When dining in a restaurant, a sommelier, or certified wine specialist, can assist you in selecting a perfect wine, even if you do not know much about wine yourself. By asking about your taste preferences, they can recommend a wine that pairs well with your meal, while complementing your likes and dislikes. But what happens when you’re browsing the shelves or web pages of seemingly endless choices of bottles, wondering how to select a good wine? For those who are not familiar with wine, the label on the bottle or product description — complete with descriptions of flavor notes, characteristics of the wine and origin of the grapes — may only make selecting a bottle even more difficult.
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 white Italian wine, 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.
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.
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: