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Buying Wine FAQ

Don't be afraid to ask for help, or for an opinion. Determine the price range you can afford. Ask the Passport Wine & Spirits wine staff to give you some suggestions in your price range. It will help us greatly, if you can give us information about your preferences. Do you prefer red, white, or rosé? Do you like sweeter wines or drier wines? Do you like lighter wines or wines that are more full bodied? If you don’t know, we can suggest a wide range of wines to try, so you can determine what you like. The best way to learn about wine is to taste it. There are no “right” or “wrong” wines.

There are a lot of things that determine the price of wine: farming and labor costs, the cost of transport, bottling, labeling, marketing, duties, and taxation. In addition, the supply and demand for the wine and the wine’s country of origin may play a significant role in its price. The most crucial factor in a wine's pricing is the level of demand - if a producer can sell his wine ten times over (like many top Burgundy and California producers), then he is in a position to command a premium price for his product.

No. Quality wines can be found in every price range. One way to measure value (price and its relationship to your perception of quality) is to choose a varietal you like, and try that varietal in different price ranges. An expensive wine is not a good value if you don’t like it.

It is very difficult to assess the quality of wine just by reading the label. Quality is assessed best by tasting. Quite often you won't be able to taste a wine before buying, but information is available on wine labels to help you decide, although you will need a certain amount of knowledge about producers and vintages. There are quality classification systems within the EU that give some guidance; a Country Wine (Vin de Pays) ought to be better quality than Table Wine (Vin de Table) because of the wine production laws in place. (See our Wine Classification FAQs) So as a general rule of thumb, the higher up the quality scale, the better the wine should be. As with any industry, there are those who take pride in their product and produce outstanding wine within the quality category, and those who do just enough to remain within its boundaries, hence there will always be variation. Wines produced outside of Europe are not governed as much, making it harder for the consumer to identify the better wines. Market forces, Ex. the price is often the only guide, and by establishing whether the wine producer has a good reputation. Quite often wines made from single-vineyard grapes are good quality - some vineyards provide perfect growing conditions and so the fruit quality is excellent. Old vines usually produce fewer bunches, but they are generally of higher quality. Consequently wines which state that they are made from "old-vines", vieilles vignes, are usually better than average quality.

The way the grapes are grown (viticulture) and how they are subsequently made into wine (vinification) are the two main factors that effect quality in wine.

Viticulture – Employing common sense practices like keeping the vines disease free and harvesting only the ripest grapes and then delivering them quickly to the winery to limit oxidization make a difference to the quality of the fruit and ultimately the wine. Yield is very important - how many grapes are grown per hectare of land. Yield is quoted in hectoliters per hectare. The fewer grape bunches per vine, the more intense their flavor will be. At the very best vineyards, yields can be as low as 30hl/ha, Burgundy, as opposed to around 100hl/ha for non-quality wines, Liebfraumilch.

Vinification – The grapes must be made into wine as soon as possible after they have been picked. Contact with the air causes oxidization, which spoils their flavor. Understanding the effects of air, as well as temperature control during fermentation are just a few examples of breakthroughs in modern winemaking techniques. This ever-expanding knowledge has raised the overall quality of wine today. Many modern winemaking techniques are the result of scientific research and then trial and error. The proliferation of winemaking knowledge and the ability of many winemakers to make wine in both hemispheres every year have raised the bar for quality wine around the world.

There is no real answer to this question. Value is the relationship between quality and price. If a dry red wine tastes as good as most twenty-five dollars bottles of dry red wine, but costs only fifteen dollars then it’s a good value wine. Quality wines cost more to make than non-quality wines; the growing and winemaking methods are more expensive. Thus you won't usually find a quality wine at a very low price. However a bad, but greedy, producer may charge more than his wine is truly worth. Arguably, higher priced wines are better value.

Price is only an indication of quality when similar wines are being compared, e.g. two bottles of claret from the same vintage. Price also reflects age, rarity and whether it comes from a particularly famous producer. Growers with excellent reputations are able to command higher prices for their wines. This is not to say that an unknown, small producer is not making wines of similar quality at a fraction of the price. Only use price as an indicator of quality when comparing like with like. Price cannot compete with sound wine knowledge; the more you know about wine and wine producers, the better you will be at selecting good wine.

Wine is like any other commodity; production costs, rarity and prestige are the factors that dictate the final price. Winemakers can choose to produce their wines cheaply or expensively. They might make their wine using low-yields rather than bigger volume high-yields to ensure the use of fuller flavored grapes. They might harvest by hand (high labor costs) rather than by machine to be more selective. They could make their wine in concrete vats or (very expensive) new oak barrels. All these additional costs will be recovered in the selling price of the wine. This is why a wine from a quality producer will always be more expensive than a bulk-production wine. Many quality wines are made to mature over a long period of time before finally reaching their best. As time passes by, and more and more bottles are drunk up, a wine will become increasingly rare. Often a bottle of wine will be bought and sold many times, pushing its price higher and higher. Then there are the astonishingly good wines made in tiny quantities each year - from the outset these wines are rare and of course, costly. There is really no difference between a rare quality wine and a limited edition luxury car, both are desirable commodities and if they are your passion, you will be prepared to pay for their rarity and exclusivity and believe that they are worth the price paid.

The screw cap closure has been around for many years. The external part of the cap is made of non-corroding metal, usually an alloy of aluminum. The Stelvin cap liner is made up of expanded polyethylene, tin (to stop oxygen) and PVDC to provide an inert seal with the wine. To remove the cap, small metal bridges must be broken to separate the top part of the cap and the lower skirt, which remains on the bottle. This provides a tamper-free feature, and the bottle can be re-sealed. Research has shown that bottles sealed with Stelvin have shown a greater retention of Sulfur Dioxide and Ascorbic Acid and thus, the wine has a slower rate of oxidation and aging. The screw cap is said to retain the natural freshness, both in aroma and palate flavors of all wines - in particular, delicate aromatic whites such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Critics of screw cap closures claim that the bottle ageing characters that we see in a cork sealed wine are completely lost and thus the wine does not develop fully secondary flavors. Put simply, critics feel that cork is the best closure, because over time it allows a minimal amount of oxygen to enter the bottle and react favorably with compounds such as acid, tannin, alcohol and phenolics. Screw cap fans argue that this secondary flavor also develops in wine closed with a stelvin enclosure, but it may take longer, thus extending the life of the wine quite considerably. More importantly, they claim the risk of cork taint is eliminated.

Historically, the best performers are the top 30 châteaux in Bordeaux. The 1855 classification, where the wines are divided into five 'cru' or growths is still a helpful guide when making your selection. The best price is usually obtained when bought in primeur, Ex. while still in barrel. Many fine wines from other regions, such as California, Italy and Australia can also be obtained in this way.

A certain amount of knowledge is required, but with regard to questions such as what to buy, when to buy, at what price to buy and when to sell, it is best to seek guidance from a reliable source – Passport Wine & Spirits Staff! We’ll help you make the right decisions for you!

Most wines on the market today are designed to be ready to drink when you purchase them and do not need to be aged. There are wines that are designed to be aged, and if you are interested in these wines, we here at Passport Wine & Spirits will be happy to provide you with informed suggestions on which wines that will benefit from aging. These are typically, red wines with a high level of tannins (such as Cabernet Sauvignon), and a few white wines that are very concentrated and intensely flavored.

Only when the bottle of wine is truly bad, that is, “corked” or oxidized. A wine you do not personally like is not considered “bad” from the merchant’s perspective. If the wine is corked, it will have an unpleasant corky or moldy taste. If it is oxidized (air has gotten by the cork), it will have an off taste or aroma reminiscent of Sherry. Any reputable wine shop will replace or credit you for an off or corked bottle. Should you open a bad bottle, simply replace the cork and then return it (with the remaining wine in it) to your shop. Don’t pour it down the sink! Keep in mind you will not find a bad bottle of wine very often.

Fine wine matures, once bottled, and improves with age. A limited amount is produced at each property every year so, when bottles are drunk, the wine becomes rarer and therefore the price increases. While supply dwindles, demand for mature wines can make early purchases a very good investment.