Wine questions

My wife and I rarely drink wine except when at our relatives when we are there for dinner. We have visited some vineyards and done the wine testing and bought a few bottles that way.
My question though is what wine is good or bad? I know some of you are wine people but I dont really know one wine from another. Honestly, when I drink some wine, I dont know if its good-bad-cheap-expensive-wet-dry-merlot-pinotnoir I have NO IDEA.

And what about wine and cost? I go to a liquor store and see hundreds of bottles of wine and I cant tell whats good and whats not - all they are are bottles with different pictures on them. Oh this one has Elvis on it. This one has a castle. This one has… How the heck can I tell a good wine from a bad wine from the picture on the bottles label?
Does a $50 bottle taste that much better than a $10 bottle? I’ve heard stories where even “experts” couldnt tell the difference.
Is it better if it comes from France and Italy than Missouri or California? Remember almost every US state has wineries.

Some people taste the wine and say it has a hint of cheese, vanilla, oak, honey, etc… Can they?

Then I see wine sold by the carton. Is it any good?

If you like the wine, it is good. It is that simple. Is $50 wine better than $10? Often, not always, for me. It turns out that some of the wines I like are in that 30-60 price range. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell you the price category of a wine in a blind taste test. I know for a fact my palate isn’t discerning (“sharp”) enough to appreciate a a $500 bottle sufficiently more to ever pay that. For others, it might be worth every penny. So, the answer is, it is personal.

Whenever you drink wine you like, try and note what it is. You may find a common thread between the ones you like. You will probably be able to nail down the varietals you like better pretty quickly ( cab vs merlot vs Pinot, or maybe you only like blends). And never drink wine you don’t like. Life is too short.

I’m by no means any kind of expert. The way I see it - if you like it, then it’s good.

Years ago, I was served some very expensive champagne - to me, it was bubbly vinegar. My mother raves about merlot - no thank you. In my younger days, I loved white Mateus, but the last time I got some, I wasn’t impressed.

If I decide I want some wine, I’ll go to a place that offers tasting and I’ll buy what I like. Each to his own, right?

And what about wine and cost? I go to a liquor store and see hundreds of bottles of wine and I cant tell whats good and whats not - all they are are bottles with different pictures on them. Oh this one has Elvis on it. This one has a castle. This one has… How the heck can I tell a good wine from a bad wine from the picture on the bottles label?

*You cannot. That is just branding. Find a wine seller you like/trust and try some different stuff and go from there. The only information you get from the bottle is the kind of grapes, the region, the year and the “Chateau”(the people who made it)
Does a $50 bottle taste that much better than a $10 bottle? I’ve heard stories where even “experts” couldnt tell the difference.

*What the sweet spot for you is I cannot tell you. For me (@ prices in Holland) a “normal” drinkable bottle can be had for ~5€. I am reluctant to spend more than ~15€ on a “good” bottle.
At some point there are diminishing returns. *

Is it better if it comes from France and Italy than Missouri or California? Remember almost every US state has wineries.

A reasonable chardonnay (a kind of grapes) will grow just about anywhere. With skill people can make drinkable wine all over the world.
In the next price bracket there is something called Chablis. A Chardonnay grown in a specific region in France. You can compare those. Tell us what you think.

Some people taste the wine and say it has a hint of cheese, vanilla, oak, honey, etc… Can they?

*Yes. Some people can taste more and can remember more details about stuff they have tasted previously. The terms they use to describe the tastes often feel ridiculous, they are like what you would use to explain “blue” to a colorblind guy.
Then I see wine sold by the carton. Is it any good?

*Some good wines are (also) sold in cartons. I’ve drank very reasonable wines from a carton.
Wine in cartons can also be cheap swill. YMMV *

Lots of questions! I’ll take them one by one.

If you like it, it’s good; if not, it’s bad. Really, you’re the only one you need to please. If you’re looking to get better at choosing wines, I find the 3-point scale easy & helpful. When you try a wine, rate it thusly:

1 point : Yuk, nope, never again
2 points: This is pretty good, I’d have another.
3 points: Wow! This one is GREAT! I’d really like to have this one again.

To hone in your tastes, jot down the name of the wine and the rating. Hopefully you’ll start to see a trend. “Oh look, I consistently rate red blends from California in the 2-3 range, I guess I like those!”

You can’t. Best advice here: find a small wine store in your area with an engaged staff. That doesn’t mean the wine is expensive! We have a store here that caters to lower-cost wines, most of their stock is in the $10-$20 range and cheaper. The staff knows the wines, and will get to know you & your tastes and can recommend wines for you.

I don’t think every $50 bottle tastes better than every $10 bottle, but in my experience, there’s a sweet spot in the $20-$30 range where you get really great quality but are not mortgaging your house to buy a bottle. That said, there’s plenty of good bottles below that. Your mileage may vary, and I wouldn’t buy a $50 bottle just to ensure it’s “better”.

I don’t know about Missouri, never having tasted their wines, but in general, no. France and Italy make some great wines; so does California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, and others in my experience. The key here is finding the varietals (which is a fancy word for “type of grape”) that each area specializes in. Michigan, my state, makes pretty good Rieslings and Gewurztraminers; Cabernet and others, not so much. I stick to the wines a region is known for. Again, a good wine shop can help there.

The deal with those flavors is that you do indeed get to the point that not every wine tastes the same to you; you’ll try a wine and think to yourself “Oh, it’s got that flavor I really like, and this other wine doesn’t have that flavor.” It’s helpful to put a word to that flavor, and it’s even more helpful to put a word to that flavor that other people agree on and can recognize.

Some flavors are easy: oak, for example. A lot of wines are aged in oak barrels, and the flavor does indeed come through once you recognize it. Others are more subtle: “Oh, it’s all lychee and tropical fruits!” is something you’ll have to work at recognizing. It’s not like anyone takes a sip of wine and goes “OMG it’s all spice box and black plum!”

It depends. I’ve had some really great wines from cartons. That said, the majority of boxed wine I’ve had is cheaply produced and tastes of it. Again, a good wine store is your friend here. I will say this: when in doubt, stay away from the box.

Another adage of mine: When in doubt, stay away from wine in bottles with cute names sold at major retailers. Little penguins might look cute on the bottle, but the wine itself is mass-market glog.

I found that in my trip last year to England as well: in America I rarely find a good sub-$15 bottle but in England the 5£ bottles were better than the $15 ones here.

I personally prefer wines from France because I can rely on the production methods to process the Pinot Noir and Gamay and Malbec grapes the way I like them. Some other places might use the same methods but I can’t rely on it. Of course I have had good wines from outside France and bad ones from France but I am more reassured by reading Burgundy, Beaujolais, or Cahors on the label.

They can say anything they want. :slight_smile:

Just don’t expect to taste the same “flavors”. They probably can’t do it reproducibly either.

I don’t doubt that aficionados can (fairly) reliably distinguish between a $50 wine and the likes of two-buck Chuck. As for narrower differences - labeling, ambience and other factors besides taste come into play. Check out blind taste testing links and you’ll find how easily “experts” can be fooled.

I drink a little wine on a semi-daily basis, mostly for alleged therapeutic benefit, so I’m definitely in the get-it-cheap, preferably with a screw-on cap realm of oenophilia.

What’s “good” is what you like. Don’t let the wine snobs tell you that Lambrusco isn’t really wine or that your $10 bottle is swill. I mean, Arbor Mist isn’t wine, and Franzia barely is. Don’t show up at a wine snob’s house with a bottle of Arbor Mist Strawberry White Zinfandel and think you’re going to impress anyone. But I’ve got a box of Franzia in my fridge and it’s passable for a glass after a long day.

So find something you like. When you’re with people who are wine connoisseurs, ask them what they like about the wine. If you find something that you like, take note of it. And just because you like one merlot doesn’t mean you’ll like all merlots, etc. Just experiment.

The one you like, frankly. Wine isn’t something we have because of its fabulous vitamin content or because it’s absolutely necessary for our health; it is one of those things we ingest exclusively for pleasure. So, the good one is the one that gives you pleasure and everyone else’s tastebuds can get hanged.

That said, there’s a few rules I learned as a child that I’ve put to good use as an adult; I don’t drink wine but according to coworkers I’ve chosen wines for I am good at choosing them.

  1. The stronger the food, the darker the wine. Dark reds for red meat, pinks for white meat, whites* for fish is your basic rule. Sweet+ wines for dessert. And if someone prefers a different kind of pairing, you don’t criticise.
  2. Whenever possible choose a local wine.
  3. If a meal is based on food from a specific area, choose wines from that same area.
  • English doesn’t differentiate between “green” and “white” wines but some languages do. Greens are also for fish; some popular greens are from Portugal and Galicia, both of them areas which eat as much fish as they can catch.
  • This includes any bubbly whites and any wines which have “brut” sub-varieties.

I tend to think that most of the flavor wheel type flavors people claim to taste in wine are mostly snobbish bullshit. If you can taste any of that stuff in a distinct way, it’s maybe one or two notes beyond the usual grape flavors- I have tasted a cherry-ish flavor in red wine, and had whites that had unusual peach-like fruit and/or floral notes.

But I damn sure couldn’t tell you that the floral notes were Jasmine, Peony or Lilac, nor could I tell you if that flavor in the red wine was black cherry, sour cherry or plum. Or for that matter, whether the white wine fruit flavor was peach, nectarine or apricot. They were sort of like the ones in each category, but not so distinct.

I’ll chime in and agree that since wine is something we drink because we enjoy it, drink what tastes good to you. If that’s Beringer White Zinfandel, more power to you. If it’s Tua Rita Toscana Redigaffi 2012, that works too.

For my money, I think the sweet spot on most wine sold in the US seems to be between about 10 and 15 dollars per normal sized bottle. Below that, and you often get wine where some kind of corner has been cut to keep it inexpensive, and above that, and it seems like you’re rolling the dice to find out if the wine is indeed any better than the > $10 types.

If you make a sort of study of it, you’ll start to find that certain combinations of regions, styles and sometimes specific wineries meet your approval, even outside of those price ranges. For example, I tend to like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, usually from the Marlborough region. In practical terms that means that I’ll probably like a $7-8 bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc over a $20 bottle of Chardonnay.

Like others said, just drink what you like. If you’re at the store and see wine that is cheap enough that you are willing to take a chance, buy it. If you like it, make a note and if you don’t, you aren’t out that much money. Once you’ve identified the types of wines you like, you can expand on that if you want.


That said, with regards to the price of wine and ensuing quality there are some basic costs. The cost of the bottle is same on a £5 wine as for a £20 wine. Ditto transport. Ditto labelling. Ditto and so on. That leaves the cost of the wine itself. It means that in a £5 wine you have 50p of actual wine. As you can imagine, not a lot of effort goes into that. So in a £10 bottle of wine you’re getting £5.50 of wine, so it should be a lot better because the vintner can put in a lot more effort. I have found quality break points at around £10 a bottle and around £20-£25 a bottle - I don’t really care to spend more - and my favourite wines cluster around the latter.

Do you like the taste? Then it’s good. If you don’t, it’s bad.

It might help to keep a small notebook or a folder on your phone, where you note ones you liked.

The correlation is very loose, especially at the cheaper end of the spectrum.

You can’t

Not consistently. Usually more care has gone into that $50 bottle. Usually. But that’s irrelevant to whether you will like it.

This is true, there have been tests like that.



It can be.

There’s also the issue of whether you are sipping on wine all by itself or having it with food. You can find a really good sipping wine that is perfectly awful with the wrong kind of food. If you’re drinking a really nice Cabernet, for example, and then try to pair it with spicy Thai food, you’re going find it doesn’t go all that well, and you’re better off with a Riesling or a Sauv Blanc.

Getting into wine is really difficult because the choices are endless. If you want to enjoy it, you have to just dive in and try a bunch of stuff until you find what you like, If you know someone who is into wine, it will help to have them give you a few tips.

We had a monthly or weekly wine club going here years ago where posters would take turns recommending wine. I can’t find the threads, but if anyone with better search skills that me wants to try, that might help the OP.

I’ve heard of tests done where very experienced wine connoisseurs are given various wines in a blind taste test and even they sometimes rate the ten-dollar bottle higher than the bottle that sells for hundreds. And here is the transcript of a segment from a public radio program called The TED Radio Hour in which an Oxford pyschology professor talks about how our mood, the setting and so forth affect how we taste and enjoy food and beverages. He describes how people go on vacation to a seaside resort, have a wonderful meal and great wine with their lover by the sea and take more bottles of the wine home, only to find that it doesn’t taste as great.

One more thing. Americans drink their white wines too cold and their read wines too warm. It really does make a big difference. If you keep your white wine in the fridge, take it out 30 minutes before you drink it and let it sit and come up to a better temperature. Wine right out of the fridge is pretty tasteless. Chill your red winds down to about 60 - 65 degrees F and your whites to 50 - 55 deg.

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Moving thread from IMHO to Cafe Society, our home for questions about foods and drinks and the enjoyment thereof.

(and I personally am not drinking any wine that comes out of a carton - other than that, if you like it, it’s good wine)

IMHO, box wines are underappreciated. We usually have two boxes open at any given time.

Consider going to a wine/food pairing, or taking a wine class.

Napa Valley, CA, has very good wines. Next, to me, is Sonoma Valey wines.

Avoid wines that have to be significantly aged to be good, like a Bordeaux, because the aging necessary tends to make the good ones pricey.

If you like a lighter red like I do, Pinot Noir is a good choice. Heavier is a Merlot, and even heavier is a Cabernet Sauvignon. They’re good with beef.

With fish or foul, you might want a white wine like a Chardonnay, which is slightly fruity, or a Sauvignon Blanc, which is dryer.

I’ve never tried a Chardonnay I liked. Many are “buttery” and the few that aren’t are too sweet for me.

Now, a good Sauvignon Blanc I’ll enjoy.