This is a question that comes up for wine lovers all the time. You're in a store; you want, say, Sauvignon Blanc. There are three from a region you like from producers you don't know. How do you choose?
I put the question on Twitter. My Twitter followers are not a randomized group. I have never done any data analysis (and don't worry, I never will), but I assume that at base, they are people very interested in wine and in learning more about it. This is a niche in the wine market, but one that spends a lot of money on wine. So what would my followers say?
What most surprised me is that most people did not mention price. Also, very few people mentioned critic's reviews, though several mentioned social-review aggregator sites.
A few wine retailers suggested asking the retailer for guidance, and I support that suggestion, but it's not an option at big stores that don't specialize in wine (Costco or supermarkets, for example) or restaurants with no sommelier on duty.
I collected some of the most enlightening responses. I wasn't looking for wit (though I got plenty; my followers are clever.) Instead I was looking for honesty: a window into why people choose the wines they do.
One thing is universal: the label matters. We may all interpret its message differently, but it matters. For many years when I bought French wines I was a sucker for a bottle with a croix on the label; I'm not religious so I can't explain it. I can explain some of my other parameters: lower alcohol for me is is a plus, though I don't apply it to differences less than 0.5%. Organic or biodynamic viticulture is a plus. I try to avoid wines where the tasting notes on the back label sound like something I wouldn't enjoy (very helpful with Chardonnays.) But would I pick a single-vineyard wine over a regional wine of the same price? I'm not sure.
Here is what my Twitter followers said (each is a separate comment; I haven't formatted all as tweets):
actually, I would purchase all 3, taste them, and only then go back and purchase the one I liked best.
Assuming I didn't know any of the producers and couldn't research them on my phone: vintage especially for places like Bdx, any tech. info like pH and oak aging to determine the style, and finally the price.
Back Label info & lower abv.— Alex Van Amburg (@Vanamburg) February 25, 2021
Quality information about terrain, process or winemakers choices.
(As opposed to cutsey pitch or “five generations of winemakers have selected grapes at the peak of ripeness to bring your a unique...”)
I would choose the label that has an animal on it.
Region for varietal, then price as a guide, then interwebs/ Vivino for reviews
Am I in a place where I can seek a recommendation from someone knowledgeable about their products? If so, I do that.— Jim Lockard onWine (@JimLockardWine) February 25, 2021
Probably the label that WASN’T touting ORGANIC and BioDynamic whatnots...
If I were in a retail outlet, I’d ask their opinion. Otherwise I’d see what they said online as well as what others said about them online. Failing either of those options being available, either the most resolutely old-school in its packaging or the confidently off-the-wall.
Weighing the following criteria in this order:— Lady Whistleblower (@laurengraffort) February 25, 2021
1. Read the label--does it sound tasty?
I’d check the back labels, see who the importer was, and go with the one I was familiar with.
Assuming I know none of the producers, alcohol content sometimes tells a tale. All else being equal, probably the middle one in terms of price.— Sean Nelson (@opinionatedwino) February 25, 2021
Bio of owner/winemaker. Looking for people I know about in their background. I have found a lot of great new wines by following winemaker's interns. Then CellarTracker, Wine Berserkers, or industry people who I trust and align with their palates.
Two answers: 1. ABV%, Vintage, $. 2. Champagne
Great question. I’d look for growers I know or recognise, then I’d look for organic and/or biodynamic certification. Alcohol percentage would also be a good indicator for the styles I tend to like (but not always). Any back label tech info also helps a lot ofc— Christina Rasmussen (@Christina_SvR) February 25, 2021
Producer , importer , price
Artistic merits of label.
If I knew nothing about the producer, importer etc.. I would select the one with the most traditional label.— LDK (@mabelthecat2018) February 25, 2021
Fun question. Assuming I knew zero about the producers, I’d have a quick look at Delectable/CellarTracker, scan avg takes, look for ppl I recognize and how they describe the character.
Vineyard 1st. Failing knowledge or Google the label.
Easy. I’d pick the one I had never heard of before. I’m always down to try new things.— Brianne Cohen (@SOMMspirations) February 25, 2021
I face this question all the time and it's the reason I go with the recs of a retailer I know and trust. Lacking that, I look for something distinguishing on the label, such as certified organic grapes.
This one is my favorite, because I assume he's telling the truth and it's an interesting idea:
Ugliest label— Mike Madaio (@lifeattable) February 25, 2021
You know what nobody at all mentioned? Closure type. Nobody said they would buy the one with the screwcap, or the one with the cork.
The data is not at all scientific, but one of the most interesting things about an exercise like this is to learn that even among people with similar interests, we all think differently.