HOW TO CHOOSE A GOOD WINE: 9 TIPS THAT WILL MAKE YOU AN EXPERT
Choosing wine isn’t always an easy task. So if buying a bottle always has you doubting and, in the end, you choose the only one that looks familiar, take note! Here are the tips you need to choose wine like an expert.
Whether for a family meal, date or just a treat for yourself, knowing how to choose a good wine can be a very useful skill. So, we’ve prepared a short guide with all the key things to look for when buying a bottle. A lot of the information, as you’ll see, is on the label. So learning how to read them will come in handy.
It’s important to note, though, that there is a subjective side to wine, as with nearly everything, that is completely determined by personal preference. So just because it’s a good wine doesn’t mean everyone will like it. You can adapt these tips to your personal tastes to go for a quality wine. Here we go!
1. RED, WHITE OR ROSÉ
The first decision you have to make in choosing a good wine is whether you want a red, white or rosé. This has more to do with external factors than with the wine itself. First of all, the meal you’re going to have it with. So, light meals like salads and fish pair better with a white wine. For meat or stews, a red. But look at the label, some wines come with pairing tips that can be helpful. The second factor to take into account is the weather. When it’s warmer, we feel like having lighter, fresher wines like whites or sparkling rosés.
Finally, don’t forget the personal preference of the drinkers. Regardless of the previous points, if you know someone doesn’t really enjoy a specific type of wine, it’s better to go for something different.
2. DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN (PROTECTED DESIGNATION OF ORIGIN)
Once you’ve chosen whether to have red, white or rosé, it’s time to look at other details to make sure you get a quality wine. A good sign of a good wine is a quality seal, like the Denominación de Origen (or D.O. - the Spanish system of geographic-based quality control designations). The D.O. is normally found on the front and back labels, and it must have the official seal of the Consejo Regulador de Denominación de Origen (the organization that oversees quality in the region), certifying that the wine has been made in that region exclusively from grapes grown there.
This is a guarantee of quality when choosing a wine because the D.O. only grants its seal to those with specific characteristics and quality that can only be achieved in the place where it was made, to wines that have been recognized as a product of that region for at least five years and enjoy a high level of prestige on the market. Spain has roughly 70 D.O., including D.O. Rioja, D.O. Ribera del Duero, D.O. Rueda and others.
But if you want to make sure you get a wine of even higher quality, get one with the Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca. - the highest level in Spanish wine designations). To get this seal, a wine has to meet additional requirements, such as having been recognised by the D.O. for at least ten years, being bottled at wineries in the region and having a comprehensive system to control quality from production through to sale, including chemical and sensory properties, among others.
3. TYPE OF GRAPE AND VINTAGE
Apart from the D.O. seal, on a good bottle of wine you’ll also find information on the grape variety or varieties used to make it. These determine the taste and texture of the wine. There are many types of grapes, but the most common red-wine grape in Spain is called Tempranillo. It got this name because it ripens earlier (temprano in Spanish) than other red varieties. It’s a grape without too much acidity and its taste is reminiscent of forest berries. Internationally, one of the most common red-wine grapes is Cabernet Sauvignon.
Among white wines, the Verdejo grape stands out, and is one of the oldest varieties in Spain. Others include Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Sound familiar, right?
In terms of grapes, you’ll find three types of wine: monovarietals are wines made from a single grape variety, varietals are made from at least 80% of the listed grape variety, and blends have more than one type of grape variety in varying percentages.
Finally, you may also find information on the vintage. This is the year the grapes were harvested, which can tell you about the weather conditions when they were ripening, whether they were optimal or not, which affects the quality of the wine.
4. AGE OF THE WINE
The age of the wine is also a key element. You’ll find this on the label, with terms like:
- Joven (young): wines bottles right after fermentation. They are fresher and more fruit-driven. They don’t last as long, so it’s important to make sure they aren’t more than a year old.
- Crianza: wines aged for three years, with at least one year in oak barrels. They have a stronger flavour and more aromas. For white wines, they must be barrel-aged for at least six months.
- Reserva: aged at least three years before bottling, with at least one year in the barrel, plus six-months bottle ageing. They have more structure and stronger aromas. For white wines, the ageing is two years, with at least six months in the barrel.
- Gran Reserva: these wines are normally from exceptional harvests and are aged for 60 months, with at least two years in the barrel and two years in the bottle. For white wines, the ageing is four years, with at least six months in the barrel.
When choosing a wine it is important to remember that the older it is, the more flavour and body it will have. We have a variety of options in terms of quality in our wines, with something for everyone.
5. THE SIZE OF THE CORK
Yes, you read that right, cork size does matter when choosing a wine. The longer the cork, the better. This is because it helps preserve the wine and lets it improve with age. A long cork helps keep out bacteria and is easier to remove or twist every so often.
6. SWEET, SEMI-SWEET OR DRY
Some wines, especially whites, also have information on how sweet they are. This, of course, depends on how much sugar is in the wine. Semi-sweet and sweet wines are great to have with appetizers, fruit, cheese and dessert.
You’ll find how much alcohol is in the wine on its back label. This is given as a percentage of the total volume and varies depending on the type of grape and fermentation conditions. Most wines, however, fall between 10% and 14%.
As with anything, you may think the more expensive a wine, the better the quality. But that isn’t always the case because, as we’ve said, the quality of a wine depends on many different factors. In Spain, we’re fortunate to have high-quality wines at very competitive prices. So, we recommend you look at the points above, within your price range.
Summing up, to know if you’re looking at a good bottle of wine, it’s important to look for a quality seal like the D.O., to pay attention to the grape variety and vintage so you’ll know what the weather was like when they were growing, to look at the cork, and to take into account other factors like the age of the wine, alcohol level and price. Of course, the most important thing is to taste it and see if the wine has the right flavours and aromas, and if you like it.
“The wine world is becoming less masculine and less stereotypical”: an interview with Vanesa García, Head of Quality at the Barón de Ley Group