How to choose the right wine for you
A “no bowties and no BS” beginner’s guide to choosing the right bottle of wine for you.
Rule #1: Don’t panic.
There should be no more stress in choosing a wine than there is in choosing what to have in your sandwich. Keep it simple – learn what kinds of wines you like, consider what you’re going to be drinking it with, set your budget, shortlist your options, and go for it.
Rule #2: Learn your go-to favourites by variety and region
Most people go by brands, because they’re familiar, there’s less risk. That’s fine if you only even want to order a chicken salad sandwich, but get adventurous! There are so many amazing small production wines out there, from all around the world, and part of the fun is exploring new things.
Variety and region speaks more for a wine than the brand. Learn which varieties you like (e.g. pinot noir), learn which regions you like for those varieties (e.g. Mornington Peninsula pinot noir), and then you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting your choice right.
You’re only going to learn by trying them and paying attention to those two things – variety and region.
You’ll get a feel for what’s lighter, heavier, richer, more fruity, more savoury – all those things that either work for you or don’t in a wine.
Just take it one style at a time. That’s why so many people got into Marlborough savvy b – they recognised it, and it became a safe, reliable choice. Most regional wine styles will also give you that.
Rule #3: Think about food
Next important thing to consider is food. You can go as simple as white wine with fish and red wine with steak, or you can get into more detail. Sure, you could learn all about tannins and acid, and other things that make a wine more suited to some foods over others.
Or you can get a few cheat notes under your belt, and just remember those.
- Generally, Italian and Spanish varieties are designed to go with food. It’s in their culture. So for meat dishes (red and white meats) and richer sauces, pastas, etc. – red wine varieties like tempranillo and sangiovese generally go nicely.
- Pinot goes well with chicken, and especially with gamey meats like duck and rabbit. Bloody yum.
- Cabernet goes well with lamb and beef. Why? Tannins. But who cares? It generally works, that’s the main thing to remember.
- Modern cool-climate chardonnay is the go with fish (again, look to regions - Yarra, Mornington, Margaret River, Adelaide Hills, Tassie), and is generally a great food wine for lighter dishes.
- Riesling and bubbles are perfect with most Asian cuisine. Semillon, savvy b or riesling are beautiful with oysters, prawns, etc.
Again, you could go into detail about the why (and we will!), or you can just remember four or five good matches for the kinds of foods you like.
Try them at home, then unleash your newfound wine awesomeness out to dinner.
If you’re not having the wine with food, then all you’ve got to think about is what you like (variety, region), what you’re in the mood for, and what you want to spend.
Rule #4: Work out what you want to spend
There’s no rule here. You’re either looking for a $15 wine or a $30 wine, or you’re happy to go $80 in a restaurant. But don’t just go the “second cheapest wine on the list” or “second most expensive” (we’ve all done it) – filter by rules 2 and 3 first.
Get these steps right, and suddenly you only need to choose between a handful of wines, not the whole damn store or 10-page winelist. Far less intimidating.
Rule #5: You’re right
There is no wrong. Can anybody tell you it’s wrong if you don’t like curried egg sandwiches? Of course not. They can bugger off. Same with wine - nothing matters beyond whether you like the wine or not.
So don’t sit there wondering whether you’re supposed to like a wine, or what you’re supposed to be looking for. Is it yum? Boom. Have another sip.