Purchasing wine shouldn’t be stressful, should it?

Wine labels aren’t written in Greek, although at times it seems they might as well be.

The best way to approach purchasing wine is by coming to terms with your knowledge of wine. I recently read a magazine article that provided “helpful” tips on how to mingle with strangers at an event. One such tip advised partygoers who run short of conversation to swirl then sniff your wine and pretend you know something about it. Terrible advice if ever there was some.

Wine is intimidating, a subject you won’t learn about overnight. Wines change with each vintage and the wine world continues to grow and expand. I have spent years studying this subject and because it is ever changing and evolving, I am drawn to the subject. New wineries open, change ownership and develop new techniques. Global warming has had considerable effect.

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Purchase wine from a liquor or wine store to take home as this allows time to view and interpret the wine label, both front and back, and serve the wine at an ideal service temperature. Certain wine sellers offer tasting samples on particular days of the week while others are fortunate enough to have wine preservation systems on the premises. Preservation systems contain a number of different wines and protect the wine from the negative effects of aging once open.

Take advantage of tasting opportunities, as this is a great way to learn more about a wine, the grape varietal used in production, wine production methods and the area in which the wine is made. If you find a wine you enjoy, by all means purchase it or ask for suggestions for similar wines. 

Wine purchases may be made at government run provincial wine stores, private wine boutiques and out-of-province supermarkets such as Costco. The provincial liquor marts and private wine boutiques (all private wine boutiques are located within Winnipeg) offer some of the same wines and the prices are the same at all locations, both private and provincial. Private wine boutiques have the ability to import products from boutique wineries and wineries with low production numbers as they are only stocking one location as opposed to provincial purchases where the need for considerable stock is required and therefore somewhat prohibitive from a purchasing perspective.

Supermarkets offer a limited selection of wine and many wines are from large wineries because of the volume required for the chain. They may offer private label wines – wines that are made for the chain and labelled with the chains name or a brand name owned by the store. These wines are often decent and may be good to excellent value.

Private wine stores are specialty shops that sell wine, wine-related paraphernalia, and sometimes offer a small selection of gourmet foods. These locations offer services that large establishments simply cannot. Should you wish to learn more about wine, some shops offer tastings and wine education. I enjoy visiting private wine stores as they offer a diverse selection of interesting wines in a range of prices.

Private wine stores and provincial stores have large coolers, usually located close to the doors or near the checkout which contain chilled top-selling white, rose and sparkling wines. If you have a wine “emergency” and the wine must be chilled then by all means go ahead but if you have time to cool the wine yourself you are better off doing so as fridges are set at one temperature, usually quite cool, to accommodate sparkling wines. At home you can ensure the correct service temperature.

Sometimes there are wine sales. In private wine stores sale products are often limited to very small quantities of each wine or wines purchased specifically for a promotion. Provincial locations periodically hold delist sales. In this case the wine will no longer be carried by the establishment and all remaining wines are offered at a reduced rate. At times there are hundreds of bottles of a particular wine while very few bottles of other wines. More costly wines are generally available in very limited quantities. The higher the regular price of the wine the greater the discount.

Many locations have what is referred to as shelf-talkers which are small signs containing wine information. Most of these are supplied by the company selling the wine. If you do let shelf talkers influence your purchase, be certain the vintage date on the shelf talker makes reference to the vintage on the wine being sold.

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