Whether you’re buying wine for your own consumption or as a gift, the choices can seem daunting. But if you treat wine like any other consumer product and follow some basic rules then those choices can be easier to make: buy from a reputable store, narrow your options through some basic research, get advice from any experts you can, and try before you buy whenever possible.
Buying a wine at a winery is perhaps the best way to ensure you make the best decision. You’ll be buying wine where it’s made and properly stored, where there are plenty of experts among winery staff to advise you on what you might or might not like, and where you can taste as many wines as you like so you know exactly what you’re buying.
If you can’t get to a winery there are still ways to ensure you make the right purchase. Experts are all around, from friends or relatives with an interest in wine to critics who write about wines in everything from specialist wine magazines to local newspapers. How a critic or friend rates a wine is always a good indication of its quality. But remember that even professional wine critics have their own personal tastes in wine that might not necessarily match yours, so use wine reviews only as a guide not as a shopping list (unless you’re buying wine purely as an investment, in which case high scores tend to make wines more coveted).
Your local wine store is also a good place to get advice, so don’t be afraid to ask even the most basic questions. Many stores also arrange regular tastings of wines from a certain region or a certain wine maker, and buying from a good wine store also increases the likelihood that your wine has been properly transported and stored.
Another way to taste wines and discover your favorite varietals or regions is to buy wines by the glass at a local wine bar or restaurant. Instead of buying a bottle of a single wine, spend a little more and buy two or three glasses of different wines just to experiment. This can also be a good way to learn more about pairing food and wine.
Wherever you buy wine and whatever you buy, these are some useful tips to consider:
The rule for buying wine by auction is the same for buying anything that way: know what you're looking for, and set a price limit for yourself before you start bidding.