Bottle shapes!

You can play CSI: Vino pretty well armed with a few tricks. Today’s installment involves the shape of the bottle. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, you can expect certain wines to reliably come in similar bottles. Today, I’m keeping to still wines (sparkling has variants, too!) and the main three shapes you’re likely to encounter no matter where you shop.

This stuff comes in handy when trying to branch out but the information on the front of the bottle isn’t immediately helpful. Don’t get stuck drinking the same stuff because old-world terminology is different. All of this is knowable! One step at a time, you and me.

For instance, the bottle style below is referred to as the Bordeaux shape. It’s simple, elegant, with high shoulders and straight sides.

You’ll typically find the following wines in this kind of bottle (or variant thereof, like this completely sexy example, with extra high shoulders and a tapered body):

Cabernet (Franc, Sauvignon)

Bordeaux blends


Pinot Grigio

Chenin Blanc

Meritage blends

Sauternes Continue reading “Bottle shapes!”

Reading wine labels

One of the more daunting things I’ve come up against— what with my meagre knowledge of grapes and regions— is decoding labels. My formative years were spent in California, drinking California (and occasionally Oregon) wine, so I got used to the name of the wine being the same as the grape the wine was made from.

Sanford Pinot Noir. 

Mondavi Reserve Cabernet. 

La Crema Chardonnay.

You won’t find a French bottle labeled Chardonnay. Instead, French wines are named after the village they come from. So, Chablis is made from Chardonnay grapes grown and made into wine in…Chablis. Bourgogne Blanc,  (literally: White Burgundy), Mâconnais, Côte de Beaune, too. These are all places, and all Chardonnays. One of the hints you can usually take to the bank is bottle shape: Chardonnays tend to come in a hefty green-tinged bottle that has a thin neck, slim shoulders and a wide bottom, regardless of where they’re from, but more about that some other time.

Many sommeliers can taste the difference between grapes grown on different sides of a path, just a few meters apart. This is why the French are so big on calling things by their region- they’re obsessed with terroir, or the idea that the place (the soil, weather, geography, etc) shapes the taste of the wine as much or more than the grape variety. I tend to agree with them, although I’m not nearly as sensitive as some of the amazing somms I’ve encountered. Continue reading “Reading wine labels”

shopping on a budget

“I’ll bring a bottle of wine!” you text a friend, looking forward to seeing them after work. Sure, it sounds like a good idea until you’re standing there, in front of…is this 700 wines? 7000? Thoughts arise:

I think I like Cabernet

But what if the food doesn’t go with Cab

Why is this one $8 and this other one $48? Are they so different? WHY IS THIS ONE $8 DOES IT HAVE SOMETHING WRONG WITH IT 

If you’re sticking to a budget, the long and short of it is…there are few red wines that will reliably taste nice under a $10 price point. And fewer still will be Cabernets. We’ll go into why in another post, but keep this rule in mind: if it’s inexpensive and from a region that has some prestige to it, like France, Spain, California, Italy, Argentina, Australia…you’re getting the lowest quality they’re allowed to produce. It IS possible to find a delicious, dry, complex red for around $10, but it likely won’t be a Cabernet, and it might not be from a place you immediately recognize as a wine region.

My experience: under $10 is much harder than under $15.  Continue reading “shopping on a budget”