Magazine Article A Help? Yes and No

From the March 2011 issue of Everyday With Rachael Ray magazine

It’s one of those things that some folks think makes wine so scary – trying to figure out all the stuff on the label. And if you’re going to be shelling out some real money on that wine bottle, say $20 or so, you don’t want to be doing it on something you’re not going to like.

We, too,  have to play the guessing game at times, and if we’re completely honest, we’ve even fallen for the cute animal on the label. Anne once went so far as to buy a wine called Le Chien Mechant just because of the name. It’s French for the naughty dog (it was a white and the color of… You know).

But the March 2011 magazine Everyday With Rachael Ray has a one page article (you can click on the picture above to see a .pdf ) on desconstructing a label, which we thought was mostly sound. It was written by Gretchen Roberts and quotes the in-house wine expert at Everyday, Mark Oldman. We have Oldman’s book, Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, and like it a lot. There should be a link to the book to the right that will let you buy it off of, should you feel so moved.

The article uses pretty non-specific language and thank heavens it does, because if we’ve learned one thing about wines, it’s that there are no absolutes. In fact, we pretty much had a “yeah, but” for every one of Roberts’ clues.

For example, looking at the alcohol content to determine what the mouth feel will be like – Roberts’ assertions are only sort of true. We’ve tasted wines that had 17 percent alcohol that because they were so well balanced, had a mouth feel that was much lighter. And, actually, we think the alcohol content is more an issue of straight taste than mouth feel, which has more to do with the glycerine in the wine than how much alcohol it has.

That’s not to say ABV isn’t a good clue, especially if you know you tend to like wines that are lower in alcohol. Or you like wines that are higher in alcohol. And certainly labels are more about branding than anything else, but that’s also a help because once you start getting to know certain wineries and know what they tend to produce, you can look for that particular label and deduce a thing or two.

One good bit of advice in the article is to turn the bottle over and look at the tasting notes on the back label (if any). Not that you’re necessarily going to taste the same things they have listed. But like reading our tasting notes, you eventually get to know how words like vanilla and creamy tend to taste to you, and so you can get an approximation of what you’re buying. But again, bottle notes are all about the winery’s brand, and that doesn’t always mean that’s what’s in the bottle.

Your best bet is to get to know your wine merchant. You don’t have to go to a fancy wine store and pay boodles for your wine to do that. Most Trader Joes have a decent wine person on staff, and the rest of the crew has at least some clue. And they will call someone to help you.

If you’re in a supermarket or warehouse store, you’re probably out of luck, personnel-wise. But then you’re probably not looking at exorbitantly expensive bottles either, and at that point, you can take a chance or two on blowing $10 or less on a bottle that you might not like. You never know. You might get a real find – and that’s always fun.

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