Friday, April 1, 2011

Navigating The Wine Store: Part 1

It's happened to all of us. You walk into a wine store with high hopes of leaving with a great bottle of wine for a price that won't break your wallet.

But HOLY MOLEY there are SO many shelves and bottles and brands, and labels, and oh my.... you start to get a bit woozy.

Then, the worst happens. You approach the store employee to ask for some help, and, well, they don't know much more than you do (unless, you are shopping at the Wine Country in Signal Hill and the employee happens to be my beautiful, charming, and smart wine-o sister, Lisa).

So, let's take a poll. What do you do when this situation happens?

A. Leave the store, frustrated, defeated, and practically in tears.
B. Revert back to familiarity, and buy a bottle of the same old stuff you always drink.
C. Close your eyes, spin around a few times, point, and buy.

The good news is that this blog is for people who circle A, B, C, or any other answer, and hopefully this post will give you some helpful pointers for the next time you're brave enough to venture into a wine store.

, to begin, you'll notice that most wine stores are sectioned off by country, ie: there is a section for wines from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, and the miscellaneous "other countries".

Okay, cool, so now what? Look for what I call "BUZZ wines"-the most successful, popular, flagship, or if you want to call them the best wines from each country.

A not-so-side note: Many European countries have "BUZZ regions" opposed to BUZZ wines. This is because in some wine making countries, the wine region is synonymous to what is in the bottle.


Some wine bottles are labeled by the region, rather than the grape. For instance, a White Bordeaux will ALWAYS be either Sauvignon Blanc or Semillion.

That's just the way it is. I know, how rude of all those European producers to just assume that we already know their tricky codes!

Now that we've established that, let me break 'em down for ya:

France is one of the places that classifies their wine by region opposed to grape.

  • Champagne, duh. The grapes used in that bubbly goodness are Pinot Noir, Pinot Menuier, and Chardonnay.

  • Bordeaux wines. You can get BIG bang for your buck here. Generally speaking, Bordeaux reds will be blends of Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot, and the whites are made from Sauvignon Blanc. Look for words like Medoc, Pomerol, Graves, and St. Emillion.

  • Wines from Burgundy. Chardonnay is the white grape of Burgundy, and here you'll find Chards that are typically rich and oaky. Burgundian reds are from Pinot Noir.

  • If you like crisp and flinty whites, look for Chablis. Winemakers in Chablis age Chardonnay in stainless steel instead of oak barrels.

  • My personal favorite region: Loire. They make a billion styles of wine from a million grape varieties. Loire is famous for Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, but I think you really can't go wrong.

  • Rhone Valley. Wines from Grenache & Syrah. If you're looking for a wine that reminds you of green olive juice and dried meat, go straight to the Rhone section.

Italy: Italy is super confusing because Italian wine is labeled based on both grape and region! As if it couldn't make your brain hurt any more!

  • Chianti: Chianti is made from the Sangiovese grape. This wine is Tuscany's prized jewel.

  • Pinot Grigio: Light and citrusy (almost tastes like lemon water to me). Find it in the North East regions of Italy.

  • There are countless interesting and awesome Italian wines. Look for Greco di Tufo, Barolo, Brachetto, and the list goes on.... I promise, one of my posts will focus just on Italy.
Spain: Spain does make wine worth trying other than Sherry!

  • Cava, Spain's sparkling wine. Segura Viudas is a very popular and reasonably priced brand.

  • Delicious white wines like Viura, Verdejo, and Albarino. The BUZZ reds are Garnacha and Tempranillo.

  • Riesling: It's naturally one of the most acidic grapes in the world, but the wine can still be so sweet! What a conundrum.

  • If you're feeling really adventurous, take a risk and grab a Muller-Thurgau, which is a white wine that is indigenous to Germany.
New Zealand

  • Sauvignon Blanc. If you like your wine to taste like grapefruit, lemon, and gooseberries (like I do), this is your wine.

  • Shiraz. Crack open a bottle and you will find a jar of strawberry jam in liquid form.
The US of A

  • FYI: 90% of wine made in the USA is made in California, and 3/4 bottles of American wine that are sold are Californian.

  • Although the movie Sideways made people's perceptions of California wine go a bit crazy, we do have some pretty darn good selections, whether it be a big, bold Napa Cab, a fruity Pinot Noir from the Central Coast, or, my favorite, some delicious and yeasty bubbly from Sonoma.

  • Washington State and Oregon are the other big USA players. Look for Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Pinot Noir.
Other: The "other" countries normally include wines that only wine snobs have heard of. This section will normally feature wines from Austria, Portugal, South Africa, Greece& Hungary.

  • Chenin Blanc: or what they call "Steen" in South Africa

  • Austria's Gruner Veltliner: a white that is normally characterized by its white pepper taste.

  • Port, the famous fortified wine, obviously comes from Portugal.

  • Hungary and Greece have some wines that I can't spell, pronounce, or tell you much about, like Egri-Bikaver and Assyrtiko.
Please, if this has helped or interested you in any way, shape, or form, come back tomorrow to read, "Navigating the Wine Store: Part 2".



Lisa said...

Thanks for the shout-out, sister! But eek, I'm the dummy of the store. Luckily I know who knows what about where, so at least you won't be too lost if you ask me :) On the other hand, I'll talk your ear off about domestic beers...

Muller Thurgau! I just had one from Italy and it was delicious... lemme find it... this one:

Washington (and Oregon) are my favorite domestic regions... At the moment I'm loving O'Shea Scarborough's whites (WA, they do a gorgeous Semillon/Sauv Blanc and a great Chard) and Klee's PN (Willamette Valley).

You have to come by next time you're home so we can pick out some wines to drink together!

Megan Carol said...

this helped me! you are so amazingly sophisticated in your extensive knowledge!

love you friend!