Buying wine can be confusing when you’re faced with hundreds of different grape varietals – many of which you never knew existed – so, here’s how to pick the best drop for your tastes.
Walking into a bottle shop, or browsing wine online, is often overwhelming. Since we are spoilt for choice, Christine Ricketts, Cellar Director at wine retailer Cellarmasters, shares what you need to bear in mind so can buy wine like a pro.
Whites and rosé – drink fresh
Age certainly does matter when it comes to wine, and Christine reveals that most rosé wines and white wines (quality Riesling and Chardonnays being the exception) are made to be enjoyed young, so the more recent the vintage, the fresher the flavour.
“Vintage means the year the grapes in the wine were harvested,” she explains. “New vintages for Aussie whites and rosés are traditionally released in spring, between September and November, so most wine labels should have the 2018 vintages in store now.”
If it’s Italian, it’s a great food wine
If you are looking for the perfect wine to pair with your meal, Christine suggests looking out for Italian labels.
“For Italians, food and wine go hand in hand, so Italian-style wines tend to be food-friendly, with beautiful textures and refined flavours that are not too overpowering,” she explains. “Wines like Fiano, Nero d’Avola, Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio are having a big moment in Australia, so look out for these textured whites and lighter style reds for a perfect pairing.”
For quality, go for regional wines
If you are after a special bottle of wine, Christine recommends opting for regional wines to get the cream of the crop.
“Go for a wine from Eden Valley or Barossa Valley, instead of just the semi-regional labelling of “South Australia”. Regional means that all the parcels of fruit are from that very region (and ideally, the fruit has been grown there because it’s the best region to grow that particular grape) as opposed to grapes being sourced from a huge area,” she explains.
For a very special occasion, go a step further and seek out sub-regional wine, which means the grapes are from a small area in the wine region, or even be a certain part of a vineyard.
Learn what wine each region excels in
With over 60 regions in Australia alone, it’s a good idea to narrow down your options by learning what each region does best.
“If you like big-flavoured Shiraz, wines from Barossa or McLaren Vale should be your go-to, while Hunter Valley is a good region for more elegant styles. Coonawarra is world-famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon. Eden Valley and Clare Valley in South Australia are the country’s best regions for Riesling,” Christine explains.
“Margaret River has a similar maritime influenced climate to New Zealand’s Marlborough, so you can find some fantastic examples of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from here. If you like Pinot Noir and sparkling wine, try cool climate regions like the Adelaide Hills, Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley.”
Know your sparkling wines
Champagne and sparkling wines tend to get lumped into the same category, however there are many things that differentiate those bubbles in a bottle.
To keep it simple, Christine details that Champagne tends to be dry, with biscuity flavours, while Cava (the Spanish sparkling wine) is less complex and more affordable, and Prosecco is a fruit-forward Italian style, with hints of apple and pear.
“If in doubt, the best Aussie sparkling wines come from Tasmania, as it has a similar climate to the Champagne region in France,” she says.
The deal with aged wine
In terms of ageing wine, Christine says that a good-quality bold red wine, like a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley or Cabernet from the Coonawarra, can (if stored properly) age well.
“A medium quality Shiraz will age beautifully for at least five to six years, while a great quality Shiraz can cellar up to 20 years (if you cellar it well),” she explains. “It’s worth noting that when red wines age, they tend to lose their primary fruit characters, developing secondary characters like cigar box or leather. So if you like your wine fruit-driven, drink a bold red within three to five years.”
You should also drink more elegant red wines like Pinot Noir and Grenache, within five years.
Learn what wines you like
Now that you have the basics covered, the best way to always take home a bottle you will like is to note the wines you love.
Christine suggests paying attention to the wine’s body (light, medium or full), aromas and flavours (e.g. cherry, strawberries, chocolate or smokey), as well as how long the flavours linger.
“Have a look at the label, and note the region, variety and vintage, and that will help you next time you pick a wine,” Christine adds.