At this writing, I’m in lovely Indian Wells in the California desert finalizing a month-long golf/food/wine outing that is revitalizing mind and body. We had some friends over dinner last night, and earlier in the day I went to the nearby Ralph’s supermarket to buy some wines to accompany the night’s grilled pork tenderloins.
As I was about to leave the wine department with my selections, I noticed three near-middle-aged ladies suffering through the fruitless “bottle staring-wine buying technique.” You know of what I speak. If one looks long enough at wine bottle labels, eventually one of them will seduce you with its unique subliminal message.
“Oh, I really love the pretty label on this one,” one of them exclaimed.
I held my tongue, but not for long. At their side, without looking directly at them, I said softly, “That might not be the best way to pick wine.”
(I sensed an icy silence, but no outrage was articulated.)
“Look at this,” the second one said, “It’s Newman’s Own.”
I pondered it for a few seconds, and couldn’t pass that one up either, “Paul was a great actor, but I doubt he ever drank that one.”
(Still no perceptible outrage. But proceed with caution Tom.)
“I would just like to drink a nice Cabernet,” said the apparent leader of the group as she looked directly at me.
As a quick assist, I quickly brushed my left hand across the label of four or five well known California producers and offered that any one of them would be safe purchases and good values. None of the ladies made a move to examine any of them.
So, with my first two comments having no effect or direction on how they should proceed, I went into my thirty-second crash course on “How to buy wine in a supermarket, even if you don’t know a thing about wine.”
With the leader’s attention, I pointed at one of the bottles and noted that just below the Cabernet Sauvignon line one bottle indicated simply “California,” while two others stated “Napa Valley” and “Sonoma Valley.”
“With a simple California designation, the wine can come from any (good or bad) microclimate in the state and even from one or more growers. Napa and Sonoma are proven regions, and are probably better picks than a generic California.”
“Hmmm,” she purred.
“Now, look at these,” as I pointed to several other bottles. “This one says ‘Estate,’ which means it’s from the producer’s own property, and they want you to know they used their own grapes. And this producer, over here, is even more proud of its offering because they have the name of the producing vineyard on it. The more specific the label gets, the better chance you have of getting a higher quality wine and better value for your dollar.”
“That really helps,” she said.
“Now once you’ve made your decision, carefully read the back label and see how the winemaker describes it. If you see words like ‘rich, ripe, aromatic or soft,’ then you probably made a good choice. In any case, make sure the description appeals to you.”
“Now, my last piece of advice, which is worth exactly what you paid for it, is to take your wine home and put it into the fridge for 20 or 30 minutes. Not a lot of people agree with me on that one, but give it a try. It it’s too cool for you, just cup your hands around the stemware and the wine will warm up to the temperature that you prefer.”
“Good luck.” I picked up my six-pack of wine, and sped away.
“Nice Chap,” one of them whispered.