Wine Talk: Wine buying guide

Do you find buying wine a challenge? Here are some pointers that will steer you in the right direction.

Wine bottles (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wine bottles
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Buying wine should be fun, but for most people it is a great ordeal. A buyer approaching the dairy shelves knows exactly which yogurt or cottage cheese to buy. The choice is made without hesitation.
There are not so many brands, and the one they are loyal to will immediately be visible.
However, the prospective wine buyer is faced with a wall of wine, usually with unfamiliar labels, and there is the added pressure of having to buy the right one. We always fear that our partner or guest knows far more about wine than we do. Not easy.
The first obstacle is to decide the best place to buy. It will likely be your regular local supermarket, but even then you want to be sure the shelves are well managed and the wines well kept.
The best supermarkets will have the shelves filled up tidily. There should be a good range from a number of different wineries, with different wine styles and at a variety of price points. The better red wines, where sales will be lower and prices higher, should be lying horizontally to preserve quality. A good guide as to whether the supermarket manages its wine department well is the state of the white wines. If there are too many white wines of older vintages, turning yellow in color, it is a sign that throughputs are low or that stock control is poor. Likewise, if the better red wine bottles are dusty, it also may not be a good sign.
Two tips to make your visit to the supermarket easier: Firstly, I recommend you go with an idea of what you want in advance.
It may be a wine that costs less than NIS 40, a Merlot or simply a white wine to go with fish. This gives a focus of what to look for.
Secondly, when you get to the wine shelves, it is important to take a few seconds to understand how the wines are laid out. They may be set out by winery, brand, region, color, grape variety or wine style. Once you have figured that out, it will be easier to find whatever you are looking for.
Usually, the bottom shelf is reserved for grape juice, Kiddush wine and the very cheapest wines. The middle shelves are for the big sellers, and the top shelf is for the sparkling wines and better wines. Either look for a price you are prepared to pay, a brand (label or winery) that you are familiar with or a particular grape variety you like.
If you buy the wine with the prettiest label, that is also okay. You are not alone! The best promotions are normally in the wine displays that are set apart from the wine section. There is always a wide choice of offers, particularly before the holidays.
Remember that the cheapest wine is never the best offer. The cost of the capsule, label and bottle are similar, so the difference between a bottle of NIS 25 and NIS 50 is… the wine! A word of warning: A fantastic promotion on a wine you have never heard of should set alarm bells ringing. It is always wise to choose something you know with the discounted prices. You don’t want to buy a dead-dog wine just because it’s inexpensive.
There are generally two approaches. Most people buy what they know and like. There is nothing wrong with that. If that is your way, buy the bottle you want at the price you can afford. Certainly never be pressured into paying more than your budget or buying something supposedly better to please someone else’s taste.
The alternative is to always challenge yourself by purposefully choosing something new. Try a new variety, a different style or wine from another winery. It is by experimenting that we broaden our horizons and learn more. If you usually like Sauvignon Blanc and it is described on the back label as a crisp aromatic dry white, you can look at the back labels of other whites to find something else with a similar description.
Don’t forget that some supermarkets offer online purchases, which saves carrying those heavy glass bottles home. It is great idea if you know what you want in advance.
Unfortunately, you will be unlikely to find someone who can help you in a supermarket.
If you want a more considered choice, with expert advice, then your best bet is to make the extra effort to go to a specialist wine store. Such stores offer good prices and a wider range of non-kosher imports.
(Most supermarkets will sell kosher wines only.) Wine shops will often provide tastings of their wines, allowing you to sample and buy the wines on offer, often at a discounted price.
The most fun place to buy wine is at the winery itself. There are hundreds of wineries covering the Land of Israel from top to bottom. So there is no lack of wineries to choose from. The larger wineries may have proper wine shops and visitors’ centers.
Most of these will be kosher and not open on Shabbat, festivals and memorial days.
Of the smaller wineries, some will not be kosher and therefore will be open on Shabbat.
All will be happy to give a taste of wine to encourage a purchase. However, to avoid disappointment, it is always wise to book a visit in advance.
At a winery, you can be sure the wines are at their best because they have not traveled.
There is nothing better than drinking the wine of the particular winery you have visited. It gives an extra insight and feeling of understanding. It is rather like seeing the kitchen and meeting the chef of the restaurant where you are going to eat.
The eager wine student will read the wine reviews in the national press, looking for the best buy and recommendations. There are also regular wine festivals in different locations or Friday morning tastings in wine shops. In short, there is plenty of opportunity to taste and experiment to find your favorites.
Or you may remember a wine you enjoyed the last time you ate out. The restaurant arena is a good place to try something new, especially when the person ordering doesn’t know your preference. Trying to find a particular wine is an instance where you might benefit from asking at your local wine shop. They may know the actual wine.
Or if not, they will be able to recommend something similar.
If you are buying for a dinner party, I strongly advise you not to worry too much about matching the wine to the food. We say today, “Match the wine to mood, not to food.” In other words, buy what you feel is the right choice for the occasion. Good wine and good food go together.
Most hosts will decide on the food first, and then will think of the wine. Matching may not be necessary, but that does not mean it isn’t fun to do so! Just remember there is no perfect match, so there is no pressure because taste is not absolute.
Whatever size your dinner party is, you will only have to buy one or two wines.
One stop at the supermarket. That is all. It will be more complicated and take far more time to buy all the ingredients for each dish you are preparing. So keep the wine aspect in perspective. Making that wine purchase need not be as daunting a prospect as you might fear.
Summer of Riesling
There’s nothing like a chilled glass of this wonderful wine, made from the noblest of grapes, on a warm evening or at the holiday table.
Don’t be surprised to come across signs in Tel Aviv this month that read “I Love Riesling.” It is part of a campaign that started in New York to promote the virtues of one of the world’s most noble grape varieties.
Riesling – and I am referring to the German variety, not to Emerald, Laski, Welsch or any other imposter – is astonishingly underrated and undervalued by many of the world’s wine drinkers.
Yet to the serious wine drinker and confirmed Riesling fan, this grape variety produces some of the greatest of all white wines.
Riesling is very versatile. It produces wine that covers the full spectrum from bone dry white wines with great acidity to delicately balanced semidry wines, as well as frothy sparkling wines to luscious dessert wines. The Riesling aroma will always be delicate and not blowsy, reminiscent of wild flowers and honeysuckle.
The wines will show a refreshing minerality and reflect a sense of place. They will not be oaky or high alcohol. In fact, they are ideal wines for both our climate and cuisine.
The person who has led the Riesling campaign in Israel is the charismatic, talented Aviram Katz. He is the sommelier of Toto Restaurant, arguably the leading wine restaurant in the country.
By his example and through his dynamic lead, Tel Aviv will be giving this focus to Riesling. I recommend you make the most of it.
The king of Riesling is, of course, Germany. But Alsace, Austria and New Zealand also make superb Rieslings.
Then there is also Australia. For those who drink blue and white, there are even some Israeli Rieslings, such as the Carmel Single Vineyard Riesling, Gamla Riesling, Vitkin Riesling (NK) and the Teperberg Silver Riesling Late Harvest.
Anything called Riesling, White Riesling, Johannisberg Riesling or Rhine Riesling is the real thing.
Seek it out and join in the fun.
You might also end up saying, “I love Riesling.”
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for Israeli and international publications. [email protected]