Here's a shocker: Good wine is neither expensive, nor old. So how do you know what makes for a good bottle of vino? Well, for starters, it's deep, complex and stays with you long after you've tasted it. You're saying, "but there are so many. How do I choose?" The general tasting rules of swirl, sniff and sip are a start, but there's more to learn when determining if a wine is worthy of your taste buds and cash. We went to the experts to find out exactly what to look for.
Check Out the Backside
First appearance isn't everything. Front labels can be enticing, but check out the full package before you purchase. Read back labels for more information about a wine. Sometimes there are some clues about the wine like fruits, flavors, the aging process, importers and region. Keep an eye out for any stamps of approval like awards or reviews—all signs of a good wine. Go ahead and ask for recommendations. Don't be shy! "Ask the wine steward or a friend for a recommendation to help make your selection," says Peter Click, president and founder of The Click Wine Group (Fat Bastard Wines). "If you're on a date, chances are the woman across the table will appreciate your humility, vulnerability and security to ask for help from a trusted expert."
Scent of Attraction
Swirl and sniff. Here's where two rules of tasting 101 come into play. Does it have nice legs? You know those slender lines of liquid that slowly drip down the sides of the glass. Legs mean little when it comes to a good wine, but it can clue you in on its alcohol content. Sniff. What do you smell? Honey? Peppers? Apple? Oak? Chances are, the more you smell, the better the wine may taste. "Juicy impressions of three types of fruit or aromas of three things (that you like) the nose knows," says wine industry veteran Tim McDonald. "I am a big believer of sniffing and swirling; the taste is confirming what you sense. Good [wine] is the combo of all of it, the sum of the parts. If you think it's bad, it probably is."
Use Your Tongue
Sound sexy? Well it is, but focus. Once you've swirled and sniffed your way around the glass, go in for the sip. Let the liquid move around your tongue. Do you taste dark cherries, grapefruit? Use your taste buds to figure out how many different flavors you can pick up on. Hint: as long as it's in balance and isn't putrid-smelling, the more you can taste the more complex the wine. When all of the flavors stay on your tongue for some time, even better! "If the wine's fruit flavors (think plums, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, citrus, melon, peach) dance across your tongue and the finish lingers you know you've got a complex and balanced wine," says Click.
Get its Digits
Is that a 2005 Bordeaux? Good vintage. If you do some homework and know your years and some favorite regions, you'll know if climate and weather conditions produced a perfectly ripe harvest—and good wines. Extreme heat or cold or too much rain can take a toll on the quality of some grapes. Do some research before you buy, particularly if you're trying a new region, and don't be fooled by age. "Older wines aren't necessarily better," says Click. "Many wines under $15 are intended to be enjoyed young. In general you can drink whites one to two years and reds two to three years after bottling. Higher-end wines have more staying power and can last three to 10 years or more."
Embrace What You Really Like
If you purchase the wine again, chances are you like it. When you find one you like, stick to it. It's simple, but be mindful of the grapes varietals in the wines you prefer. If you like Pinot Noir from Oregon, you just might dig a Burgundy from France. Then again, a Syrah from the Rhône region may be slightly different from a South African or Australian Shiraz. Explore the world of wine. "Taste is subjective, which means the best wine is the one you like," says Click. "Take time to try new varietals from regions all around the world and find your own personal style."
Wine Tip: Screw It!
"Don't be afraid to try wine with a screw cap closure," says Click. "A screw cap doesn't mean the wine is cheap, it means the winery is committed to quality. Approximately 8 percent of wine bottled under cork is cork-tainted or undrinkable."