QUESTION: What is the best way to tell the difference between an OK wine and a good wine in the supermarket?

Price is not always an indication and many times the ratings or reviews they put on the shelf are just to push that brand. This is a very difficult proposition, especially in a supermarket where the “wine person” can change from week to week.  I would recommend trying to learn something specific about the wines you like and looking for similar qualities.  For example, the back label may indicate an importer or distributor that you have noticed on a different bottle that you enjoyed.  Importers and Distributors tend to choose wines that they themselves like.  There is a good chance that there will be some consistency in their wines. 

It may also be the grape or geographic area that the wine is named after.  For example, you may find that you really don’t like Pinot Noir or that you do like Cabernet.  There is often some consistency in the taste profile of certain grapes.  Many European wines are named after the place they come from.  If you find that you like Chianti or Muscadet, then you may have some luck choosing based on that. 

The best choice is to find a producer that you enjoy.  Chances are good that if you like a wine from a certain producer, you will like other wines they make as well.  No matter what, I encourage everyone to at least write down the names of the producers and wines they really enjoy (and also those they dislike), and use this list when they go shopping. Loren Sonkin is an Featured Contributor and the Founder/Winemaker at Sonkin Cellars.

More than 50% of the decisions to buy a wine in a supermarket are based on what the label looks like. It is purely a gamble and not a reliable way to select a wine. The only way to tell the difference is by educating yourself. Not only does it help to know the difference between an AOC and a DOC but it goes beyond the region’s wine classifications. Andrea Immer, a well know wine author, says that the way to select a good wine is to look at the back label. Know the importers you like and look for their wines. She mentions Broadbent Selections as one of these importers but it wouldn’t be right for me to promote my own company! Seriously, education or a little knowledge goes a long way. Importers are crucial. Some import good wines but their prices are way too high. Others are great importers and offer value in every price range.

Coming very soon are some interesting developments in social media. Zagat is launching a database on wine, which will be peer rated. might become a very good online resource for information. Sites like Snooth with i-phone apps will also become handy tools and The Daily Sip on Pulse could also help you to select a good wine. In short, I think that the use of hand held devices to look up reviews on individual wines will become very much part of the supermarket experience. However, the best advice is to trust your own palate. Buy one bottle at a time. When you open it, write it down. If you like it, buy more. If you don’t like it, write it down too, so that you know not to buy more of it. Enter your likes and dislikes into you PDA and take it with you. Bartholomew Broadbent, CEO of Broadbent Selections

To provide diverse, unbiased, and independent advice, Bartholomew and Loren answer all user submitted questions without consulting one another. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don't. Always interesting though. Have a wine question for them? Submit it via our Contact Us form