When you’ve been invited to a dinner, a party, or you’re desperately hoping to impress your SO’s family when meeting them for the first time, bringing a bottle of wine is a classic gesture.
But how to choose the right wine? Red or white, dry or sweet, $5 or $50…the choices can be pretty mind-boggling if you’re new to wine buying.
Never fear. Here’s a handy guide for how to choose a wine, whether it’s for a host gift, serving at your next party, or enjoying at home with a good meal.
1. Expensive doesn’t always equal good.
When it comes to wine, quality doesn’t always correspond with price. There are delicious “cheap” wines and bad expensive wines. Your choice should be based more on the type and flavor of the wine, which we’ll get to in a second.
If you’re looking for a general rule of thumb, though, $10 – $20 is an average price range for a good, solid wine to bring to a get-together or as a host gift. Premium wines go up in price from there.
2. Read the label.
If you’re tempted to pick the bottle of wine with the flashiest or fanciest label, you wouldn’t be the first. Lots of people choose wine this way. What’s written on the label, though, is more important than the artwork.
The winemaker will often include a helpful description of the wine, giving you an idea of the prominent flavors, the region where the wine was produced, the aging process, and even potential food pairings. Also keep an eye out for seals of approval and any awards the wine has won.
3. Follow these simple food pairing rules.
You may have heard the old saying about wine pairings: “red with meat, white with fish.” While this isn’t a bad guideline, it’s better to think about pairing lighter wines with lighter foods, and rich, robust wines with heavier foods. You want the wine and food to complement one another, with neither overpowering the other.
Here are some wine pairing basics:
- Seafood, chicken, cream sauces and vegetables pair well with white wines described as “crisp,” “light” or “refreshing”
- Red meats, game, hearty stews, and rich tomato-based sauces pair well with red wines described as “full-bodied,” “bold,” “complex” or “deep”
- Spicy foods tend to pair well with sweeter white wines
- Dessert wines go well with fruit and cheese trays, and lighter desserts
Not sure what’s on the menu? Try a Rosé. These wines provide a nice finish to just about any meal, and are very drinkable on their own, too. A Rosé is also a safe bet when you’re buying for a large group.
4. Age isn’t everything.
Not all wines improve with age. Red wines generally do, but white wines and sparkling wines can actually decline in taste and quality if they’re stored too long.
Most wines in the $10 – $20 range are best enjoyed within one to two years for whites, and two to three years for reds.
Now if you’re looking to splurge on an older vintage (which just refers to the year the wine was made), it’s important to do some digging. Older does not necessarily mean better. The climate and weather conditions in a given year affect the quality of the grape harvest, and therefore the wine produced. Focus on a specific wine region, and research which were the best years with the most favorable conditions.
5. Check the reviews.
From wine review sites to wine apps, there is no shortage of ways to scope out great wines in all price ranges. Many wine shops also use signage to direct you to award-winning and highly ranked wines.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask.
The staff at your wine shop or fine liquor store can likely make recommendations based on your price range and meal pairing. They can let you know about top sellers, to give you an idea what other customers like.
Ask your friends for recommendations, too. They just might have a favorite wine to share.
7. Consider a local wine.
Showing up to a dinner with a local wine is a great change of pace from the same ol’, sale ol’, especially if your host is a wine aficionado who would appreciate trying something different. The popular “locavore” movement of using locally grown foods extends to wine, too!
8. Attend a wine tasting to get an idea of what you like.
Many wineries, like Wheat State, offer free wine tastings. The wine steward or server can help you pick a bottle for your next event (which will give you serious bragging rights). If you want to know more about wine, many wineries also offer wine classes, where you can dive into the world of winemaking, wine pairings, wine tasting techniques and more.
Remember, when it comes down to it, a good wine is any wine you and your friends like. Relax and enjoy.
P.S. Bring Wheat State wine to your next party. Our online store offers serving and meal pairing recommendations. Check it out!*
* Online wine sales not available in all states.