5 Tips for Picking the Perfect Bottle
Updated: Feb 23
While there are only 269 Master Sommeliers in the world, just because you haven't earned that distinction doesn't mean you can't pick out a great wine. I’ve spent my fair share of time helping people navigate a busy wine shop in search of the perfect bottle. I love being on a retail floor and engaging customers with wine tasting and finding the perfect bottle. I understand why customers may be intimidated by the large selection. Here are tips to ensure you have a successful wine shopping trip.
Pick a Good Wine Shop
In lieu of a supermarket or liquor store, shop at your neighborhood wine shop. A very good wine shop will stock bottles at a range of price points. The dedicated staff has tasted hundreds of bottles, ensuring only good wine hits the shelves.
Washington, D.C. is home to great wine shops from classic sellers like Schneider's of Capitol Hill and Wardman Wines, or specialty shops like Domestique for Natural Wine and Le Grand Cata for Latin Wines. The DMV is also home to Total Wine, which widely services Maryland and Virginia.
I prefer the simplicity of taking a photo of the front and back label of a wine I’ve enjoyed. If you’re more of a Type A, I recommend tracking apps Delectable or Vivino. Both apps allow you to snap a photo and require a few additional notes (rating, tasting notes, etc). Next time, instead of searching from memory for the name of that super delicious Etna Bianco, share the snap you took with a sales associate. They may not have the exact wine, but they’ll offer you something comparable.
Befriend the Shop Guy or Gal
After a few trips and conversations with the staff, they should start to recognize your wine style. If you take my advice (above) and click a pic of your favorite wine choice, it’s the easiest way to record a sipper you enjoyed and share it as a reference. This helps to get you and the sales associates on the same page so they can easily make an accurate recommendation. \
Speak Your Mind and the Rest Will Follow
To paraphrase En Vogue , own your truth and don’t be afraid to say what you want to spend on a bottle. Letting them know your budget is a huge help to send you in the right direction. A good shop clerk should be able to sell you a decent bottle for $15 or less, particularly from a lesser-known region while also selling you a context-appropriate wine.
Don’t be intimidated if “wine speak” doesn’t immediately resonate with your tastes, preferences or budget. A good wine shop has team members that are patient and non-judgmental. Talk about what you like in your favorite wines (e.g. tannins, fruit flavors, oak influence). There are no wrong ways to describe wine! It might take a minute, but eventually the two of you will arrive to the same conclusion.
Start with an easy one: “What goes well with [blank] and costs around $[blank]?”
If you’re feeling adventurous, try: “What’s a wine that’s similar to [name of varietal wine that you know and like]?”
Aside from asking “What’s new?,” one of my default questions is simple: “What are you drinking?”
I have my own wine shopping flaws, too, specifically my attention span. When I walk into a wine shop, I go in 20 different directions and am left saying “Uhhh, I have no idea what I want.” So after perusing for a while, I ask the friendly shop employee what (s)he is drinking.
When you follow these five tips above while wine shopping, it’s a great way to break free of rotational drinking and stay within your budget.
image via @HelloGiggles