How to Choose a Good Bottle of Wine

how to choose a bottle of wine

Ready to pick out a great bottle of wine, but not sure where to start? Standing in the wine aisle with a million different labels to choose from can be overwhelming. This guide is here to help you -- the aspiring wine expert -- to make the best possible choices as you learn about wine.

The "perfect" bottle of wine is subjective. A bottle of wine that you absolutely love, someone else may only like. Discovering a wine you love is like selecting a great book. The more wines you experience, and the more varieties you try, the better equipped you'll be to pick the wine that's just right for your personal preference. 

This guide is going to explain the basics of wine selection, wine pairings, and even definitions of useful wine terminology. After skimming through it, you'll have enough information to make your first wine purchase.

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Understanding the Wine's Label
You can learn a lot by scanning a wine's label. The country and region of origin, and lots of other information that can be tricky to decode. What does "vinted" mean? Let's go over some popular terms and demystify the info on the back label.

Can You Use an App to Pick a Great Wine?
A phone app that makes you an instant wine expert? Vivino allows you to scan a wine bottle's label and then gives you a detailed overview of the wine. This can help novice wine enthusiasts pick a great wine. Vivino is available for free on Apple's App Store and from Google Play.

Cork vs. Screw cap
Sure, a wooden cork makes a bottle of wine seem more "official," but don't be so quick to dismiss a bottle of wine just because it has a metal screw cap. Synthetic corks or metal screw caps are actually more reliable than a traditional cork! Many high-end wineries are switching away from traditional corks and switching to synthetics. 

Screw caps are great for picnics because you can open them by hand, and quickly close them when it's time to go home. 

Did You Know: 30% of all wine bottles have a screw cap!

What is "Corked" Wine?
Wine is considered "corked" when it has been exposed to a chemical called TCA (trichloroanisole). Corked wine will have unpleasant smells like a musty basement, wet cardboard, or a wet dog.

TCA is used during the winemaking process, but it isn't supposed to come into contact with the wine itself. Hoses, wine barrels, even the cork itself can get TCA on it, resulting in a bottle of corked wine.

When the waiter offers you a taste of a bottle of wine at a restaurant, you aren't checking to see if you'd enjoy it, you're checking to see if it's corked!

Did You Know: Wines in green bottles are not meant to be aged!


A good wine will list a small region, not the entire country
Every wine label will tell you where the wine originated from. If the label simply says "France" it's not telling you the exact region. That's probably because wherever the wine was made, it's not known for producing good wine. 

It's the difference between a New York Pizzeria and a USA Pizzeria. New York City is famous for their pizza, but if it's just labeled "USA Pizza" it could be from literally anywhere in the nation. The more specific a wine label is about the region of origin, the better it will likely be.

How to pick a good bottle of wine FAQ

How much should I spend on a decent bottle of wine?
Between $15 and $30. Lower than $15 is cheap wine, and when you get above $30 you're getting into premium territory. 

Does more expensive wine taste better?
Multiple studies have found that more expensive wines do not taste better. Enjoyment of wine is subjective and the more a person studies wine they may feel that a rare vintage is a better experience for them, but it might taste worse than an average bottle to you. 

Pairing Your Wine Selection with Dinner
Some wines make food taste better and others -- not so much. Matching up your planned dinner with the right wine can turn a good night into a great one. Here's a rundown on what types of meals -- or snacks! -- go with what types of food.

This wine pairing list is by no means definitive, but should point you in the right direction for the most popular wines and meals.

Chardonnay pairs with:

  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Sushi
  • Pork
  • Vegetables
  • Salads
  • Spicy foods
  • Creamy pasta dishes
  • Creamy cheeses (brie, camembert, gruyère, and aged cheddar)

Pinot Noir pairs with:

  • Grilled/roasted meats
  • Poultry
  • Salmon
  • Pork
  • Pizza
  • Mushrooms
  • Nutty cheeses (brie, parmesan, camembert, gouda)
  • Charcuterie boards (prosciutto, salami, and pate)

Merlot pairs with:

  • Red meat
  • Roast chicken
  • Duck
  • Mushrooms
  • Pasta dishes
  • Chocolate
  • Charcuterie
  • Meat pizzas (sausage, pepperoni, bacon)
  • Soft cheeses (brie, camembert)

Pinot Grigio pairs with:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Ceviche
  • Charcuterie
  • Sushi
  • Grilled vegetables
  • White pizza
  • Salty snacks
  • Light pasta dishes
  • Fresh cheeses (goat cheese, brie, feta, mozzarella)

Viognier pairs with:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Duck
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Creamy pasta dishes
  • Seafood (lobster, shrimp scampi, crab cakes)
  • Mild cheeses (brie, camembert, and goat cheese)

Cabernet Sauvignon pairs with:

  • Red meats
  • Steak
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Hamburgers
  • Barbecue
  • Strong cheeses (gouda, cheddar, and blue cheese)
  • Dark chocolate

Riesling pairs with:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Pork
  • Duck
  • Turkey
  • Sushi
  • Creamy sauces
  • Cheeses (bleu cheese, brie, gouda, camembert)
  • Seafood (shrimp, crab, scallops)
  • Cured meats (smoked salmon, prosciutto)
  • Spicy foods (Indian, Mexican, Asian cuisine)

Sauvignon Blanc pairs with:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Turkey
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Salads
  • Grilled fish
  • Sushi
  • Ceviche
  • Seafood (oysters, crab, shrimp, lobster)
  • Cheeses (brie, goat cheese)

Syrah (Shiraz) pairs with:

  • Barbecue
  • Grilled steak
  • Grilled lamb
  • Grilled sausages
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Mushrooms
  • Roasted herbed meats
  • Spicy dishes (Indian, Mexican, Cajun)
  • Dark chocolate desserts (chocolate truffles, chocolate tart)
  • Game meat (venison, elk, wild boar)
  • Hard aged cheeses (cheddar, manchego, or gouda)

Zinfandel pairs with:

  • Turkey
  • Meaty stews
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Mushrooms
  • Chili
  • Barbecue
  • Pulled-pork sandwiches
  • Meaty pasta sauces
  • Grilled meats (steak, hamburgers, lamb chops)
  • Spicy cuisine (Indian, Mexican, Cajun)
  • Cheese (blue cheese, aged cheddar, gouda, parmesan)
  • Meat pizzas (pepperoni, sausage, barbecue)

Wine Terminology Cheat Sheet
Selecting a bottle of wine can be overwhelming, because the wine industry can feel like it has its own language. The following are some of the most important keywords and terms you'll need to select your perfect wine.

Terroir (pronounced "tear-wAHr") - Terroir refers to the soil and area that the wine grapes were grown. The land that the grapes grow in have a massive impact on how the wine will ultimately taste. The region's climate, soil type, aspect (the direction the slope faces and its relation to sunshine), and even local microbes and bacteria contribute to a wine's terroir.

Try New Wines at a Wine Tasting
Experience is the best teacher and sometimes it's best to dive right in and sample the wine before buying. If there's a winery near you stop in and give the local wines a taste test. Make note of which specific varieties you liked the best. If you find one you absolutely love, you can purchase a bottle as you leave.

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