Top tips for picking a great bottle of wine

Top tips for picking a great bottle of wine

Unless you're buying wine from Perfect Cellar, picking a great bottle isn’t always easy. With thousands of producers making wines in hundreds of regions, knowing which bottle to choose from a wine list can be daunting. At Perfect Cellar, we believe wine doesn’t have to be complicated. To help you make the right choice in a restaurant or a wine bar, here are some easy ways to get the right wine every time.

Tips for Picking a Quality Wine


Make a note of your likes and dislikes

A great wine is a wine that you like. So take a picture of the label every time you have something you like. Labels can tell you a lot about a wine and can guide you to others you may enjoy. Look at things like:

  • The grape(s) being used – lots of wines will have these on the label. Common ones include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc for whites, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot for reds. Get to know which grapes you like, and you’re halfway there.
  • Where it’s made - not all wines have grape varieties on the label. Red wines from Bordeaux, for example, usually won’t mention them. The vast majority of Bordeaux’s reds are made from just a handful of grapes, though – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. By getting to know a region’s main grapes is an easy shortcut to picking a great wine.
  • Get to know some producers – producers have a massive influence on a wine. A Rioja from Ramon Bilbao, a ‘traditional’ producer is likely to be oakier than a wine from a more ‘modernist’ producer such as Casa La Rad. If you find a producer you like, then explore their range. 

Get to know the language of the wine list

Choosing a fantastic wine has become a lot easier in recent years. Online wine shops such as Perfect Celler offer wine guides, unstuffy tasting notes, critics’ scores, and tutored tastings via video. Old-fashioned wine merchants and restaurant wine lists can be altogether more challenging, though. They are either full of technical terminology or give you a wine expert’s shorthand, ‘Brooding, complex, Aglianico del Vulture from clay-rich soils, imparting a firm tannic structure.’ Well, that sounds like it will go brilliantly with tonight’s supper!

No matter how incomprehensible these lists appear, using the following keywords will help you choose a wine you’ll like:

  • Firm – you’ll see this a lot. Firm in white wines usually refers to the acidity. A good example of a firm white would be a Chablis. In red wines, it can also include things like the tannin – compounds found in skins, pips and stalks that help a wine age. Firm reds include young red Bordeaux, wines from Piedmonte in northern Italy such as Barolo, and Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz wines from Australia. 
  • Fresh/vibrant – means it has good levels of natural acidity and its fruit flavours are bright and crisp, so green apples, grapefruit, gooseberries, or lemons. A classic example of a fresh, vibrant wine would be a Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Powerful – some people think this is all about the alcohol level, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Higher alcohol levels can create a more powerful wine – think Châteauneuf-du-Pape – but high-alcohol wines made from Grenache can be quite light. Powerful is more about wine’s flavours and body. A wine that tastes of hefty dried black fruits is rich with chocolate and herb notes and is low in acidity would likely be described as powerful.
  • Buttery – when a wine is aged in oak  – especially new oak – the wood adds vanillin (vanilla). This gives an aroma of butter/honey/tropical fruit and a vanilla/hazelnut paste/buttery flavour. A classic example would be a Californian Chardonnay or fine white Burgundy.
  • Complex – bit of a catch-all term – who wants to pay for a simple wine? – it means that a lot is going on. In a white wine, it could mean rose petals, Turkish delight, lychees and white pepper (Gewürztraminer). In a red, it could denote black cherries, strawberries and black pepper (Beaujolais).
  • Jammy – depending on your tastes, jammy can be good or bad. It refers to wines that are low in acidity and that often have a slight sweetness to the fruit. New World Pinot Noirs were once often called jammy by Old World winemakers – and they didn’t mean it as a compliment. Today, many a big Australian Shiraz or Californian Zinfandel is described as jammy and a lot of people love them.
  • Young – this is a confusing term as it doesn’t just mean its age, but rather its level of development. A bottle of Grand Cru 2015 red Burgundy can be described as young in 2024 as it still has a long way to go before it’s mature. In most instances, young means it is full of youth, and if you like your wine fruity and vibrant, then young is a good thing to see. 
  • Aromatic – while all wines have an aroma, some are more aromatic than others. White wines from Alsace such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer can be intensely aromatic, especially when compared to less flamboyant grapes such as Pinot Blanc. Red wines can also be aromatic. Pinot Noir, Bonarda, and Malbec can all offer wonderful scents that enhance the experience.

Like to know more about wine?

We hope you’ve found this wine guide useful. If you’d like to explore the world of wine then why not become a Perfect Cellar member? With our exclusive TASTINGBOXES, interactive tastings via Alexa, and an incredible range of wines, we have everything you need to enjoy finer wine. Perfect.

You may also be interested in reading our red wine guide, white wine guide and sparkling wine guide.

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