A bottle of wine is a gift that’s suitable for every occasion. Weddings, Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries are all sufficiently catered for as long as you know what you’re looking for, and what the person in question prefers to drink.
But what makes a bottle of wine ‘good’? We’ve seen wines from Aldi at basement prices win top awards at Australian and international wine shows, so evidently it isn’t all about price. If you’re feeling thoroughly perplexed, you aren’t alone. We consulted Christine Ricketts, the cellar director at wine retailer Cellarmasters on how to pick to perfect bottle of red, white, rose and sparkling wines, and how to get the best bang for your buck at the bottle shop.
How to pick a great red wine
Picking a good bottle of red wine comes down to knowing what climate produces what kind of wine, says Christine.
“Think about what kind of red wines you like; do you like a red wine to be full bodied and bold, or more elegant? A good rule is that warm climate regions such as Barossa and McLaren Vale produce big, bold red wines, while cool climate regions such as Tasmania and the Mornington Peninsula make more elegant reds.”
“For best results, choose classic combinations like Barossa Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet, Margaret River Cab Merlot, Tassie Pinot Noir or McLaren Vale Grenache.”
How to pick a great white wine
For white wines, older isn’t always better.
“Most white wines, except for high quality rieslings and chardonnay, are made to be enjoyed young. The more recent the vintage on the bottle, the fresher the flavor; vintage means the year the grapes in the wine were harvested, so look for something harvested this year. Again, try to learn what varieties each region does best. I recommend Eden Valley or Clare Valley for Riesling, Hunter Valley for Semillon, Margaret River for SSB, Yarra Valley for chardonnay and Adelaide Hills for sauvignon blanc.”
How to pick a great rosé
Picking a good rosé is about understanding what style of flavor you prefer.
“There's a huge variation in style so try as many rosés as you can, including French imports, which have really come down in price. As a general rule, like with whites, choose fresher, more recent vintage wines, although some of the French wines can be good for a few years after vintage."
"The best rosé wine is considered to come from France and Spain, with the two countries producing the greatest volumes. If you like the fruit-forward, mouth-filling style, a Barossa or McLaren Vale rosé should be your go-to. If you like a more savoury and complex style of wine, a rosé from a cool climate region like Adelaide Hills is your best bet. New Zealand rosé wines are also gaining popularity in Australia, and these are often made with pinot noir grapes in a delicate, super crisp style.”
How to pick a great sparkling
Before anything else you need to know what you like and what your budget is, says Christine. “Many people tend to think of sparkling wines and champagne as just one type of wine, but there are actually many differences between the two.”
“To keep it simple, champagne is usually quite dry, with biscuit or toasty flavours. Only champagne made within the namesake region in France, and according to strict rules and regulations, can be called champagne, so expect to see this reflected in the price.”
“Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine that is similar to champagne in both production and flavor, and is much more affordable as you can get a decent bottle for about $15,” says Christine.
"Prosecco is a fruit-forward, Italian-style sparkling wine with lovely apple and pear flavours. It’s hugely popular and food good reason.”
“Sparkling wines range from sweet to dry, so read the tasting notes on the bottle. If in doubt, the best Aussie sparkling wines come from Tasmania, as it has a similar climate to the Champagne region in France.”
What should you buy if you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck?
“Best bang for your buck in Australian wine is undoubtedly riesling,” says Christine. “You can get world-class wines for under $20 a bottle, or mind-blowing amazing wines for $30 to $40. Riesling has long suffered from a bad – and incorrect – reputation as an overly sweet and low-quality wine, mainly due to the fact that in the 1970s many white wines in casks that contained various grape varietals were mislabelled as riesling. However, Australian riesling is actually a beautiful crisp wine, with lovely floral aromas. It’s also a fantastic food wine, and pairs especially well with seafood and spicy Asian food.”
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