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Today I bring you the second installment of our #ShopLikeAChef summer series, but this time we are shopping for wine! I met up with Andy Doyle, owner of The McKinney Wine Merchant in downtown McKinney and asked him to share some of his knowledge when shopping for wine. He obliged, and I’m ready to shop.

Where are you shopping?

“The first thing to consider,” Andy told me, “is where you are actually purchasing wine.”

  • Grocery store chains stock brands that people have heard, brands with a national presence. You won’t find rare vineyards or small production here.
  • Warehouse club stores have large selections but typically push their private labels.
  • Giant liquor chains often have an agenda and/or sales quota which creates a need for the staff to sell particular brands by a certain time of the day.

and then…

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  • Independent wine stores, like McKinney Wine Merchant, are often family owned and have significant experience, wisdom and tenure working in the industry.

Wine Critics

Use Wine Spectator, Robert Parker and Wine Enthusiast as guides. Get to know these critics and find one whose tastes often match your own. For example, Robert Parker values bolder, more powerful and “riper” flavors, while Wine Enthusiast prefers subtle nuances, finesse and balance.

When shopping for wine recommended by a critic, make sure the vintage on the shelf is the same vintage as in the review. Some stores may trick you into thinking they are selling a 90 point vintage with a sign above the shelf, but the bottles below are from a different year.

Wines given 90 points or higher by multiple critics are always a safe bet. For example the  Livio Sassetti Brunello was awarded 94 points by Wine Enthusiast, and 92 points from both Robert Parker and James Suckland. It easy to assume this Brunello is excellent.

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Consumers may even become loyal to a label because it has been awarded high scores for many years, like Tres Picos, which has been given 90+ points 13 vintages in a row.

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NOTE***A non-rating does not mean consumers should steer clear.

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Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2016 hasn’t been rated because it is a relatively new wine. This label, however, has a history of good ratings, making the 2016 vintage a probable winner.

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Saddleback Cellars is rarely reviewed, most likely because the owner/wine maker is an older gentleman who doesn’t really care what the critics think. If you take Andy’s word for it, this wine has excellent flavor.

NOTE***Avoid being persuaded by gold metals because multiple are awarded in each color. For example, at the 2016 Harvest Fair Wine Competition hundreds and hundreds of gold metals, silver metals and bronze metals were awarded. Source

Physical appearance

  • If the cork is rotten or spongy, don’t drink it.
  • Look at the foil for seepage. If any wine has leaked out, don’t drink it.
  • Notice the ullage–space between the liquid and the cork–and avoid low fills.
  • Color of reds can go from almost black, indigo, fuchsia red to rusty brick.
  • Whites can be pale straw to almost golden in color.

 

Don’t be afraid to try new things and get an understanding of what you prefer in regards to location, grape and vintage.

Grape

  • In order to claim a single variety, the wine must have 75% majority of that grape
  • Blends are made to make the wine better…or to make the wine more profitable

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The 2013 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is 76% cab while the 2014 Ghost Block is 100% cab. Both are able to call themselves “single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon.”

  • Tannins are natural, organic compounds that act as a preservative. They exist in black tea, asparagus…anything that comes from the earth. Some grapes have more tannins than others which affects the taste. Understand whether or not you prefer a more tannic flavor or a softer mouth.
  • Avoid “bad” vintages. The last one in Napa Valley was 2011 because the weather was too cold. The last one in France was 2013.
  • The word Reserve should indicate that grapes are higher quality but there are no requirements to give this title in the US. This is different in Italy and Spain and the Reserve title can be respected.
  • Like Reserve, be aware of other wording on labels and recognize they often hold no meaning, such as: Vintner’s Reserve, Select, Family Select, Old Vines etc…

 

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After an hour visiting with Andy, I feel like I barely scratched the surface of knowledge one can possess when learning about wine, but I think we know enough now to get started. I hope everyone will take his wisdom and find success in searching for your favorites. I’ll tell you when Andy and I began our conversation, the first words out of his mouth were “If you like it, it’s good wine.” Well, that takes the pressure off a little, doesn’t it?

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