How To Dodge A Dud Wine

(This article was originally posted by Rob Geddes (MW) and has been reproduced - with minor edits - with his permission)

As a wine expert, the most common question asked of me is, “How do I dodge buying a dud wine?   I was initially surprised that people were feeling so let down by their wine purchases. After all, wine cannot fail to please, it offers relaxation, solace for the weary, pleasure and wine o clock often marks the de-escalation of the day into something much more pleasurable.   Yet the overall volume of questions generated over years points to consumer angst. 

It turns out the general question is more about retailers over-promising on quality and under-delivering on quality at low prices. My tastings have proven to me there are consistent producers for all prices of wines, even under $10.00. 

Here are a few rules that may help you navigate to a better buy for different occasions.

Rule #1

Buy the youngest vintage possible. Most wine is bottled ready to drink so if it sits gathering dust in hot wine shop it is less likely to taste as the winemaker intended meaning the youngest wine is the best wine. Screw caps are more reliable than corks to keep wine fresh. V2021 is on the shelves now and is overall superior compared to V20 as the trade describe vintage 2020. The point here is that a large high quality vintage will mean that higher-quality wines will appear in lower-priced bottlings simply because there is so much good wine around. 

Rule #2

Cultivate your taste for the following and I think you can do well, unloved as they are. Riesling our classic dry white wines has been forgotten in the flood of sauvignon blanc. It our best dry white value wine. Semillon likewise offers fresh lively summer drinking. 

Rule # 3

Look beyond the better known regions and consider blends over single varieties.
Margaret River and Coonawarra are the sales leaders with cabernet sauvignon and blend for a good reason: they are reliable. Coonawarra on average is lower priced than Margaret River. Both have “satellites”: regions nearby with quality that can equal its better-known neighbour at better prices.

The Limestone Coast near Coonawarra is a vast resource and in WA Frankland River and the Great Southern regions have quality equal to Margaret River in all varieties and especially chardonnay and cabernet. 

The same applies to South Australian shiraz where I find Langhorne Creek, and Clare offers many great value wines at more affordable prices than the better-known Barossa or McLaren Vale cousins.

Here is a strange fact about the Australian wine market, we distrust blends. For you, the blend is your friend. The great Australian blend shiraz cabernet at many prices punches way above its weight. The classic blends of shiraz with grenache are a great strength of Australian wine and add in Mataro aka Mourvèdre and these deliver quality well above their price yet are strangely overlooked or seen as confusing. Even regions as popular as Margaret River are not immune to this prejudice with word-class Semillon and Sauvignon blends are harder to sell than chardonnay.

Rule # 4

When it comes to under $10.00, buy the major brands; Australia’s biggest companies always have more university degrees and more skills in wine than their smaller rivals so take advantage of their thinking. There are a number of budget buys that are regularly on the ball for quality such as the local Tractorless Vineyard releases, Angove Long Row, De Bortoli Deen Series, Taylors Promised Land, Yalumba Y series and Jacobs Creek.

Beginning to see the theme? These are big companies, known names with reputations and not someone or something obscure that you have only heard of recently. 

Buy the major grape varieties, Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet are the start of under $20.00 value. If the winemaker bottled it without blending with other varieties there is something to be said for the wine.  Australia has many great winemaking teams and great grape resources so picking out the major varieties. When it comes to under $25 you can even find interesting varietals such as red Tempranillo or white Vermentino.  

Hey ok, you don’t know your Promised Land from Your Running with Bulls so what should I do I hear you ask? Buy the most expensive that matches your budget so if there is two wines of same brand, buy the more expensive of the two every time.
Image by lookstudio

Rule # 5

If you want to splash out above $30,00. It is a fact that larger retailers can get better prices than small retailers because they need to order more wine. If they make a mistake it is likely to a bigger mistake than a small retailer so watch out in September when they may discover their inventory is a problem. The same applies for large wine producers.

Some wines are sold off just because the next vintage is coming not because they are losing quality. This is very true with Semillon and riesling and both are likely to hold for 2-3 years past vintage where the retailer will have to make room for the next vintage 12 months later.  Rose is another style where the sales cycle says sell out in time for the next vintage and yet the wines can hold for two to three years.
Watch out for end-of-financial-year sales in June. There can be discounts on case buys on top of already discounted prices that make wine cheap, (mainly in June) as the retailers chase sales to reduce inventory at the end of the financial year.

We hope you enjoyed this article from wine expert Rob Geddes (MW) as much as we did.  We made some minor edits from the original to reproduce for our blog.  If you'd like to see more of Rob's work, visit his website here.