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Wine Buying Tips from a Sommelier

Wine Buying Tips from a Sommelier

If you had $150 to spend at any store in your neighborhood, where would you spend it?

A few months ago, my boyfriend and I won a drawing that awarded us a $150 credit to the local business of our choice. We chose the wine store.

We typically spend between $25 and $40 a bottle, so we thought we could pick up a nice wine or two to enjoy on a special occasion. But when you’re buying something you expect to be one of the best wines you’ve ever drunk, the pressure is on.

For someone like me, when you hit the $100 threshold, “there should be a pretty significant improvement in terms of wine quality,” says Thatcher Baker-Briggs, certified sommelier and founder of Thatcher’s Wine. “And I think when you walk into that wine warehouse, it’s not accessible, it’s not easy to understand.”

Whether you’re looking to buy a special bottle or just want to get the best value before your next dinner party, here are Baker-Briggs’ top three tips for cutting through the noise and buying great wine.

1. Ask for help

Your best bet for getting a good bottle, Baker-Briggs says, is to have someone like him guiding you through the aisles.

He compares purchasing a special bottle to purchasing the first watch or piece of art in your collection: “The key to success with your first purchase is to find someone who understands what you are trying to achieve. TO DO.”

This probably means finding the nearest wine specialist store, rather than stopping at the alcohol section of the supermarket. An online store can also be a good option, provided there is someone to whom you can explain what you are looking for.

If you’re not the type to ask for help, don’t be afraid to crowdsource, Baker-Briggs adds. Online sources, such as CellarTracker, act as community hubs for tasting notes. Even Instagram can be a valuable place to get information about the bottles you’re considering.

“A lot of people put a lot of time and effort into their accounts, whether it’s writing reviews or thoughtful stories about the producers,” says Baker-Briggs.

2. Pay attention to the label

Let’s be honest: many of us buy wine based on the label. And that’s not a bad thing, as long as you look at the right things.

Some labels carry warning signs that should put you off the bottle immediately, says Baker-Briggs. “If you see ‘sustainably grown,’ or ‘vegan,’ or whatever, stay away from that completely,” he says. “No one who makes quality wine puts these things on their label.”

Certifications, such as organic and biodynamic, listed on the back label are often signs of quality, he says. However, this may mean the wine is mass produced and not the special bottle you are looking for.

Organic certification “is a very expensive thing to get in France and Italy, and the EU in general,” says Baker-Briggs. “A lot of people are looking for this product, but if it says ‘certified organic,’ it’s probably from a larger winery. Many small producers can’t afford it or don’t see the value in it .It could be totally organic. It just doesn’t say that on the back label.”

Conversely, even if it does not guarantee a great wine, the name of the vineyard written on the back of a bottle is a very good sign, he says.

“It basically means we care about where these grapes come from,” says Baker-Briggs. “It’s a great way to understand that there’s probably some quality, and there’s an interesting story behind it.”

3. Buy Value Regions

If you’re looking to buy a nice bottle, you might be tempted to look to what you know are nice regions. But Bordeaux and Napa wines have “little or no value,” Baker-Briggs says. While there are certainly some excellent wines there, he says, you’ll have to pay top dollar to get them.

To get the most bang for your buck, Baker-Briggs suggests focusing on regions with promising young producers who are changing the wine world.

“In Burgundy (France), right now, some young people are looking to higher altitude areas that years ago were too cold to make wine, and that with climate change, could become an ideal place,” he says. “There are some really incredible wines in the $40, $50, $60 range that you drink and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is incredible.'”

The same is true in the Italian region of Piedmont, where the younger generation produces excellent Langhe Nebbiolo, Barbera, Freisa and Dolcetto at affordable prices. “You can find these wines for under $40, and they’re delicious. They’re soulful.”

There are even values ​​to be found in Champagne, where small winemakers – like Julien Prelat – who traditionally sold to companies like Dom Pérignon and Veuve Clicquot are starting to produce their own bottles.

“They say, ‘I know my grapes are better than everyone else’s. So I’m going to make my own champagne,'” he says. “And it’s really cool because they don’t make a million bottles a year – they could make 5,000 or 10,000. And you can buy these great bottles for $50 or $60 a bottle.”

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