysela, for the most part. I hosted a private Kysela tasting at my home and the wines they brought were amazing, many of which were not the same as what I carry in the shop. Recently I hosted another similar tasting with Weygandt wines, and my customers are still raving about Peter and the wines he brought to taste. As for how I choose what to drink on any given night, I go with B and E, usually, and consider importer when not at home. At home, I just walk down to our cellar and pick, also considering what's on the menu, of course.

                    2. re: zin1953

                      zin1953: I don't want to say "ditto," because there may be some variation in how I would choose, but you came mighty close/ As I read your comments, I kept thinking, "me, too!"

                      But I'm also not the "average American wine drinker." And I agree with your assessment of the AAWD.

                      A word of thought for some of the posters here who are just geting into wine. I find it extremely helpful to buy what I call "everyday" wines by the case. That almost always saves me from having to go through the "picking up a quick bottle" for an impromptu dinner.

                    3. In most cases, I will be going with E and B. Now, if looking for an AVA/region, and I do not know a producer in that place, I might go with a producer, whose wines I do know from elsewhere. In that case, I will usually pick up a bottle from that "familiar" producer, plus one that I just do not know, so that I can learn. If I know of none of the producers, then it will likely be two bottles from that AVA/region, and I will learn even more. Though you did not ask, I often do this in restaurants too, and in many cases will then throw in F as an answer. If I am hosting, and have guests to consider, I might definitely go with a more familiar wine. If it's just me, or the two of us, I love to let the sommelier offer up a totally new wine, and will often explain which producers I know, whether in that particular AVA, or not. Love to explore, so long as I do not have a full table, relying on me to "nail it."

                      Good question, and I will answer for my wife too: she picks by E, F, A and D. She does not memorize producers, and pricepoint is usually not that big a consideration. The shelf-talkers and write-ups mean more to her.


                      1. the only item in your list that would NOT come into play is "A" (the label and shelf placement).

                        when i first started appreciating wine, i was a lot looser with my money and was more open to practically complete experimentation with little rhyme or reason going into the selection process. Now, i absolutely want to improve my odds of getting some "bang" for my buck.

                        1. Assuming that I've already made first decisions on style, color, and match to meal, I'll then set a rough price point and explore regions I know something about for offerings I might like. In Languedoc, say, as a fan of Minervois I might try a Faugeres. Or a Corsican Patrimonio. I'll look for estate and grower bottlings, mostly, instead of blenders/shippers, and if I recognize the grower, so much the better, In areas I know more about, I'll trust a grower I like for another of his wines I;ve not tried before, say, a Cantina del Taburna coda di volpe, since i like their greco. I'll also I'll admit the overall packaging (back label, quality of info, etc) does make a difference, but I'm not convinced by flowery descriptions. I'll refer to shelf tags only for factual info (about grower, varietal, style, alcohol lebvel etc.) Never ask the staff. Frankly, my eno-universe is fairly delimited (southern-sw France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, under $25) and I do spend enjoyable time reading up on wines and their makers, mostly about wines never tasted.If something reads interesting, I'll make notes and go looking for examples. Happened after reading about Ruchet and Frappato, which I now love.

                          1. I'm also probably not typical in that I don't buy wine retail very often (same "emergency" sitautions as Jason).

                            That said, when I do buy retail, I buy by region, importer and grape/blend. I'm friends with many of the retailers in my area, so they'll usually open up a bottle of anything I'm interested in.
                            Sometimes I'll take recs, especially from one shop, where the wine director has very similar taste to mine.

                            I absolutely never buy based on label a/o cutesy (aka ridiculous) names. IMO, if a wine needs a gimmick, it's usually not especially good. Shelf-talkers can be helpful if they're handwritten, not just the standard blurb the winery sends everyone. I also don't tend to buy by price, unless it's expensive. Then I wait to buy a case from one of my venders wholesale.

                            1. Usually by using a sequence consisting of a variation of B, C, E, and G. Occasionaly F comes into play at a couple of places where i know the individual can be trusted.

                              1. Sounds like many of the experienced wine lovers here have great retailers, or don't buy retail (how do you buy, internet? Or maybe you're in the biz.) I am in awe that you have such easy access to what seem to me obscure and intriguing appellations, regions and styles.

                                In my forlorn corner of NY City, there are few stores that offer any reasonable selection at all. I'm guessing they buy what their distributors tell them to, as in "these here are good sellers," and plop them on the shelf. That's what it seems like when every mom & pop has mostly the same stuff, and most is pretty average. Checking the importers I see most of the labels read "Monsieur Touton," a name distinctly missing from your recommended ones. :)

                                I guess I need to move to a better neighborhood. :)

                                1. Although I am sure my cellar is modest (about 250 bottles) compared to most
                                  of the posters here, I rarely go to buy wine at the store in emergency mode.
                                  The last time was when my guests had drunk all my sparkling wine at Xmas
                                  and I neded a quick refill for the New Year. As far as I can tell, (B), (C)
                                  and (E) are the primary factors, with (F) extremely rarely. To amplify:
                                  (B): I usually buy wines I have had before (possibly earlier vintages)
                                  (C) I am flexible with respect to price points, but I usually aim for the $15-$35
                                  (E) When I go to the store, I have usually a precise need, like for example
                                  get a bottle of Muscadet, so AVA is of course key.
                                  (F) comes in only when I understand completely how the taste of the
                                  recommender differs from mine, so I can factor his/her tendencies
                                  in my own choice.

                                  Since I live in CA most of my wine purchases are made at wineries,
                                  or through wine clubs, and to cover varietals that CA producers do not make
                                  well, I use Kermit Lynch, or Wine Access.

                                  1. A combination of B, C and E, pretty much every time. There are instances when F or G will come into play, and times when C won't matter. H is relevant to my habits in that I do travel and visit certain wine-producing areas rather often, and have done some marketing and consulting work for winemakers, and am always curious to find and try wines from those areas that have just entered my local market (NYC). My choice to buy these comes more from a 'professional research' perspective than anything else.
                                    A never really matters unless the wine is for a gag gift or something. Sometimes I see labels that really make me wonder about the producers' motives/intended audience...
                                    That said, I hesitate to judge a generic group of "American" wine drinkers. I suspect that markets differ and the availability of 'niche' wines and certain limited production varietals (as well as many foreign wines) will be heavily promoted and well-known in some places and won't even be available at all in others. However, I also suspect that A and C play major roles in most consumers' buying choices, almost to the exclusion of others. That is assuming that today's average wine drinker does not necessarily learn much about individual producers or terroir, care to invest in a bottle for the future, or pay attention to wine publications.

                                    1. To be honest, if I am going to drink it tonight, I'm just going to go into the cellar and get it. I seldom buy wine from shops anymore, I get too much as it is from allocation. But when I do go into a shop, I'm going in with the intention of buying something specific to put in the cellar.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: dinwiddie

                                        That's not what I asked, but thanks!

                                      2. Do you pick by:
                                        (A) The label's eye pop or shelf placement

                                        Nope. Generally its quite rare for something that is pretty/cute on the outside to be delicious on the inside.

                                        (B) Your recognition of the maker

                                        Sometimes, it depends what I'm looking for that day

                                        (C) The pricepoint

                                        Yes, South of $30 is my comfort zone, but I usually buy in the $5-20 range.

                                        (D) The shelf tag's display of a critic's rating or sensory description

                                        I'm not a big fan of most critics, but I do enjoy factual sensory information and that can sway my decision

                                        (E) The country/state/AVA of origin

                                        Yes, depending on what looking for that day, I do tend to stay within areas/countries I'm familiar with and branch out after doing research.

                                        (F) Asking the staff for a recommendation

                                        I'm fortunate to have a few local retailers that know my palate and usually are on target with their choices. Other than at work (TJ's) and occasional forays in the bargain basement, I mostly shop at my local wine bar where I can try before I buy.

                                        (G) Referring to a published review

                                        Sometimes it might get my attention, but unless it hits my favorite flavor profiles, not so much.

                                        Now, here's the tricky part.... After you answer for YOURSELF, how do you think YOUR answers differ from average American wine drinkers?

                                        In my experience, many "average" North Californian shoppers are concerned with price point first, then drinkability and if it has a fun label, especially by a "recognized name" so much the better. Critic scores and sensory descriptions can play a large part as well.

                                        I'm just a little obscure white wine geek that enjoys a lot of European stuff with a few dozen bottles in her closet. I'll drink reds when I come across something interesting, like a lovely Pinot Noir, but my heart belongs to Riesling, etc.

                                        1. I try to find a region/AVA I haven't had before, or to educate myself on one of the classic regions of France/Spain/Italy. Since I'm broke, I have to learn bottle by bottle! Keeps things fun!

                                          Edited to add -- and I don't think that's very common. I think most American wine drinkers buy what they're familiar with and then by pretty labels.

                                          1. A) No
                                            B) Sometimes
                                            C) Definitely
                                            D) Sometimes
                                            E) Definitely
                                            F) Rarely
                                            G) No
                                            H) Will usually look for something different than what I've bought previously (i.e., too many things available to keep buying the same things over & over & over again)

                                            I think the "average" practice (& perhaps not limited to US drinkers) is to stick with something familiar. Be it $10/gal generic jug wine or $100-&-up bottles, the usual purchase will be the familiar item.

                                            I know this doesn't address every item listed & how that item relates to the average drinker, but I think familiarity, followed by price, is the single biggest purchasing driver for your identified target group.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Eiron

                                              Eiron: Good insight., thanks. I think it's hard for a lot of folks to admit familiarity plays a big role.

                                              1. re: Eiron

                                                Glad you mentioned (H), as I'm finding it comes into play. We're throwing a BD dinner party tonight for dear friends with his tastes having a broad spectrum though the reds and hers focused pretty much on a handful of CA Pinot Noirs, of which they are familiar with all of the well known offerings through fine dining and the World of Pinot.

                                                So besides selecting wines to match the dishes we're serving, I'm enjoying the challenge of going through my collection to find both a varietal that they most likely haven't tried and also an obscure small production Pinot that they're not yet familiar with. For tonight's beef and polenta centric meal I'm mulling over a Durif, Madiran, Dolcetto, and possibly a Cab Franc, and for her Pinot palate and our pre-dinner sipping Redemption (Monterey Co.), Sharecropper (OR), and Curvare (Carneros), the latter from Costco of all places after running into an old pal there yesterday that was stocking up. If you happen to be on the left coast be sure and check out the Wine Ghetto in Lompoc.

                                                Santa Barbara Independent article:

                                                Map available as PDF file