If you are reading this, chances are you are looking for something.
You are looking for a specific kind of wine in a given context.
Perhaps you are cooking dinner tomorrow and need something nice to pair with it.
Or a friend's birthday is coming up and you want a gift that will impress.
Maybe you've spent hours searching the Internet for reviews and recommendations:
“What is the best brand of wine?”
“What is the best wine with food?”
“Where can I find good wine reviews?”
These are the wrong questions to ask.
Picture yourself in this scenario – you have read a review written by a well-known critic, singing the praises of a certain wine and scoring it 99-points out of 100.
There are three points to consider:
1. Everyone is different
Whether it's a world-famous critic or your best friend, there is no guarantee that your personal tastes and preferences will perfectly align with theirs.
Perhaps they prefer something bold, youthful and tannic, whereas such a wine would overload your senses and not be as enjoyable.
Maybe you find wines with lower alcohol easier to drink, whereas others would choose something hot and jammy.
No matter what the wine is, there will always be someone that is left unsatisfied. And all the trophies, medals and 100-point ratings in the world will never change that.
Finding access to a particular wine can be a surprisingly hard task. If you're lucky it may be a mass-produced wine that can be found in any bottle shop. But when you get above a certain quality level, supply and availability becomes more restricted.
You go to your local wine cellar and ask them “Do you have this exact wine that was reviewed recently on sale?”
Often the answer will be “No, we don't stock that wine”, or “No, it's already sold out”... because everyone else has read the same review.
Even if you don't consider the exclusivity agreements that exist between certain producers and suppliers, finding an exact match based on someone else's recommendation is going to be a challenge.
Back at the wine shop, the assistant tells you that while the exact wine you were looking for is out of stock, they fortunately do have a wine from the same producer, but from a different vintage.
You start to think - surely if they scored 99-points this year, they should be just as exceptional in other years, right?
Maybe, and maybe not. For all the mystery and romance that surrounds the subject, it's easy to overlook the fact that wine is an agricultural product, and therefore vulnerable to the unpredictability of nature.
What if the weather was extra rainy during this other vintage? The wine produced would likely be watery and pale, completely unlike what the review may have promised. And in fact the review did not promise anything about other vintages, only the one it specifies.
While certain producers have earned reputations for quality and consistency, no one can promise exceptional results 100% of the time.
So what's the solution? Surprising, it's advice you might find inside of a fortune cookie:
– Inscription at the Oracle of Delphi
Developing an intimate understanding of your personal tastes and preferences is the best way to take back control of your wine choices.
Instead of working from a review, lets say you are looking for a wine that you have tasted in the past that you know you enjoy. You remember that it was a 2010 Argentinian Malbec from a high-quality producer. Unfortunately it is out of stock.
Because you know the wine, you can look for similarities and differences and explore within a specific range. You start by browsing the shop's selection of wines from Argentina. Then you see what Malbecs are available. Finally you look for a 2010 vintage, or something close.
If you still have no luck, you could find another wine shop... or you could be a bit more flexible.
Wine regions in Argentina are sunny and warm. Malbec produces medium to full-bodied red wines. Perhaps you would like to try a Cabernet Sauvignon (another medium- to full-bodied varietal) from Australia (where there is mostly a warm, Mediterranean climate).
So what has happened here? You have profiled the important elements of the wine that you were after, and managed to find something that will satisfy your palate, even though it is a completely different wine.
Which brings us back to the title of this chapter: How to find the best wine?
The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook
– William James
When getting started, there is no need to get into such details and arcane knowledge as vintage charts, soil types, Domaine and Chateaux names and individual producers.
The 7 Key Wine Concepts have been chosen from all others because they are simple, accessible and actionable.
Each of the 7 Key Wine Concepts are important in that they will give you power over selection, either through direct control or by understanding how each affects the character of the wine.
Once you have gained confidence with the 7 Key Wine Concepts, feel free to explore the more esoteric elements at your pleasure.