How to never choose a bad bottle of wine again

jane parkinson

If grapes, regions and ages leave you blank or you can’t tell a Pinotage from a Pinot Grigio, then help is at hand. We spoke to Jane Parkinson, author of 'Wine & Food: Pick The Right Wine Every Time' and resident wine expert on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen, on how to relish a Rioja and make the most of your Merlot. The winner of the 2014 International Wine & Spirit Communicator of the Year Award has also picked out her favourite bottles from our Fenwick Newcastle wine shop - prepare to conquer the grape unknown this New Year.

1. Use the sommelier

Rather than showing ignorance by deferring to someone else, it actually implies the opposite - confidence that you are happy to let them take charge, and it will result in the best choice possible because they know the menu.

2. Choose something versatile

If you’re not sure about pairing a wine with a dish, choose a bottle made from grapes that are known for being versatile with food. For white wines, this means Sauvignon Blanc, such as the Villa Maria Wairau Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013, and for red wines, a Pinot Noir like the Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2011.

3. Go off-piste

Unfamiliar wine names from classic wine countries should be embraced rather than avoided, and they help broaden your wine horizon. For example, try an Italian dry white that is not Pinot Grigio or Soave, a Spanish red that is not Rioja, like the Portia Crianza 2010 Ribera del Duero or an Australian white that isn't Chardonnay, such as the deliciously fruity Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2011.

4. Avoid anything that’s described as “interesting”!

That usually means the opposite. It's a catch-all phrase employed when a wine is trying to be all things to all people rather than having a clear identity.

5. Make the most of rosé

Dry pink wines are fantastically food friendly. They pair well with seafood, salads, charcuterie, and even red berry desserts. They are much more serious wines than people give them credit for.

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6. Pick up on wine trends

What is the wine community excited about right now? Chardonnay from New Zealand, the region of Swartland in South Africa, red wines from the Rhône Valley in France, Austrian red wines, English sparkling wine, the Sicilian wines Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco, serious sparkling wines that are not from countries that traditionally make it, like New Zealand's Cloudy Bay Pelorus Vintage 2009. 

7. Avoid wines that are sitting under a spotlight

In store, a bottle that’s warm or has been sitting under direct lighting might have aged prematurely.

8. Make the most of Champagne

It’s such a waste to only drink Champagne on its own or with canapés. Bollinger Champagne La Grande Annee 2004, for example, is a complex Champagne, complex enough to usually match well with several white meat or fish starters. 

9. Ask for a sample

Wine stores and/or restaurants will often have sample bottles open, even if they do not necessarily advertise it (for staff training, for example). And so if you fancy something but need further convincing, ask to try it first - you might be pleasantly surprised at the answer.   

10. And finally, don’t be fooled by appearances

An expensive-looking bottle does not necessarily mean it will be a better tasting wine.


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By Jane Parkinson, author of Wine & Food: Pick The Right Wine Every Time