A beginner's guide to buying wine

Since the ancient civilisations brought winemaking to Europe, the Western world has been creating some of the finest wines available. Though understanding the sometimes complex business of wine is unlikely to happen overnight, if you don't know your Chablis from your Shiraz here are a few tips to finding the good, reasonably priced wines and where to get the best deals.

beginners guide to buying wine

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There is a huge variety of wine on the market and selection can seem like a daunting task, with bottles from all over the world adorning off licence shelves.

If you are looking for a bottle to take as a gift or simply want to expand your own knowledge, there are a few common grape varietals you should know.

When it comes to white wine, most Brits probably recognise the name Chardonnay these days. This typically dry wine remains popular thanks to its clean, crisp flavour and is an excellent accompaniment to fish, poultry or cheese, thanks to its acidity. Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, provides an altogether more herbal flavour and works well with fish dishes.

Growing in popularity is Pinot Grigio, which produces a light, perfumed wine, while the German classic Riesling can be anything from very dry to full-bodied to sweet. Well-known for its floral aroma and fruity flavour, Riesling goes particularly well with strong flavours like duck.

On the red wine front, Syrah (known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are names you are likely to see in abundance in the supermarket aisles.

The former produces a deep, full-bodied wine with a smokey, fruit flavour, while Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its intensity and depth of flavour. A more medium-bodied red comes in the shape of Merlot, which generally offers a softer, fruity alternative to the rich Cabernet Sauvignon.

Many red wines are perfect for rich food and bold flavours - think winter casseroles and hearty meat dishes.

Where from?
France remains the world's largest producer and has long been known for its high quality wines. Steeped in wine-making history, the French tradition goes back centuries and the country produces some of the finest wines available, from the delicate Pinot Noir from Burgundy to the rich Clarets of Bordeaux, the ever-popular sparking Champagne to renowned whites of the Loire Valley.

Italian and Spanish wines are also highly recommended - Italy for its robust reds like Chianti and Spain most notably for Rioja (available in red, rose and white varieties), a good bottle of which promises a clean, fruity flavour with deeper oak or earthy notes.

Of course, New World wines have also become a force to be reckoned with in recent years. The fertile Napa and Sonoma Valleys of Northern California produce a wide variety of excellent wines, and Australia is renowned for its spicy Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. New World wines are typically very consistent and extremely reasonable when it comes to price, so they make an excellent choice for newcomers to the world of vino.

Chile is another country that has become known for its high quality wines, producing excellent but affordable reds in the Maipo Valley.

Where to buy?
If cheap plonk is not what you're after but you don't want to start splashing out on pricey vintage bottles, a supermarket will probably be your first port of call. The larger stores offer a huge variety of wines and there's something for every price range. From between £5 and £10, buyers can pick up a decent bottle, making supermarket wine-buying a perfect place for those wishing to try the different varieties.

Of course, wine shops are also a great way to learn about wine. Oddbins outlets usually feature descriptions of each wine on the shelf so it's easy to find something to suit a particular meal or occasion, while more specialist sellers such as The Secret Cellar can provide expert but friendly advice.

If you are buying in bulk, wine warehouses like Majestic are great value, providing half or full mixed cases to give you a wine rack that's ready for anything.

And if you've already been bitten by the vino bug, wine clubs are adept at finding interesting wines that you might not find in your local off licence, and offer information and advice from expert tasters, as well as excellent value.