VI. BUYING WINE
What Wine to Buy?
Nobody can tell you what wine to buy, since what you like is the best test. The more you taste different wines, the more you will come to know what you like, etc.
But . . . If you are just starting out, here's some hints that we and others seem to ignore completely a lot of the time: Don't buy too much of a wine you haven't tasted (just because it got a good rating or is something you liked in earlier vintages). Don't buy a bunch of wine that you won't drink until after it goes bad. (I don't want to tell you how much white wine I have aged to extinction from my earlier days in buying wine.)
Where to Buy Wine
Depends on what you're drinking. Fortified wines to be carried and drunk while wrapped in a brown bag can be gotten pretty cheaply at the local market or liquor store. And, in some of the United States, wine can only be purchased in state run establishments (often closed on Sundays).
If you are drinking a wine that is meant to be drunk young, you can pretty much buy your wine at the best price you can find. When it comes to wines to cellar, more care should be exercised. You want to learn a bit about your wine merchant. Since wines can be stored improperly or may have been subjected to heat and other improper handling, you could find that after keeping an expensive red wine for ten years, what you have to drink is worthless.
Wines can often be purchased at wineries (what an odd place to find wine). The good news here is that you may get wines that are never available anywhere else (you don't mass market 20 cases of wine). The sort of bad news is that you might find that the wine you bought could have been found less expensively elsewhere (though one hopes that the storage conditions at the winery are better?).
Wineries will ship wine, depending on where they are and where you are. Various laws come into play about the shipping of wine from one place to another (though I heard that one wine merchant--I wasn't told who--merely labels the box "guns" and has no trouble at all; there are ways). Some wineries sell virtually all of their wine by mail.
Other wine merchants (sometimes calling themselves wine "clubs") will ship wine. Several people have positively mentioned the following (but I don' have any independent knowledge and guarantee nothing!).
There are so many places selling wine on the World Wide Web, that there is no point in trying to keep up with listing them in a FAQ. Best use one of the dozen or so search engines for that task. Interestingly enough, since there are so many laws about the shipment of wine within the United States, or between countries, that it will be a fascinating sidelight to see which falls first, Internet sales or those laws.
What is Wine Worth?
A correspondent sent me this quote: "I think that the best way to learn about wine is to drink the cheapest wine you can find. If you can't find any cheap wine you like, then spend a few more dollars. And then a few more, and more, and more . . . . " Depending on what you can afford to pay for wine, the unfortunate truth is that generally, better wine costs more, however it isn't necessarily true that wine that costs more is better.
The real fact is that you shouldn't be swayed by the opinions of others. If you like it, fine, if you don't, don't buy it. If it is inexpensive and suits your taste, great! I once bought a couple of bottles of wine for a couple of dollars each because the name of the winery was the same as the street I lived on. It wasn't wonderful (so far as we remember) and we stuck it away in a closet. Five years later the stuff was absolutely great.
For wholesale wine (and other liquor) prices, you might find a copy of "Beverage Media", (from Beverage Media Ltd., 161 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10013) which calls itself "The largest compilation of alcoholic beverage price brand information in America."
Some wines may be very good but their prices could be considered out of line with similar quality wines. Why, then, do they cost so much? My guess is snob appeal and/or the marketing skills of the winery. A number of people have commented that they consider Opus One to fall into this category.
Recently, while dining, out I overheard another table (clearly owners of a wine shop) being asked by the restaurant manager whether the establishment should purchase some Opus One. They hemmed and hawed and politely noted that it was a "high end" item and perhaps there were other wines that would be just as good for lesser price. That sums up a lot of what I have heard of this wine, a joint production between Robert Mondavi and the late Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux attempting to produce French style wine with California grapes. The consensus of opinion in the Usenet posts that I have followed relate that Opus One is a generally well made wine that is overpriced but will be reliable to people ordering in restaurants who don't know much about better (or just as good) less expensive wines. I've never tasted it, so try some, if you can (and want to make up your own mind). And we've spent so much time talking about this one wine because it is a very frequently asked question!
My Significant Other Doesn't Like Red Wine
First off, nobody is advocating that it is important to get people to start drinking wine. If water is what a person wants, leave them alone! In any event, a question that seems to keep coming up is "my wife doesn't like red wine." So what? Why should she? That being said, it seems that the natural progression when learning about and drinking wine is to move from light fruity white wine to light fruity red wine, then to the more hearty and more aged red wines.
As to what wines, here's a generic sampling culled from Usenet, designed for the novice red wine drinker (and already I have letters that the list is completely wrong!):
Bardolino. Beaujolais. Bergerac. Cotes du Frontonnais. Dolcetto. Gamay. Grenache Rose. Lighter Pinot Noirs. Rioja Gran Reserva. Rose. Valpolicella