The world of wine is vast and all-consuming. There is a plethora of counties producing staggering amounts of wines from a bamboozling number of regions and areas. Safe to say, the wine world is both deliciously seductive and confusingly dense and far-reaching.
At the Spanish Wine Experience we have been thinking recently about how people tend to choose their wine as, quite naturally, in Spain it is different to my homeland of Britain. But it is not as different as you might think.
After quite a lot of research, here are the pros and cons of the Top 5 ways people choose wine these days.
If you know ‘nothing’ about wine – so nada about counties or regional differences or grapes etc – it is quite logical that you might just stroll around the aisles looking for something that stands out visually. An interesting label. As subjective as this may be, it’s a very common theme these days. Your average Joe isn’t a wine buff and just wants something to drink with a partner or friends. So…eyes speak, ironically, volumes. The label is often the first port of call for a general buyer in search of a drink that many people call wine.
The advantages aren’t plentiful, but are, to some extent, there. There are a couple of schools of thought with regards to labels. Old School and Creative.
Old School labels contain landscape scenes or chateaus or bodegas and animals. They are rustic. The vibe is either natural or classical looking. Things that either remind the drinker of a) where it comes from or b) France and Italy. If people see land or big houses they tend to feel something nostalgic. It’s a sign of a trusted and venerable winemaker…sometimes.
Modern and fun(ky) labels can also be a good sign. Young, perhaps, and less fuddy duddy wineries that buck the trends and want to make their fantastic wines known. Often the creativity they put behind their wines can be a sign of joyous invention in the bottle.
A label is, objectively, meaningless. A wine is either good or bad because the liquid in the bottle is either good or bad. You can make a bad wine and give it the coolest label and you can make an amazing wine and give it a bland one. People use their eyes, but knowing the wine or asking about it and/or trying it first will really let you know what you’re in for.
The old maxim – read myth – is as follows: the better the wine, the more expensive the wine.
A more expensive wine can denote positive things: that the wine is aged, and people often prefer older and more complex wine, so you´re perhaps getting something more matured. Or maybe the wine comes from a more exclusive, artisan or less known – smaller yield – winery. Something special.
Having said that, depending on which country you are in expensive can often simply be a question of tax and import rates. So, it might be a tasty classic Shiraz from somewhere in Australia but, because of tax, costs more than an affordable Rioja.
Price is dependent on so many things: age, country, tax, yield of x or y grape, winery, year…so quite a lot. Price is almost as subjective as taste itself. Try not to choose wines by their price alone. You can sometimes miss great deals for great wines at affordable prices or, equally, by being hoodwinked by ‘fancier’ wines at higher prices which you don’t like as much. Choose a wine you want, not necessarily a price you think means is good.
Another old myth with wine is that the older the wine, the better the wine. This is a question we get asked a lot on the Spanish Wine Experience podcast. And, as with a lot of things in the wine world, it’s almost entirely exclusive.
‘Old wine is good wine’ is a line quoted in a episode of the brilliant surreal comedy Black Books. Is this true? Well…certain grapes, regions and countries, tend to either age a lot or not at all. It depends on style, the physiology of the fruits, the history and traditions of the region. Many things. And when it all comes together, the results can be astonishing, an almost orgasmic and sensual experience. If we take for example Bordeaux, Rioja or Barolo as quintessential examples of old-aging regions, the resulting wines are, for good reasons, considered some of the world’s greats.
Age adds complexity and depth to wines. Adds tertiary flavours that excite the olfactory system and palate. A red grape can end up in a bottle smelling of tobacco and wet suede, prunes and sweet spices. Age adds depth. But it is better?
Not necessarily. Just because you leave a wine in a bottle and barrel it doesn’t make it ‘better’. Sometimes they don’t respond as well and are in fact less tasty than the younger ones.
As a reversal. Some grapes and regions specialize in the reverse. Younger, more vibrant and lively and fruity wines. Fruit bombs full of acidity and plummy heft and colorful palates. The bon vivant in the face of the old fusty gent.
Our upcoming podcast features a 4 month oaked Monastrell from Jumilla. usually considered more balanced and flavorful than its 18 month counterpart.
Again. Choose what your palate likes. If you enjoy smoky, spicy complexity, go for it. If you like more approachable and fruity affairs, hit the younger side of things.
Many countries have their own wine regions. Europe especially is vast and varied in its selection. From the hot depths of Spain and the Med to the chillier climbs of northern France, England, Austria and Germany, wine is big and ever-changing internationally. And then we have South America and North America and Australia and Asia. Whole continents!
Generally countries themselves will have styles of wines that ‘in general’ will mark their nation as different to others. Spain’s wines are different to Germany’s. This is because climate and weather and varietals will change a lot depending on where you go. Heat, soils, weather, local varieties. In the world, and I mean that word in a grandiose way, variety is the spice of life. I’m a bigger fan of countries with heat that can offer me heavy reds that burst with flavour, like Spain, Australia, USA, South Africa, Argentina.
Choosing helps you identify a global style of wine that suits your needs.
Having said that, each country, especially in Europe – and also behemoths like Australia – has a fascinating selection of different wine regions that can help muddy and subvert the idea that a country has an identity.
If we take the world’s old stalwart, France, we get a scrumptious menagerie of types. Towards the north you have the cooler climates that offer zing and elegance to the whites and lighter reds of Champagne and Burgundy. But, go further south towards that exotic border with Iberia, and you bump into the Rhone and Bordeaux with their penchant for gummier, darker beasties.
To say ‘I like French wines’ is so general to almost be meaningless. Which French wines??
A little like the regions, different countries have, often, their ‘own’ grapes that either are only grown there or, due to their nature and history, flourish there. Silvaner in the Franken region of Germany, Monastrell in Jumilla, Nebbiolo in the areas of Piemonte. But then we have many grapes that have left from their homes and spread to pastures new to expand their sensory horizons; most of them French: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah etc. So…choose the grapes you know right?
A grape, inherently, will have its own character; be it a light-skinned grape or thick, be it aromatic or neutral. Each grape will, by definition of it being it, have its own unique style and flavour palate. People who like big, heavy, fruit filled wunderkinds will like Cab Sav, Anglianico, Monastrell, Malbec, Touriga Nacional, Pinotage. Those who like more elegant and graceful reds will, in general prefer, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Mencia, Grenache. however, those grapes integral character will also warp and change depending on where it is grown.
A Grenache from France, from the banks of the Rhone, is not really similar at all to its boozier, fruitier and berry-ier origins in Spain – Garnacha. A graceful and profoundly deep Syrah from France hasn’t much at all in common with its bustling and spicy cousin Shiraz in Australia. A delicate and soft Pinot Noir from Burgundy – grace incarnate – isn’t similar at all really with the jammier and fleshier ones from the USA.
Climate, soil and weather will dictate also a lot what happens with the grape itself. So ordering a smart and sexy Cab or Merlot from Bordeaux will give you a very different experience from that of California.
One might surmise from this article that all hope is lost. That nothing you choose or do matters because everything changes. But…don’t despair!! General rules still hold trues. Grapes are still grapes, regions still regions, age still age.
It’s a push to look for what you like. The more you drink – and we always encourage that – the more you’ll learn what you like. From country to country, region to region, grape to age to cost to label.
Wine is a sexy, fascinating, homely, elegant, flashy, humble, complicated and base pleasure to be enjoyed by everyone at every level.
Do a bit of research and have a think what you actually like. Then…go from there!