Thanks toAustin Beeman, manager of the Walt Churchill's Market (Maumee) wine department, for letting us share his inside tips for selecting wine. For more of Austin's insights, check out his Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman website.
We all know that the best way to get help selecting a wine is to talk to the person that designed the retail set or wrote the wine list. But what do you do when he is taking some (much needed) vacation time? Here are my five secret tips to picking out wine by yourself.
1. Beware the Familiar It is tempting to pick a wine that is most familiar, but unless you consider yourself a sophisticated wine shopper, don’t risk it. Major wine brands spend millions of dollars saturating the market with their name. That is time and effort not put into the wine quality. If the bottle you are looking at is widely popular – run for cover!
Instead, grab something different. Maybe pick a grape or region that you’ve never had. Often it will be not only a tasty wine, but a stunning value as well.
2. For Tonight? Buy an 89 point wine. We associate the 100 point scale with be graded in school and we all want the high nineties or one hundred. That’s perfection, right? Well the dirty secret of wine scores is that 10 of those points are allocated for age-worthiness. That 95 or 99 point wine isn’t ready to drink for another decade. Opening it now is really a waste of your money.
Instead, wines rated 87 to 89 points are ready to drink now. You’ll pay a lot less for much more pleasure.
3. Look for Signs with Lots of Words. When I taste something that excites me, I can get very verbose. Any wine manager is likely to be the same. Look at the signs. If it has a couple hundred words in really small font, you’ve hit the jackpot. It almost doesn’t matter what the sign says. That’s a winner.
4. The Weirdly Expensive Case-Stack. This tip is similar to the last one. The Case-Stacks are where retailers put wines that are fast sellers and deep discounts. So what is up with those four cases of $40 wine? Well sometimes we’ll taste a wine that is just so darn good that we can’t bear to not have a massive stack of it. It is totally illogical. Completely based on raw emotion, I know, but don’t you want a wine that stirs the passions like that? I do.
5. Buy Old Wines Don’t buy old white wines! Most of those are over the hill. Instead, look for red wines of at least fifteen dollars and at least 7 years old. I lean towards European wines for this, but California works as well. You’d be surprised by how much a little bit of bottle age can do for a good red wine.
Don’t worry about the wine being past its prime. Every good retailer will look to buy good mature wines for their selection. Even in the wine has been in the store for awhile, the ‘Wine Guy’ would have ‘bargain-binned’ it by now if he thought it was bad.