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5 Tips for Always Buying the Perfect Wine

5 Tips for Always Buying the Perfect Wine

How to Buy the Perfect Wine for Any Occasion

I remember when I bought my first bottle of wine.  Its was a bottle of Mateus.  I didn’t know jack about wine, but the label looked pretty.  When I was a twenty something, Mateus had brand recognition and market share.  Keep in mind this poor buying choice {it was fine at the time}  goes back to the early 80’s.  Ahhh how times have changed.  Wine culture has exploded and permeated culture and the visual arts:  There are wine pod casts, wine magazines, scores of books on wine, movies about wine {Bottle Shock, Sideways and Somm}.  You’d think with all the info  out there it would be easy to pick the right bottle of wine for any occasion.  But its not.

But how on earth can you consistently, time after time chose an excellent bottle of wine each time you step foot into a wine store?  Its simple…follow these easy steps.

1.  Go to Wine Tastings:  I typically never purchase a bottle of wine that I haven’t already tried or that from a producer that I’m not familiar with.  The key is to go out and enjoy wine.  Over time you will build up taste memory, a lexicon of wine if you will.  If you memory is like mine, use an iPhone to take pictures of labels of wines that you enjoy at the tasting or, keep a journal and make some notes.  Any city you go visit these days has wine culture, wine bars and top notch restaurants.  Get involved, get on their mailing lists, sit at the bar and ask the bartender what their favorites wine are and why they like them, ask about some history of the wine.

2.  Visit Vineyards: Originally I’m from Long Island, but I’m blessed to call  Southern California my home.  Napa Valley, North Fork of Long Island, Paso Robles, Sierra Foot Hills, Santa Barbara and the Willamette Valley, to name a few regions to visit.  Experiencing a vineyard and tasting room first hand is one of the best ways to get up to speed on a particular varietal of the region and the characteristics of the terrior, not to mention the style of the wine maker.  In the beginning you may visit some not so shining examples.  To cut through the clutter seek out websites for the wine growing regions.  For instance, one helpful website for Napa Valley is the Napa Valley Vintners website and another is The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance website. Both websites have helpful information of wineries of the region and winery maps.  Each region will have one or more associations that are helpful for enophiles and foster wine education.  To drill down even deeper read a bit about the vineyards and what varietals they offer, Google review of their wines and tasting rooms.  If you have time before your trip, call the Chamber of Commerce for the region you are planning on visiting and ask for literature to be sent to you.  Vineyards and their associations are in the hospitality business.  They are in business to help you. Some are open to the public, some charge for the tastings.  A little planning and research will be worth it weight in liquid gold.

3.  Ask for the Sleeper:  One of my passions is fine culinary experiences.  Dining out at fine restaurants is expensive.  And the wine lists are often novel sized in pages with prices that sometimes require a mortgage. On a recent trip to Los Angels, my friends and I visited Lucques for dinner.  I wasn’t familiar with most of the wines on their list and bottles started in the $80 range.  My standard question for the Sommelier is:  Is there a sleeper on the menu?  Something of excellent value that behaves like a more expensive wine?  Don’t be embarrassed to offer a range, for instance between $35-$50 or whatever it may be.  A good Somm will always offer suggestions in your price range and multiple price categories for a finer wine too.  Caveat:  I’m also very specific with my palette requirements:  For reds I typically like a more feminine style red…softer finish with less tannins, not muscular and dry, but with robust or fruit forward characteristics.  Whites are a bit more tricky and may require some knowledge of Gruner’s, Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Champagnes and more.  However even if your just a Chardonnay lover, you can always bring up an example of what you love to drink to the Somm of wine manager or knowledgeable server as a reference point. Another tip is to inquire about the house wines.  Most house wines in fine restaurants are carefully chosen and reflect the personality of taste of the Somm or wine director.  Ask for a small taste, they’ll gladly bring you one.  Any fine restaurant worth their salt with allow you to return a bottle of wine should it not meet your expectations.  This doesn’t mean that you should return it if you simply do not like the wine.  On a recent trip to New York City, I took some friends to Jean George’s 3 Michelin stared Nougatine.  The Somm suggested a bottle of red after a conversation that included offering my likes, dislikes and flavor profile I was looking for.  He opened the bottle of wine and I tasted it.  It was okay, no flaws.  However, after a short while it didn’t meet my discussed requirements for a flavor profile.  It essentially was kind of dead in the bottle.  He gracefully accepted it back and brought us an excellent bottle of house red, a Côtes du Rhône which turned out to be $20 less expensive than the bottle I originally ordered.

4.  Support Your Local Wine Shop:  Many wine shops have tasting bars and tasting programs.  Seek them out.  The quickest way to wine knowledge of what you’ll like is to taste.  Get on their mailing lists and get involved in local wine culture.  Often the wines that are being offered for tasting have special pricing too.

marc weisberg food and wine photographer

5.  Venture Off the Road Most Traveled:  After a while you’ll develop a lexicon for wine.  Both in terms of terminology and and taste  memory.   You’ll find vineyards and varietals that you like and that fit your style.  Now you are ready to get off the road most traveled and try some varietals from winemakers and vineyards you’ve grown to trust.  One of my favorite Monterey wineries is Talbott Vineyards. Everything they produced is of excellent quality and is consistent vintage to vintage, which is not the norm for most vineyards.  They produce excellent single vineyard wines like their Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and their superb Diamond T, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir about $52 per bottle.  And their entry level easy drinking, 100% Estate Grosn,  Kali Hart, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for only $13 a bottle.  I’ve been enjoying their wines for years.  Found them on a trip to Carmel, stopped into the Robert Talbott clothing shop and asked where I could find the tasting room.  They graciously handed me to complimentary tasting cards.  My wife and I visited the winery tasting room, joined the wine club and became a Talbott convert.  I’ll purchase any wine that Talbott produces with confidence. For me they are a trusted brand and I know that anything they produce is quality juice.  Over time, you will find your favorites too.


Marc Weisberg is a photographer, educator, chef, former wine buyer, cellar master; and lover of wine. Marc owns and operates a successful Southern California based photography studio, founded in 2001, and is the founder of Wine Photo Workshops. His work is widely published and sought out by luxury brands. Wine Photo Workshops are for photographer-wine-adventurers and image makers. We’ll visit and explore wineries and food destinations throughout the world. Visit with Sommeliers, wine makers, vineyard owners and restauranteurs, with special behind the scenes access. You’ll have the opportunity to learn, make new friends, have fun and raise the bar on your photography skills. Contact Marc by phone 949.494.5084, or email.

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