- The Straits Times
Wine-buying can seem like an expensive and scary activity. Let’s face it, many of us don’t even know what we are drinking – we can only decide if we like it or not.
When tasked with buying wine for a dinner party, amateurs often base their decision on packaging and price, with the mistaken belief that it will taste better if it is more expensive.
But the truth is, the price of wine is determined by a range of factors from country of origin to packaging. Contrary to popular belief, good wines do come at affordable prices too.
Here’s how to pick a bottle that will impress your friends without burning a hole in your pocket.
1) Know what region and variety you are looking for
What kind of wine do you like? You should take note of the varietal (or type of grape) you want, before deciding on what country of origin you’re looking for.
Germany, for example, is known for producing Riesling, while nearby Alsace in France produces Gewurztraminer, which has a distinct lychee aroma that pairs well with spicy food like briyani and sambal kangkong.
Warm climates usually result in wines with higher alcohol content and ripe fruit flavours, while cool climate wines are higher in acidity and have younger fruit flavours.
2) Understand the vintage
The term “vintage” simply refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. The effects of a wine’s vintage on its quality are disputed, with some experts saying that different conditions in different years could cause differences in characteristics, but are unlikely to cause a good vineyard to produce bad wine.
If you can’t find the vintage on a label, don’t panic. The bottle most likely contains a blended wine created with a mix of wines with different vintages.
And not all wines are age-worthy either. In general, many white varieties and less expensive wines should be consumed when they are still fairly young, because their fruity qualities disappear and dull over time.
There are various vintage charts available online, such as this one by The Wine Enthusiast, which can help you figure out what you’re getting.
3) Know the difference between cork and screwcap
The idea that cork-stoppered wines are better than screwcap wines is a misconception. Different producers use different things, and you can’t tell which wines are better simply from how they are bottled.
Apart from being more convenient, screwcaps are also a way to ensure wines are not ruined by cork taint or sporadic oxidisation. They are commonly used to bottle new world wines – including higher-end ones – from countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
As screwcaps are more practical than corks, wines which are meant for consumption within the next two to three years are often bottled with screwcaps, Mr Victor Chai, director (grocery products) at NTUC FairPrice says.
“However, a cork closure is more appropriate for wines that require long-term aging as they allow oxygen to enter the bottle – an essential part of long-term bottle aging,” he adds.
4) Lesser-known varieties are better priced
Famous varieties are naturally going to cost more because there is higher demand for them. If value for money is what you’re looking for, go for lesser-known alternatives of a variety you like.
Some of the more obscure varieties which offer great value include Cru Beaujolais (from the Gamay grape), Primitivo, Nero d’Avola,Tannat and Petite Sirah.
Mr Chai recommends trying wines of the Chenin Blanc white wine grape variety. While it is not well-known in Singapore, it is a very versatile grape variety which can be made into different styles of wines, he says.
If you prefer red wines, Mr Chai says the little-known Sangiovese grape can produce light-coloured, light-to-medium bodied wines with high tannins and high acidity.
5) Certain wine regions produce more valuable wines
Forget Napa Valley and Tuscany. Just as the case is with varieties, lesser-known wine regions can also produce more economical wines which taste just as great.
In Singapore, French wines are among the most popular, but can be extremely pricey. However, if you look carefully, you’ll find that there are wines from sub-regions in Bordeaux such as Cadillac, Cotes de Bourg and Fronsac that produce quality wines at affordable prices, Mr Chai says.
He also suggests venturing beyond the familiar by trying out wines from China and Japan.
“While China and Japan have been producing wines for their domestic market for hundreds of years, their products have been gaining widespread international attention in the last five to 10 years. This is especially true for China, where the area under vine is second only to Spain,” Mr Chai says.
6) When in doubt, go for a crowd pleaser
If you’re still unsure of what to get, go for a sparkling.
Mr Chai says: “You can never go wrong with a bottle of sparkling wine – every party needs an aperitif, and a sparkling wine is excellent for whetting your appetite!”
And if champagne is too expensive, try getting a Prosecco instead.
Prosecco, La Marca, retails at just $38.00 per bottle and is one of the more popular choices here.
5 value-for-money wines you can get in Singapore
Fritz Haag 2015 Riesling Trocken Mosel, Germany S$40.50 on at WinesOnline.com.sg
Ta_Ku Marborough Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand S$30.80 at FairPrice Finest
Trivento Tribu Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza, Argentina S$29.20 at FairPrice Finest
Vina Maipo Vitral Reserve Syrah Maipo, Chile S$33.95 at FairPrice Finest
Anna de Codorníu Blanc de Blancs Cava, Lleida, Spain S$29 at Cellarbration