A beginner’s guide to buying wine for the festive season

With Christmas and the New Year just days ahead, it’s best to have a bottle (or two) of wine stocked in your wine cellar. But choosing the right wine can be overwhelming. With a myriad of characteristics, flavour notes and acidity levels, it can be hard to determine which is the best wine for your occasion.

Since we can’t all be wine connoisseurs or sommeliers, this beginner’s guide should take the guesswork out of buying wine for the festive season. Below, tips and tricks to purchasing wine for you to imbibe merrily over the holidays.

Types of Wine

The first step to buying wine is knowing the type of wine you’re looking for. Whilst there are hundreds of different wine varieties out there, these are the common five categories that are most popular:

Red wine

Red wines are likely to be the most common wine you’ll find in bottle shops. These wines get their ruby shades from tannins, which are found in grapes. Common red wine varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

White wine

White wines have lesser tannins and are often made from white or peeled grapes, which contributes to the wine’s clear yellowish hues. Popular white wine varietals include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.

Rosé wine

The oldest known type of wine, rosé gets their signature pink shade from its brief contact with the skins of red grapes. Typically lighter in taste, rosé has seen an increase in popularity over the last few years.

Sparkling wine

Sparkling wines are wines that contain carbonation after being infused with carbon dioxide. This gives them the fizzy, bubbly texture that they’re known for. The most popular sparkling wine is Champagne, but Prosecco carries its own weight in this category as well.

Dessert wine

Typically served after the main course, dessert wine is as its name suggests – sweet, and meant to accompany treats. Popular dessert wine varietals include Moscato and Port.

Wine Regions

Knowing where your wine hails from could potentially help you score a better deal on your wine. Different regions specialise in certain grapes, which means you’re likely to find a bottle of high-quality wine at a lower cost if it’s the region’s specialty. As a general outlook, here is a non-conclusive list of regions and their varietals:

  • France: Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Australia: Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Italy: Chianti, Prosecco, Sangiovese
  • South Africa: Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Cape port-styles
  • Spain: Palomino, Tempranillo, Albariño, Airén

Wine Year

It’s a common misunderstanding that the older a bottle of wine is, the better it tastes. On the contrary, wine years have more to do with the quality of grapes due to weather patterns in that year. If a particular year is just slightly cooler or warmer, it can have a huge impact on taste of the wine. For example, Californian Cabernet Sauvignons from the year 2007 are considered premium and are expensive as there were extraordinary weather conditions in California that year.

Price

Your budget is a huge factor to take into consideration when buying wine. Rest assured – you don’t have to drop hundreds of dollars for an expensive bottle. There are plenty of splendid mid-range bottles on the market that taste even better than their luxurious counterparts.

True experts are able to suss out the best bottles in every price range, but if you’re just journeying into your wine-purchasing journey, look for bottles in the $30 – $60 range. You’re likely to get a bottle that’s pleasant to taste but at the same time won’t cost a hole in your wallet.

The Best Wine for Christmas…

Choosing the best bottle of wine for your holiday table very much depends on the setting and menu. For hearty red meat dishes, go for a bottle of full-bodied red. If turkey is on the table, go for a bottle of light-bodied red that pairs well with poultry. Having a seafood feast? Opt for a crisp, medium-bodied white. You can’t go wrong with a glass of bubbly at Christmas brunch, courtesy of a bottle of Prosecco.  

Ask for Help

If you’re ever stuck at the bottle shop, don’t be afraid to ask the salesperson for help. Contrary to belief, they don’t bite, and they aren’t paid to be judgemental as well. Remember to let them know the occasion you’re buying the wine for, because buying wine for a romantic dinner in is very different for a wild girl’s night gathering.

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