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the rules of wine

August 21, 2009

DSC00512.jpgDespite drinking a lot of it over the years, I know very little about wine. But, when faced with a wall of the stuff at Auchan or LeClerc, I thought I had evolved a really foolproof way of choosing it.

Obviously, a nice looking label is important. Ditto, a cork rather than a screw top. But key to my strategy was to choose a wine that had won an award. If the bottle bore a little badge saying 'médaille d'or' 'médaille d'argent' I knew I was on to a winner. An official judging panel couldn't be wrong.

But suddenly this ploy no longer works. Wine producers have realised that many of us are suckers for a gold or silver medal. And so these medals have proliferated to the point that now nearly every wine in the supermarket seems to have won an award - in some cases, awarded by themselves.

So I have been forced to refine my strategy, with seven key rules:

1 Always go for the wine that has fewer bottles left on the shelf (it's obviously popular if there aren't many left).

2 Avoid anything that doesn't have a date on it.

3 Avoid any label featuring primary colours or looks too modern (I'm not sure why this is but such wines never taste good.) In my experience, wines that come with old fashioned looking labels are best.

4 For red Bordeaux, 2003 and 2006 where exceptional years; 2007 was mediocre (I think).

5 If you're looking for a decent white you can rarely go wrong with a white burgundy such as Chablis.

6 Avoid anything 'éleve en futes de chene' – though that's just my personal taste as I don't like wines that taste of oak barrels.

7 There is nothing wrong with a Cotes de Rhone.

comments (12)

1. Posted by Ann de Bretange on August 21, 2009 10:02 PM

Quite agree if you want a decent wine it's a bit of a minefield, however If in a romantic frame of mind I'll often forgo the quality and go for the bottle with the picture of the little french or spanish shuttered window thinking It will look good later on with a candle in it! Personally I'm rather pleased screw tops are now plentiful, many's the day when away from home and there was no bottle opener to hand I've searched the Late Shops frantically for an acceptable bottle of red with a screw top. Rather partial to a Cotes de Rhone by the way.

2. Posted by Martyn Bassett on August 22, 2009 8:44 PM

Try going to one of the wine fairs where there are 400-500 producers. The art of course is smelling the bouquet, seeing how the wine holds the glass, savouring the taste in the mouth then spitting it out once you have fully appreciated the full flavour of the wine. I never got the hang of part 4 so by the end of the day I had no idea what I bought. It does taste okay though.

3. Posted by Markyj on August 23, 2009 12:35 PM

You can't beat a full bodied Chateauneuf du Pape. Not many people know this, bur there is also a WHITE Chateauneuf du Pape - not easy to find, but I think Leclerk has it - and it is delicious.

Also Touraine is a great 'flinty' white from the Loire - v cheap and tasty, but I think the secret on Touraine is out because you can get it in UK supermarkets now for a pricey £7 - only £2 - £3 in France.

Finally, I'm with you on the corks, however, I believe it actually makes no difference at all - they just didn't have 'screwable' technology all those centuries ago! It's the same with wine boxes - makes no difference to the taste.

4. Posted by TillyMelinda on August 23, 2009 4:29 PM

Being a novice in this feild i find that going by numbers is the way forward. Depending upon the mood, 1 for dry moving up to the sweet by the number in the case of white. Letters for the red and i must say i do like a good shiraz or merlot, number or letter couldn't really say but who cares after a glass or two it all adds up to a great experience.

5. Posted by Eagle Wings on August 25, 2009 10:00 AM

I don't suppose this sits on supermarket shelves, but it is a wine/nectar to die for:

LE DOMAINE DU REY, Vin de pays des Cotes de Gascogne, 2005. Vineyard: Guy Arrouy, 32330 Gondrin, France.

Enjoyed a very nice Rioja (Castillo San Lorenzo) yesterday, off the supermarket shelf.

But then what would someone half Germanic know about wine?!?

6. Posted by mimi pompom on August 25, 2009 11:42 PM

Dear Eagle Wings

germany has given the world some great wines. I interviewed a well known wine writer once (I've forgotten his surname but his first name was Hugh I think) and he said that German Rieslings were the best whites in the world and very underrated!)


7. Posted by Eagle Wings on August 26, 2009 10:36 AM

That would be Mr. Hugh Johnson, the wine expert, of Saling Hall, Essex, who also owns a pad with vineyard in France. I know this because one of my sisters used to be his private gardener :-)

German Rieslings, hmmmmm, I grew up on them and the scent still reminds me of all those childhood memories, and there are some excellent ones, however I would actually give a very wide berth to any found on supermarket shelves, although this again could be a generalisation.

8. Posted by Ann de Bretange on August 27, 2009 9:17 AM

My cottage in England is called 'Inglenook' so when I spotted a Californian Chardonnay on the shelf with just that name! 'Inglenook' I knew I had to have it. How mad is that!! Well it 'will look good with the candle installed' and to be fair it was reduced from £7.99 down to £3.79. How could I resist!

9. Posted by Geoff on August 30, 2009 8:06 AM

One tip that I learnt from Madame is to look for who produced the wine..
If there's an acronym along the bottom of the label like S.C.E.A - give it a miss.. It doesn't actually have to be this exact combination of letters but anything that suggests that it was bottled by a co-operatif.. or a society.. as opposed to a named individual.
Instead, look for a label with the name of the proprietaire (the owner) on it. They're not stupid and they won't put their name on something if it's second rate. This does work..
Do you like reds or whites..? Meaty reds or lighter ones? Whites like Muscadet sur Lie which can be acidic or ones like Sancerre (heaven in a bottle!). Once you've narrowed down what style of wine you like, try homing in on more specific examples.. Forget all this nonsense about merlot, chardonnay, cabernet franc.. it's all about where the grapes were grown and then how the wine was produced. Agree 100% about oak.. nothing worse that that overpowering taste of oak barrels.. hides a lot of other things!
We tend to find that 3-4€ will buy us something v drinkable.. any more than that has to be for a special occasion (like Saturday)(or Tuesday!)

10. Posted by Monica Hunter on August 30, 2009 2:28 PM

Not knowing how to choose wine, I decided on a simple strategy: buy expensive wine when it's on offer (half price is the best one) at the supermarket. I've discovered some amazing wines this way, including the Montana Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) and the Oyster Bay. I still buy expensive wine on offer but for special occasions I now know exactly what to go for!

I've just stumbled upon our blog and I envy you. I moved to England about 7 years ago and I dream of a life far from here, with sun, lovely wine and small shops...Good luck to you!

11. Posted by Lasse Koivisto on September 2, 2009 9:08 PM

Could someone correct if I am wrong, but I understand that the gold and silver stickers on wine bottles mean nothing. As far as I understand the organizers issue them to certain amount of reds and whites. Vineyard have to pay "entrance fee" according to the "Medal"

Therefore I just trust Auchan and their specials and some wines that I know. Unfortunately my nearest Auchan/Carrefour is far a way as I live in Finland...

12. Posted by Richard Dean on September 10, 2009 2:59 PM

You are quite right, the gaps on the shelves and bins have worked for me in the past. Rhone valley wines are always a good bet....but try the wines from Buzet just south of Aiguillon in the Lot et Garonne...10lts for around 17 Euros or Cahor "black" wine at around 5 euros a bottle from a smashing little vineyard west of Cahor www.domainedugarinet.fr . Great article in the Times. Thanks.

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