Have you ever experienced that immensely overwhelming feeling of exponential confusion when standing in the wine aisle at your local supermarket? Yeah, me too. The kaleidoscope of labels, hieroglyphic cellar and estate names, endless cultivars and blends and price ranges as wide as the Amazon River can easily have you flat on your back with TMI (too much information). To tell you the truth, there is no easy way of choosing a “good” wine from such a great variety. However, here are some of the nifty tips and tricks that I use when I’m facing the wine aisle gauntlet.
The first one is a no-brainer: specials. That is one of the best perks of buying at a supermarket. Stores regularly have specials and promotions and many times the prices can compete with those that you might find at the cellar-door. And yes, sometimes you might buy six bottles of wine where you only needed one, but its wine so who’s even counting?
Secondly, there is the all-important factor of price. For most people this is probably the variable that carries the most weight when deciding which wine to buy. And this is also very dependent on personal preference. For instance, I myself am very comfortable with drinking wines that are in the price range of R50 – R70 and I will even splurge a bit more when it is for a special occasion. I generally prefer to stay under the R100 mark when buying from a supermarket- but that’s just me.
Then of course there is the ever-confusing label. I personally do not care much for reading back labels. It has happened too many times that the back of a wine label has been completely misleading. Instead, I look for back labels that DON’T give much information on the specific bottled wine. Labels that have a story of the history of the farm or estate or even the block of vineyards the wine is made from are much more intriguing to me and does not fill my mind with expectations that are most likely not going to be met. Also, a bottle of wine with a creative front label has rarely disappointed me before. If they put as much effort into making the wine as they have into designing the label, you must be in for a treat (fingers crossed).
My next point is quite a controversial one: cork versus screw cap. This one is 100% completely up to personal preference. There is no right or wrong and the jury is still out on which one is better for the wine- if there even is a slight advantage for either. I tend to choose a screw cap when I am buying wine that I am going to take to a braai or a party at some else’s place and I choose corked red wines when I am cooking red meat for my family and close friends at home- there is nothing like the sound of a cork popping to start a wonderful evening of merriment and chatter. Whereas screw caps work better for picnics and braais (no searching for a bottle opener or a cork stopper to close the bottle back up again).
If you do have a bit of wine knowledge it will definitely count in your favour. Especially when it comes to familiar or “trustworthy” wine cellars. Most people have a favourite winery and if you particularly like one of their wines, the chances are quite good that you will like some of their other wines as well.
Another simple solution when choosing a wine: phone a friend! I have relied on wine recommendations from my friends countless times. And we all have that one friend with whom you share the exact same taste in wine. So next time you know you are heading to the wine aisle, pick their brain a little. Nobody knows your taste in wine better than your friends.
And if all else fails, do what I do- experiment. Every time I go into a supermarket to buy wine, I buy a different bottle. I make sure to try different wineries, wine styles and cultivars or blends. I see the immense variety of wines we find in supermarkets as a great privilege, instead of a daunting mass of information. In South Africa we are absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to wines and now we don’t even have to drive to the estates to buy exclusive wines at cellar-door prices- your nearest supermarket has done the job for you.