Wine buying tips

Recommendations, comments or questions about wine matters

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Santiago
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Wine buying tips

Post by Santiago » Sat 25 Jul 2009 19:03

I just realised that last year I talked about writing a short article on choosing wine more knowledgeably and never got round to it. So here we go. Concentrating on Languedoc-Roussillon wines...

People said they wanted tips on how to choose one bottle over another. Trying to decipher whether the wine is estate-produced, made by a Coop or a Negociant.

The capsule:
Tells you whether the wine is produced by the grower (Recoltant) or by a Negociant (N).
A Negociant is someone who buys grapes and wine from various sources and blends them together to make his brands. There are some good negociants (Cazes for example) but there are many who's products are pretty poor.

The Label:
"Mise en bouteille a la propriete" doesn't really mean estate-produced. It means it wasn't sent off to a bottling plant. A Coop or negociant can make the same claim. It's interesting to look at the fine print of the name of the producer.
Good producers like to state their name clearly.
Many individual estates now use the Vigneron Independant logo.
Coops usualy write "Les Vignerons de <village name>"
Cheap negociants usually just put some initials and a postcode.

"Appellation Controlee" is not, unfortunately, a mark of quality. It is a guarantee of style. Some ACs are more reliable than others. The whole conumdrum of the Roussillon appellations requires another thread.

"Vin de Pays" doesn't always mean lower quality. It's more like Rugby League and Rugby Union. In general the more forward-thinking prodcuers use VdP rules to make good, interesting wines that don't fit in the AOC rules. However, at the very basic level a cheap AC is likely to be better than a cheap VdP. This seems to be the case with Coops who tend to be quite traditional in their labelling.

Chateau and Domaine don't mean anything really.

Why is it important to differentiate between type of producer?
1) Coop and Negociant wine is made from grapes grown by people who get paid by weight. Therefore the vineyard regime is about maximising volume rather than quality.

2) Negociants (at the lower end of the market) work by buying up tanks of wine that no-body else wants and blending and treating them until they are drinkable. Sometimes they achieve it and sometimes not. They may make several batches of the same wine from completely different sources.

3) Coops can make good, reasonably-priced wine but they can also suffer from the weakest-link problem of having to process all their members fruit, good and bad.

The key to choosing well is to get to know the producers who consistenly outperform the rest. Buying a famous appelation at a cheap price is a nearly always a waste of money.

Medals are not that reliable. Some wineries pay to enter the competitions and some don't. So a Gold Medal is likely to be better than a Bronze in the same competition but absence of a Medal means nothing. Concours General is regarded as the most relible. I think the Macon and Orange panels can't taste for toffee! Guide Hachette recommendations are also pretty reliable.

But IMO the best way to choose wine is to go to a caviste and ask their advice or go to a winery where you can taste before buying.

Sante!
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polremy
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Post by polremy » Sat 25 Jul 2009 20:32

Thanks, Santiago.
My best advice for the unitiatiated and those without preconceived ideas is still to try the cheapest and work up till you find one you like.
Currently, for weekday drinking, we are quite content with the rouge (merlot) and the rose from the cave in St. Laurent. (1e40 and 1e30 respectively a litre)

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Post by Santiago » Sun 26 Jul 2009 08:40

My tips are really aimed at those who want to discover a bit more about wine. Last time we had this topic, people said they would like to know how to choose what is likely to be a better bottle of wine by looking at the label.

I suppose there are diffrent rules for different price sectors.

Sub €4 it's pretty much a suck-it-and-see world of finding, as Polremy says, a drink that you like at the best price. The fancier the label, the less likely that it's going to fit the bill and again agreeing with Polremy, why spend money on the packaging?

From 4 € to about 15 € is where the tips apply. Especially for people who are trying to find something authentic. Above that figure, I would expect people already know what they are buying.
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Post by polremy » Sun 26 Jul 2009 09:22

Yes, that makes sense, Santiago.

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Post by graham34 » Sun 26 Jul 2009 09:40

polremy wrote:My best advice for the unitiatiated and those without preconceived ideas is still to try the cheapest and work up till you find one you like.
Well my advice is almost the opposite. Buy the most expensive wine you can afford and work down. :)

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Post by john » Sun 26 Jul 2009 10:24

graham34 wrote:
polremy wrote:My best advice for the unitiatiated and those without preconceived ideas is still to try the cheapest and work up till you find one you like.
Well my advice is almost the opposite. Buy the most expensive wine you can afford and work down. :)

The point of that strategy being.....??

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polremy
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Post by polremy » Sun 26 Jul 2009 10:52

Graham, I can't see the point of that.

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polremy
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Post by polremy » Sun 26 Jul 2009 14:42

Cheers.

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Post by john » Sun 26 Jul 2009 19:07

Serge wrote:... and leave you elitist pifflers to get on with it? - good idea, .....
Come on Serge...where's your fighting spirit ,man???

We can piffle with the best of 'em.

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Post by graham34 » Sun 26 Jul 2009 19:41

polremy wrote:Graham, I can't see the point of that.
If you work up in price then you may well have to drink a fair amount of, at best, dull wine before finding one you like. At the end of the process you end up with one wine and that's going to get pretty boring after a while.

Starting with the most expensive wine you can afford should give a better chance of finding something you like drinking sooner, especially if one also follows Santiago's guidelines. By the time you reach a wine you don't like should have a few wines to choose from so you can have a bit of variety.

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Post by thumbelina » Sun 26 Jul 2009 19:51

If you work up in price then you may well have to drink a fair amount of, at best, dull wine before finding one you like. At the end of the process you end up with one wine and that's going to get pretty boring after a while.
Sorry, don't agree with that.

One of Santiago's own recommendations - Charmant Detour from Cellier in Trouillas is a cracking wine and only 3€20 a bottle - and their Cotes du Roussillon rose and red are bloody good too - at 3€40 a bottle.

And they are not the only Cooperative to offer good quality wine at a reasonable price.

Although, Cooperatives are probably not the place to find authentic wine boffs!!! :roll: (sorry, John, couldn't help myself!! :wink: )

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Post by graham34 » Sun 26 Jul 2009 19:51

I used the smiley because I though it amusing that I have exactly the opposite view. Obviously it can, and has been, interpreted in different ways.

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polremy
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Post by polremy » Sun 26 Jul 2009 20:21

" going to get pretty boring after a while. "


never been bored, me!!
wine has never bored me, ever.
however, if i'm eating different food, i do like different wine sometimes.
doesn't mean i have to spend a fortune.

most days, the local en vrac is just fine.

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Post by john » Sun 26 Jul 2009 20:35

Graham is either ;

a, a polished wind-up merchant

b, someone with more money than sense

why would anyone want to buy expensive stuff and work their way DOWNWARDS? On any reasonable scale it just doesnt make sense.

I've found some excellent wine at under 4€ a pop. I've also found some excruciating crap in that range. but I've had (and am still having ) great fun in experimenting,by buying from all sources ....as Thumbs says from Co-ops,small growers,cavistes and supermarkets.

Don't need anyone to tell me where to source my wine. Thanks anyway.

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Post by Marguerite & Steve » Sun 26 Jul 2009 23:16

I thank you Jonathon for your valuable advice and will take that info with me when I next buy my wine...as I have said on many occasions I like quaffable wine, plonk, slurpy wine...vol 12-12.5 % and thoroughly enjoy it, but if I am having a lovely meal, and someone or myself have gone to alot of trouble, I then spend a bit more so that the wine & food complement each other..


...also you wine boffs out there, if wine is your expertise, then good luck to you and I for one value your information, equally when I ask about my health, Webdoc puts me right., or the weather, Sav is on hand..

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Post by graham34 » Mon 27 Jul 2009 09:46

john wrote: why would anyone want to buy expensive stuff and work their way DOWNWARDS? On any reasonable scale it just doesnt make sense.

I've found some excellent wine at under 4€ a pop. I've also found some excruciating crap in that range. but I've had (and am still having ) great fun in experimenting,by buying from all sources ....as Thumbs says from Co-ops,small growers,cavistes and supermarkets.
John,

I have given reasons why I think starting "expensive" and working down is better than starting at the bottom end. As you say, you've come across "excruciating crap" which was one of my concerns with the approach.

You have a point in that I personally don't experiment with my wine buying unless it's an emergency e.g. I'm travelling. I buy what I know and find new wines through tasting or reading informed recommendations. Experimenting is to be admired, but when I've done it I've been disappointed with the wines most of the time so it's not for me.

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Post by john » Mon 27 Jul 2009 11:09

graham34 wrote: You have a point in that I personally don't experiment with my wine buying unless it's an emergency e.g. I'm travelling. I buy what I know and find new wines through tasting or reading informed recommendations. Experimenting is to be admired, but when I've done it I've been disappointed with the wines most of the time so it's not for me.
The trouble is Graham,that it's hard to generalise. If you just restrict yourself to (more expensive) wines that you know ,or those that are recommended in the "guidebooks",you will miss out on some great wine that is readily available at moderate prices.

As I've said before one of the joys of living round here is that there is a HUGE range of wines to choose from at great prices,and it seems to me a shame to effectively debar yourself from a whole strata,just because you are not prepared to be disappointed every so often!

I know that there are those that disagree,but there ARE many of us who simply cannot afford to drink 15€+ wines on an everyday basis,so ,as Thumbers says,we'll only do that when occasion permits.

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Post by graham34 » Mon 27 Jul 2009 13:44

I've just looked at my wine purchases in France for the past year or so and see I've bought bottles ranging from €3,60 to €12,00.

As has been discussed before, there have been plenty of inexpensive and sometimes free tastings in the central Herault which I've been fortunate to benefit from i.e. opportunity to experiment - events Santiago wishes there were more of in the PO.

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Post by john » Mon 27 Jul 2009 17:24

You are,I'm sure ,right,Graham that these sort of events are more popular in your neck of the woods than down here,and I'd agree with Santiago that there could be more in 66,but surely they are not the ONLY way of experimenting?

I shop at a very wide range of places generally,from markets,one man bands through little village epiceries,cavistes,right up to the discounters (Lidl,Leader Price etc) and the Auchans Carrefours of this world. I rarely come away without a bottle or two of wine (much to my wife's chagrin,it has to be said).

Just being prepared to ask questions,look at labels etc has meant that I've kept my disappointments down to a minimum,and it's true that many of these have often been at the higher end of my price scale . rarely do I consult the"experts" and guidebooks as my experience is that they tend to be biased or in the pay of a particular supplier.

At least if I do buy a crap wine,this way I've only got myself to blame!

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Post by cufc » Mon 27 Jul 2009 19:05

John, I've never dared stop and try the wine at small places near the roadside. Do they tend to be expensive and will they let you just buy one or two bottles? I'd love to try-and also support small local businesses.

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Post by polremy » Mon 27 Jul 2009 19:41

cufc wrote:John, I've never dared stop and try the wine at small places near the roadside. Do they tend to be expensive and will they let you just buy one or two bottles? I'd love to try-and also support small local businesses.
be brave
nobody can make you part with your money.
just try it, find out the prices and say you're going to "reflechir".

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Post by john » Mon 27 Jul 2009 19:48

Pol is right cufc,and it's very hard to generalise. But in the main you can buy as much or as little as you want. Prices vary greatly. some are scandalously expensive. others are cheaper. What IS undeniable is that often their wares are often available in local shops/supermarkets at a lower price.

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Post by Santiago » Mon 27 Jul 2009 21:09

Having wine in a supermarket cheaper than from the producer is not what any producer wants. I heard a story that the previous President of Trouillas Coop sold wine to Champion at a price that they could do just that, so that the Coop shop would get no sales and his private venture, 200m down the road, could pick up the business but it was probably just local gossip.

CUFC, I wasn't sure whether you meant wineries (caveaux) or the roadside stalls like the one in Taxo and on the road to Banyuls. The roadside stalls always look a bit dodgy to me. As do the guys who sell wine at weekly markets. I've never bothered tasting at either as I think I would be given the hard-sell for some out-of-date plonk.

At the winery you will often get a discount on a case or a free bottle and you get to taste them and see where they come from - if that is important to you. Besides there are a lot of wines that the supermarkets don't stock A lot of the better Roussillon producers don't sell to the supermarkets.

Regarding tasting etiquette, I would say that if you don't have to pay for the tasting and the wine is drinkable, then you should buy at least a bottle or two (or BIB) as a thanks for the time taken. If you have to pay for the tasting there is no obligation to buy. I find that the French only want to taste what they can afford to buy. I think it's a good guideline.

What we do have in the PO is the Aperitifs du Terroir which allow you to taste wine and other local produce. The calendar of tastings can be found here http://www.tourismedeterroir.fr/articles.asp?id=5274

I tasted a brilliant olive spread at the last one which I'll post on another thread.
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Post by opas » Tue 28 Jul 2009 17:08

Santiago wrote.

Regarding tasting etiquette, I would say that if you don't have to pay for the tasting and the wine is drinkable, then you should buy at least a bottle or two (or BIB) as a thanks for the time taken. If you have to pay for the tasting there is no obligation to buy. I find that the French only want to taste what they can afford to buy. I think it's a good guideline.

I agree in part with what you say.

I only taste what I would be prepared to buy too,
Whilst a wine can be `drinkable` it does not necessarily mean that it is to the tasters own taste.....so surely there is no obligation to buy.
We have tried wine from all over the med over the past 20 years and whilst we have found some excellent little caves on the smallest of Islands we have also tried and walked out of some wineries giving an honest opinion that it is just not our taste, nothing technically wrong with the wine, just not for us.



Enough of that , my Rose is geting warm on the terrace........and that certainly will not please my palate :lol:
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Post by john » Tue 28 Jul 2009 17:25

I'm not sure how you'd know whether it's to your taste BEFORE you've sampled it,opas.

That's where my point about experimenting and cost comes into play. you don't mind being disappointed if you buy a relatively cheap wine. Just put it down to experience. But if you've shelled out a lot of money the margin for error is a lot less.

But I'd certainly agree that I do NOT take the mick by slurping pricey wines that I cannot afford,just for the hell of it.

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Post by opas » Tue 28 Jul 2009 22:16

That was my point exactly.

I would not be happy to taste a wine that I knew I would not shell out for.
I would be quite content to taste the lower end of the market as that is just what I normally drink :wink: of course there are exceptions to every rule and we have been known to buy a wine that is not normally in our price range........for an occasion.

At the moment we are frequenting Pages at Carmanay (sp) their wines en vrac are right up my street at around a euro a ltr.
Last evening we were invited to a neighbours and she opened 2 bottles of singla (sp) Rioja (sp)( the one with the Hessian type covering) and although the taste was enjoyable right down to the last glass :wink: I had one hell of a hangover this morning :cry:

so I shall stick to my cheap plonk.
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Post by Santiago » Tue 28 Jul 2009 23:49

Should that be Capmany(ES)? Their Satirs Blanc is pretty good.

Isn't the hesian bottle Faustino? IMO an overpriced brand. No wonder you are suffering now. Not your fault but that's what you get drinking mass-produced, chemically treated vino. 8)
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Post by john » Wed 29 Jul 2009 08:02

It's unusual for us to agree on wine,Santiago,but as for Faustino,well you are spot on. Absolutely DREADFUL stuff. On a par with Sangre de Toro.

Never tried Capmany's wares,though had Rigau Ros from the same area which is excellent. Had some vrac from a place in Espolla and it was rubbish,though their bottled offerings were pretty reasonable

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Post by carol sheridan » Wed 29 Jul 2009 08:08

I'm at a bit of a loss here - if I try a couple of wines at a free tasting, and don't like any of them, am I supposed to buy a bottle which I won't drink? Do the producers/suppliers expect every tasting to result in a sale?

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Post by opas » Wed 29 Jul 2009 08:55

Definatly not the wine you mentiones Santiago, Sigla/singla or something similar..........perhaps I will find the bottle sat at the side of the bottle bank and read the label properly. :lol:
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