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How Do I Buy a Better Bottle of Wine?

This is my first book and my first blog posting, so I'm both nervous and excited. (Is it too early to have a drink? Not if I go by Eastern time...) Writing this book was intensely satisfying: I met some of the most passionate, colorful, obsessed people in the wine industry. By telling their stories, I hope to tell the story of wine. While there are lots of useful wine encyclopedias and vintage guides, I choose to chronicle the adventures of these folks (and of my escapades with them) so that the "learning" about wine is almost hidden, the way my mother used to hide the peas in the mashed potatoes.

One of the most enjoyable experiences I had was at The Jug Shop in San Francisco. This homey wine store is housed in a former auto repair garage. Doesn't sound inviting? What makes it special is the staff: they're extremely knowledgeable but not stuffy. They know how it feels to stand in front of hundreds of bottles trying to decide which one you should buy for a dinner party... and all you have to go on is whether you like chateau on a hilltop or a fluffy squirrel.

In my book, I give loads of advice on buying wine gleaned by hanging out with these folks for a couple of days (as well as time spent in a New York wine shop). Here are a few quick and general tips:

  • The more specific the region on the bottle, the better the wine. For example, a bottle labeled Sonoma is usually better than one just labeled California only. There are more restrictions on the former, which often means better quality grapes and growing methods.
  • Look at the alcohol level on the label: 10% or less means it's light-bodied, 11-12% medium-bodied, and 13% or higher, full-bodied.
  • Look for what a region is famous for: for example, Tuscany is best known for Chianti. That's not to say that Italian Merlot isn't any good, but your odds of finding a good Chianti are better given the range of wines available and the region's history in making it.
  • Some of the best bargains come from these regions: Hungary, South Africa, Chile, Argentina.
  • If you're stuck in a rut of buying the same bottle over and over, buy a mixed case of 12 different wines within your price range... you might find a new favorite or two by experimenting.

In my posts this week, I'll try to answer the questions I get most frequently from readers... and I get loads of them because I send out a free e-newsletter every two weeks to about 53,000 wine lovers now from my web site at

It always surprises me how wine is a passion for so many people, from the emergency night nurse in Chicago to the water reservoir manager in Tulsa. Their passion, along with those in the industry, keep me excited about this subject, wanting to learn more and to share the pleasure. Tomorrow, I'll look at how to choose from a restaurant wine list without losing your shirt or your dignity.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A...
    Used Hardcover $8.95
  2. Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A...
    Used Hardcover $8.95

Natalie MacLean is the author of Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass

2 Responses to "How Do I Buy a Better Bottle of Wine?"

    Beth October 10th, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    I am looking forward to your posts this week! I love wine almost as much as I love books. And I am always nervous about buying wine in a restaurant.........

    Natalie MacLean October 13th, 2006 at 8:32 am

    Thanks Beth! I hope you find some of these tips are helpful.

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