Observations on Food in the Bay Area
How I shop for wine
Wow, it's been over a year since I posted here. That's a shame. I'll try to work on that.
Anyway, I just finished writing up this long, rather detailed set of notes on my process when perusing the aisles at a wine retailer (like klwines.com or thewineclub.com, my 2 favorites in the Bay Area) looking for things to buy. It struck me that I ought to post those thoughts, as others might find them interesting. So here ya go.
In general, I look at a few different things. All of these, except the 1st one, are for finding good wines I don't already know and/or haven't already tried.
- 1, wines I know. If I already know the wine or winery is good, I'm likely to get some if the price is reasonable. This is less likely to be helpful to you, except for some general notes about reliable producers, like that Ridge and Rosenblum are almost guaranteed to make good Zinfandel.
- 2, price. I've got a map in my head of what I'm willing to pay for various types of wine (that I haven't tasted). here's a short list:
zin: $15-20 (except producers i know to be good)
malbec/tempranillo (spain & chile/argentina): $15-20
french rhone: ~$20
riesling/viognier: ~$15 (US/germany/alsace)
sauv blanc/semillon: ~$10 (US/New Zealand)
these numbers are what i use when looking at wines i don't already know, for a reasonably likelihood that the wine will be good. good wines of all of these varieties can be found cheaper, but that generally requires inside knowledge of an unknown deal, for example the employees at the wine club, or having tried the wine yourself/knowing the winery well.
- 3, rating + who rated it + accuracy + tasting notes. wine is too complex for a point score to tell you much that's useful. generally, anything rated 90+ has the potential to be pretty good. below that and it gets iffy, unless you already know the winery & wine pretty well (I've certainly had good 85 point wines, but I've also had many 85 point wines I didn't think much of).
you also have to look at who rated it. wine stores will put up any good rating they find to try & sell more wine. the wine club isn't as underhanded as many, but it's always worth looking closely. "Wine Advocate" or "Robert Parker", "Wine Spectator" and "Wine & Spirits" are pretty reliable for their ratings. "Wine Enthusiast" is less so - they often have grade inflation, as they're driven by advertising & marketing more than the others. Some online rating site I'm less likely to trust. Also, make sure that the rating is for the exact bottle it's matched with. unscrupulous wine shops may list ratings for other wines the producer makes, or for the same wine but a different vintage (the SF costco does this all the time, though they usually highlight ratings when they do match the bottles for sale).
finally, once you like the rating, rater, and it's for the bottle they're selling, read the notes and see if it sounds like something you'd like to drink. for example, if you don't like dry, tannic wines beware of phrases like "strong/firm tannins" or that recommend a few years of aging before drinking (which implies the wine is tannic, and needs time to mellow).
so that's more or less what's going through my head when wine shopping.
there are also some other things, like whether the wine is from a region that's generally good at making that wine, or whether a wine's vintage was a good year for the area it came from (which I'm horrible at keeping track of), but these aren't necessarily as important. (though vintage probably should be; i'm just not good at remembering it).
but your best resources are really 2 things:
first, tasting a lot of different wine, to get a good feel for what sorts of things/flavors you like.
second, telling the enthusiastic, knowledgeable people who work at good wine shops for recommendations based on the sorts of things/flavors you like. in a place like the wine club, it's what they're there for, and they all love wine and will love helping you find good things to drink. :)