I remember it like it was yesterday. After several years of drinking cheap spirits and beer, my friend and I decided that it was time to graduate to a more elevated experience: drinking wine. We drove to our local liquor store, found our way to the wine section and then … terror.
We were immediately overwhelmed by the towering shelves and endless aisles of reds, whites, rosés and all the countries they hailed from—not to mention the massive range of prices. We picked a $7.69 bottle of pink moscato, paid and left. We just wanted to get out of there.
Does this sound familiar? A new report by Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates, a wine industry data and analytics company, shows that wine retail sales were up 16.8% in 2021, so I’m guessing many of you can relate to this story. But shopping for wine doesn’t need to be a confusing undertaking. As a sommelier and fellow wine consumer, I’m here to offer a few tips to help make your experience easier—and the end result much more rewarding. Cheers!
Figure Out Your Budget
Does a more expensive bottle mean the wine is better? Not necessarily. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Wine Economics, more than 6,000 blind tastings were conducted and the correlation between price and overall rating was quite small. However, more seasoned wine drinkers might argue that you can absolutely taste the difference between, say, mass-produced wines and wines from boutique vineyards with great soil and the right sun exposure.
The winemaker can also be a factor—a skilled vintner, for example, knows how to perfectly balance the alcohol with the sugar, acid and tannins, or may have unique ways to store their wine for optimal flavor. So it’s important to know what you’re paying for. Production of carefully crafted wines, versus mass-produced ones, could impact the retail cost.
Ask for Help
If you’re reading this and feel intimidated or confused and don’t want to do any research, I get it. That’s what professionals are for. Most wine stores will have staff that can help you pick out a bottle—just tell them what the occasion is and any preferences you might have. Chances are they will be able to grab something for you in less than five minutes. Depending on the store, they may even allow you to sample the wines before purchasing them. Don’t mind if I do!
You can also turn to apps for help. I recommend using free wine-search apps like Vivino, Delectable and Wine-Searcher, which allow you to scan the bottle labels for information about the wine, customer reviews and ratings, pairing recommendations and more (Vivino even works on wine lists at restaurants).
Do a Little Research
Are you buying wine for a casual night of popcorn and murder mysteries with friends? Hosting an event? Getting a bottle as a gift? These days, we have the information we need at our fingertips to solve any wine puzzle presented to us. Look up ideal food and wine pairings (buttery popcorn, for example, goes great with chardonnay), the typical characteristics of wines from different regions (reds from Rioja, Spain, for example, are usually savory while whites from Rias Baixas are usually crisp, light and refreshing) or wines from women-owned brands.
Support Female Winemakers
I love supporting other women when I shop for wine. So for this story, we turned to Alexandra Charpentier, founder of Brooklyn-based wine bistro Winemak’Her Bar, who moved to New York from France to showcase female winemakers. Of the more than 78 wines she has in her repertoire, she told us about some of her favorites.
For reds, try Saint-Chinian ($48) by Agnes Gleizes, which has notes of rock rose and spices and is great with cheese and grilled meat; Gigondas ($88) by Stephanie Fumoso, which has notes of herbs, rosemary and ripe fruits and is ideal for lamb dishes; or Grenache from Catalogne ($56) by Sara Jove, which has notes of plums, cherries and tons of other fruits and would be a great addition to pasta, rice or semi-spicy dishes.
For whites, Charpentier praises Blanquette de Limoux ($64) by Francoise Antech as an aperitif, with its notes of spring flowers and orchard fruits; Chenin Blanc ($76) by Ginny Povall, which has concentrated pear, citrus and stone fruit flavors and is delicious with scallops, lobster or shellfish; and, for those with a sweet tooth, the Chardonnay ($48) by Karen Birmingham, which is “so rich it tastes sugary” and “smells and tastes like lemon meringue pie.”
Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.
Isis Daniel, aka the Millennial Somm, is a wine consultant (and consumer!) and content creator from Washington, D.C.
Photograph: Jenny Huang