NOW LET'S WALK INTO A STORE
But before we do, there are two things you need to understand. First, good red wine is more expensive than good white wine. “Red wines take longer to produce,” says Emerson. Second, you shouldn’t thumb your nose at a screw cap in place of a cork. “Just because you shove a bit of old wood in the top of the bottle and pray the bottle doesn’t go off doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the best way to enclose it,” says Emerson. (By the way, for your next dinner party, the screw cap’s official name is the “Stelvin enclosure.”) If you’re hung up on the cork, know that reputable wineries aren’t: The California winery PlumpJack swapped out corks for Stelvins on bottles that cost $100 or more.
Even if you know nothing about a wine’s provenance, you can glean clues about its quality merely by picking up the bottle. For example, take note of its weight. Heavy bottles require more glass for manufacturing, cost the wineries more, and so are reserved for higher-quality wines. For the same reason, the dent in the bottom, known as a punt, will be deeper, too. (If your wine bottle has a flat bottom, it’s a cheaper bottle, period.) The label itself is another dead giveaway. Just as you should never trust a man who wears cheap shoes, has a weak handshake, or carries a flimsy business card, avoid a bottle with a wispy label. Quality winemakers use stock on their label that’s thick enough to be raised from the surface.
According to Ofenloch, there are two subtle label details that are tip-offs to a better wine: Look for a family winery, since—as corny as it sounds—it means the wine will be made with some level of effort; then search for the phrase “produced and bottled by,” which is a legal term guaranteeing that 75% of the contents were fermented at the same address where they were decanted, thus preventing any padding with bulk juice.
ALWAYS KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Great Britain, the rain-soaked mecca of milky tea, fish ’n’ chips, and warm beer, traditionally never had a growing season long enough to ripen grapes on the vine. As temperatures continue to climb, however, new British wineries have begun selling drinkable plonk, the best of which hails from vineyards in the chalky hills of southern England. Among the more successful start-ups are the Ridgeview Wine Estate (ridgeview.co.uk) and Rathfinny Estate, founded four years ago by a former hedge fund manager (rathfinnyestate.com).
“Honestly, if you’d told me 10 years ago that there would be world-class wine made in the U.K., I’d have laughed at you,” says Emerson. So until your local store contains a “United Kingdom” section, enjoy life ahead of the curve.
Mark Ellwood is the author of Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World.