Late last year, I decided to enter the Gourmet Traveler (GT) Wine magazine wine writing competition. I was originally quite excited about it, but spent far less time to get an article out than I had planned. My work commitments were high and most of my creative energy was going in that direction. I knew the article could be improved and in the final week before the deadline, I was undecided about entering or not (as I knew I would not have the time or energy to improved the article furhter or write another one). However, I felt if I did not enter, there was no way I could win, so I forwarded my submission. Yesterday, I was informed the award was given to another.
Even had I been extremely pleased with my submission, I felt there was only a limited chance of winning. Many previous winners have been sommeliers, wine makers, vingerons, etc. and I was an immature wine enthusiast! Yet, my article did match most, if not all, of the characteristics they asked each writer to aspire to. It was useful to go through the experience.
My losing article still provides some good advice about purchasing wine and I think you will find it interesting, even though it has not been judged to be of magazine quality. Here it is and I hope you enjoy!
Buy – don’t be sold – your wine
We love convenience, especially as the pace of life seems to be speeding up. We eat meals out so as not to have to cook them ourselves, or even shop for the ingredients to prepare them. We have people clean for us, do our laundry, and some will shop at Aldi because they trust the premise that Aldi has made high quality, good-valued product choices for us, so we do not have to take the time to research or make those choices ourselves – just pick up bread, milk, chocolate, and even wine without regard to brand.
That convenience has extended to our buying of wine. Winery loyalty programs tell us “not to worry mate”, just sign up and we will send you your wine of choice every year, regardless if it is a good vintage or not. Or even easier, we will send you a mixed six-pack every six months. You can stop by Wine Selector in Australian domestic airports, sample several, and if you like these wines, then trust them to send you wines in the future at price points they believe deliver good value to you. Because many of us are unsure or intimidated in our wine knowledge, we let and even appreciate the wine sellers selling us what they think is best for us.
Buyers and sellers of wine have different purposes, which can be at odds with each other. As buyers, we want to get great wine at a great price, have wine we can drink right away or lay down until the wine is more optimally drinkable. Sellers of wine need to clear inventory and create cash flow every year. Each vintage, they try to produce the best wine they can and be able to sell it at a price buyers can afford, but more often than not, this proves difficult due to challenging climatic or market conditions.
I have bought a lot of wine over the years and in review, have realized I have been suckered into buying decent wine which I was convinced by the cellar door manager was great wine at a great price. But now that I have been able to taste and compare more wines, I have come to realize that wine varies greatly in quality vintage to vintage, vineyard to vineyard and wine maker to wine maker, but varies little in price. For example, the 1996 and 1998 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignons are far better than 1997 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignons, yet the price upon release was about the same for most brands.
I have rarely purchased wine without tasting it first. Through experience, I have come to know what I like in a wine. But even if I have not tasted a wine, I can feel reasonably sure I am buying great wines at a great price, if I look at three features of a wine that make it better (or worse) valued than other wines:
- Vintage (year the grapes were grown
- Where the grapes were sourced (often called terroir, or at least a component of terroir)
- The wine maker (not the brand, but the actual individual)
Yes, it may be easier to let the wineries or distributors ‘sell’ you, but they are often pushing what wines are in inventory, regardless of vintage, and touting the brand, not the wine maker. By combining a bit of knowledge regarding vintages, the source of grapes and who the wine maker is, you can consistently buy great wine at a great price.
Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014. Steve Shipley
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