Choosing the right label
There are new premium wines on the market. Choosing them can be tricky, unless you know how to
Wine is such a versatile drink, produced all over the world, from hundreds of different grape varieties, made in a myriad of styles and drunk by peasants and billionaires alike. The sheer range of styles and prices can make it hard to know what to choose. If you want to drink the best wine, it is not easy to know from where to start.
The quality of wine cannot be judged until the wine bottle's cork is pulled out, which is rarely possible before purchase. So consumers are left to rely on extrinsic cues, like country, region of origin and grape variety. Price categories can also help; although “premium” sounds promising, in reality that could easily mean a wine costing US$12/`784, “super-premium” for maybe US$18/`1,176, and “ultra premium” wines would start at around US$35/`2,287.
A higher price is of course, not a guarantee of higher quality; the wine’s quality reflects a complex set of factors apart from vineyard origin, such as viticultural practice and winemaking process amongst others. After these considerations, the label’s reputation and the scarcity of the wine become more important determinants of price. However, we might presume that over time, historic pricing is in fact a reasonable marker for quality.
The famous 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification is probably the oldest wine ranking system. It was based on the idea that consumers would pay more for wine if it was of better quality. It established a ranking of Crus (or growths) for vineyards of recognised quality. Bordeaux wines continue to this day dominate the luxury end of the wine market. The Liv-ex Global First Growths classification is a modern attempt to establish a hierarchy of fine wines from anywhere in the world, based on actual trades on the Liv-ex platform over a year. Currently, France dominates the wine market with 12 Burgundies, ten Bordeaux, one Champagne and one Rhone. There are two Australian reds, one American, and one each from Italy and Spain.
Such wines are sometimes touted as investment wines, but what if you want to just drink them. In the lower tiers of the classification we still find plenty of Bordeaux and Burgundy but there is more diversity and affordability too. By definition, such wines are usually made in limited quantities, so not widely available. The wine-loving traveller may have to actively seek them out.
Browsing duty-free at JFK or Heathrow will not set the keen wine drinker’s pulse racing. Nor can she or he expect much useful advice from the staff. Amid a fairly uninspiring wine selection, there is some high-end red Bordeaux, with a smattering of Napa wines at JFK and a few Australian reds at Heathrow. The inquisitive seeker of fine wines needs to leave the airport to find excitement and real diversity. In London, head to Hedonism Wines (open Monday-Saturday 10am-9pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm; +44 20 729 078 7037; hedonism.co.uk) or in New York, Chambers Street Wines (open Monday-Saturday 10am-9pm, Sunday 12pm-7pm; +1 212 227 1434; chambersstwines.com) or Brooklyn’s Smith and Vine (open MondayThursday 11am-9pm, Friday-Saturday
Bordeaux wines continue to this day dominate the luxury end of the wine market
until 11pm, Sunday 12pm-9pm; +1 718 243 2864; smithandvine.com). Here are knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff who can offer advice on how to choose wines, from experience.
Hedonism’s Alistair Viner points out that Bordeaux and Burgundy are “always going to be the bestsellers,” despite “never being available in large enough quantities”. So his customers have had to turn to alternative options. In the vinous Old World, Italian classics like Barolo, Amarone and Brunello are starting to gain in price as collectors and serious drinkers look for value and the actual ability to purchase. Yet, by and large they remain good value. From Tuscany the so-called “Super Tuscans” are already established and in some cases being rebadged (with appellation labels) so they are not strictly speaking “Super Tuscans” anymore. These are sometimes Sangiovesebased wines, or often Bordeaux blends. In Spain there are notable wines in particular from Ribera del Duero and Priorat, while Rioja seems to be repositioning itself. Long dominated by intra-regional blends and a reputation for affordable, reliable drinking, there is a growing emphasis on single vineyards and village status. High scores from critics are helping to increase prices and demand, but again most of these wines represent real value for money.
Then there are fine wines emerging from all corners of the globe, from Bordeauxstyle blends in Chile and Argentina to Rhone-influenced styles in South Africa and Australia, and cool climate reds and whites from New Zealand. Viner observes an “ever growing demand for the top end Californian wines, with limited supply and high scores driving both collectors and drinkers alike”.
There is a price for every pocket: at Hedonism prices range from £10 to £10,000 (927-`9,27,155) per bottle. From Italy they are selling a large amount of wine – like Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Amarone della Valpolicella – in the £200-£500 (`18,543-`46,357 range whereas the Californian spend tends to be higher.
Relative values can also be found from lesser known, or unjustly ignored wine regions in Europe. ere are delicious white wines from Italy like the serious Soave Classico for example, and white varietals and blends from north-eastern Italy’s Friuli and Alto Adige regions that are very good but cost less than £100/`9,271. Elsewhere, old and forgotten areas like Etna in Sicily are excitingly resurgent, and one-o s like Tenuta di Trinoro, in an unfashionable part of Tuscany are wowing adventurous drinkers. In Germany, new style Riesling and even Pinot Noir (called Spatburgunder) are proving very successful.
To help navigate this cornucopia of choice, good retailers will ensure they have a diverse team of experts on the shop oor who have the opportunity to taste many of their ne wines. Hedonism o ers a wide spread of wines utilising Enomatic machines (system for preserving and serving wine by the glass) to allow customers to taste expensive wines, just for the pleasure of it, or to help make a purchasing decision.
Another key opportunity to taste is in restaurants. Historically, ne wine has not been associated with Indian cuisine, but in both London and New York, there are ambitious Indian restaurants, which take wine seriously. At London’s uilon, wines are selected for its wine list, based on their ability to work across the menu, rather than as “perfect pairings” with speci c dishes. ere are some iconic wines listed for those guests who want them, but they are not always successfully matched with the menu. As Edwin Davila the head sommelier at New York’s Indian Accent points out, wines that
Historically, ne wine has not been associated with Indian cuisines, but in both London and New York, there are ambitious Indian restaurants, which take wine seriously
work well with complex Indian spices are selections with “less oak in uence, lower to medium alcohol content, concentrated/ fruit forward, and wines with lees contact giving richer styles”. He nds his Indian guests, whether expats or travellers, o en opt for “the old standbys” of Riesling and Pinot Noir, but are also reaching out to old regions for new wines, such as Kavaklidere Kalecik Karasi from Turkey (US$55/`3,595) and Orgo Saperavi from Georgia (US$70/`4,575). And it turns out, Madeira is also an “amazing match” with Indian cuisine.
e lessons are clear: to nd great “new” wines, the wine drinking traveller needs to get o the travelator and into the city, seek out retailers and restaurants with keen, knowledgeable sta and ask for advice. All the same, not forgetting to think about what you like and why.
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