We’ve all found ourselves in the following situation: you’ve been invited to a dinner party or date, and while you’re confident that you’re looking elegant (thanks to your SCARCI Italian resort wear), and are more than comfortable in such social situations, you’ve hit a blank when it comes to choosing the perfect bottle to bring along. So how to choose a great bottle of wine every time?
You don’t want to be one of those people who just takes with them a predictable bottle of vino, grabbed at the last minute off the shelf of your local store. You want something which is going to impress, that’s going to show you off as the sophisticated individual you surely are. But the world of wine can be a bewildering one at times – full of jargon and impenetrable complications – so how can you be sure that you’re reaching for a great bottle to present to your hosts?
The simple answer is, unfortunately, you can almost never be 100% sure when it comes to the quality of a wine while it’s still in the bottle. However, if your aim is to avoid boring or disappointing wine – and you are looking to make the best possible impression with your selection – there are some tricks you can rely on. So, let’s wave goodbye to uninspiring whites, reds and rosés, and take a look at our top tips for hitting the high notes every time. Cheers!
Avoid the obvious
Stop and think for a moment about the way you choose your clothing. When you want to look sharp, do you opt for the mass-produced, everyday clothes you come across a hundred times a day on the high street, or do you go for something a little more exclusive? We believe that our Made In Italy resort wear rises above the everyday and ordinary, and we’d advise our readers to adopt a similar approach when it comes to choosing wine.
Now, not every bottle made by a huge conglomerate company is going to be especially bad. But the likelihood of such bottles being, well, a bit dull is quite high. The reason for this? These wines are made to be sold in huge quantities, and as such are aimed at the widest possible audience. They’re aimed squarely at people who aren’t especially interested in wine’s finer points, and from a technical point of view, they’re made from grapevines capable of producing huge yields (something which actually reduces the quality and character of the individual grapes).
Instead of reaching for the big brands, go for the obscure, the unusual, the estate-bottled and boutique. Small scale producers have to fight their corner in a busy industry, and as such are far more likely to produce memorable wines that will attract a cult following.
Pay close attention to the label
There’s loads of nonsense written on wine labels designed to look impressive, but which actually means very little.
Nonetheless, there are some pieces of information which can often indicate a superior quality product and are well worth looking out for. Perhaps the most useful of these is ‘estate bottled’, which essentially means that the whole process – from grape growing to processing and bottling – all took place in the same location. Estate wines involve the vintner or winemaker having complete control over every aspect of the production of the wine, usually suggesting a superior product with closer attention to detail.
The other thing to look out for are second growth wines (most relevant on French bottles) and ‘sister’ labels of hugely famous and highly prized wineries. Many of the most expensive wines in the world come out of Bordeaux wineries. While these are generally aimed at collectors who’ll never actually pop the corks, the wineries generally have ‘sister’ labels, producing far more affordable wines intended for drinking and enjoying. They use the same skilled artisan producers, the same amazing land and expertise… and yet they’re sold at a fraction of the price and are sure to leave your hosts awestruck by their quality.
When buying Old World wines, small is beautiful
When shopping for European wines from countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Germany (as well as others), there’s a useful technique you can use to increase your chances of getting a truly memorable bottle.
In these countries, the wine industry is kept in check by a series of stringent laws designed to keep standards high. Such laws ensure winemakers are producing the best possible wines for their region, and it affects the way the wines can be labeled. Only wines deemed representative of their region, sub-region or individual appellation can list the names of these places on the bottle… and as such, the smaller the location printed on the label, the more ‘representative’ (ie high quality) the wine inside should be.
So, if you’re holding in your hands a French wine with ‘vin de France’ (or similar) on the front of it, the chances are it’s not going to be anything special. Why? Because it hasn’t followed the French quality laws required in order to bear the name of a smaller region on the bottle. If it displays the name of a particular region – e.g. ‘Bordeaux’ – then it’s probably a better quality. A listed sub-region of Bordeaux such as Medoc will indicated something even finer… and individual appellations like Margaux are going to be better yet. This can take a bit of research, but it’s a tip that can really make you look like a pro when you’re pouring out that first glass!
Don’t Forget the Food
Ask any sommelier, and they’ll tell you: no matter how great your wine selection may be, if it doesn’t match well with your food, you might as well be drinking any old rubbish. The reason? Because food and wine share the same palate space in your mouth. As such, well-matched food and wine can be a revelation of flavour, and a poor pairing can result in both your dinner and your drink being more or less ruined.
Learning how to match food and wine is a complicated process, and proper training can take years. However, there are a few basics you can keep in mind if you know what you’ll be eating alongside your bottle.
Firstly, keep in mind how powerfully flavoured your dish is going to be. Delicate, mildly flavoured foods will require a white wine which is equally elegant. Deeply flavoured foods – such as roasted red meats with spicy sauces – will need a red wine which packs a real punch. Asian dishes with plenty of chilli heat go beautifully with very dry white wines, and tomato based dishes prefer medium bodied red wines, such as a juicy Sangiovese.
If you’re not sure which to opt for, there are a few wine styles which are highly flexible and go with all sorts of dishes. Sauvignon Blanc is the great food-pairing white wine, and Pinot Noir is probably the most flexible of the reds. If all else fails, grab a bottle of Brut Champagne… it pairs with almost every dish imaginable, and nobody ever says no to a glass of bubbly!
Get to Know Your Regions
One more general rule of thumb for choosing a great wine is to get to know which regions produce the best of each style. Every wine producing country has its own specialities, and there are thousands of books, websites and even wine apps for your mobile that can help you pick top bottles from different locations.
For example, France’s Bordeaux has an unbeatable reputation for deep, complex and elegant red wines. Italy’s southern wine regions and islands are the place to go for lighter, brighter reds. California and Provence top the tree for rose wine, and Germany and Austria are as yet unbeaten when it comes to dry whites.
For fruitier red numbers with bags of character, go for top Australian and South American regions specialising in Shiraz and Carmenere. For tropical-tasting whites, New Zealand is your go-to wine country. We could go on… but half the fun is figuring it out for yourself.
One of the best, online resources for learning more about wine regions all over the world is our friends, Wine Folly. Thanks to Wine Folly, we have included some of our favorite wine region maps below.
There’s no doubt about the fact that choosing a fantastic bottle is a surefire way to impress your hosts. You’ve got the look – thanks to your elegant Italian clothing – now go forth and get the know-how to go with it!
Do you have any more top tips for choosing delicious wines? Shoot us an email or connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. We’d love to know all about them in the comments!