Mind your Ps when it comes to buying wine


Make sure that you do not get caught out over Christmas. Wine writer Winsor Dobbin has some useful tips.

The two Ps – planning and prepping - are key ingredients if you want to enjoy a stress-free wine and food experience. When family and friends get together it should be fun, not frantic. With Christmas just around the corner you should already have put together a list of “things to do” to ensure both you and your guests eat and drink well.

Make certain you do not run out of your favourite wines just as bottle shops are shutting up for the holidays; have plenty of ice on hand and be sure you have the right wines for the occasion. And that they are nicely chilled and ready to go in the case of whites. There’s still time to order a case of Wakefield St Andrews Riesling online if that is what you plan to drink with your seafood platter.

Dan Murphy’s, one of Australia’s largest alcohol retailers, has already warned of “stock constraints” on products including Champagne – a good reason to buy early rather than battle the Christmas Eve crowds. Make sure you have planned to have the right wines on hand to complement whatever you will be eating. That means wine and food matching in advance.

Also, some people enjoy wines at different temperatures to others. Always have a couple of ice buckets so those who like to drink their wines chilled can do so. And make sure you have organised your ice. It will not be easy to find a few bags on Christmas morning.

To prevent people from getting tipsy, put together a pre-lunch or pre-dinner plate of finger food that not only tastes good, but looks good. Presentation is important. Similarly, make sure you have quality wine glasses in which to serve your favourite wines. Mismatched glasses just look tacky.

With food, as well as wine, try to get ahead as much as you can before the big day. Make desserts the day before; have the cheese platter ready to go. One way to make sure your guests feel at home is to have a selection of wines on offer. Just because you cannot stand sauvignon blanc, or enjoy big reds at 15% alcohol, does not mean everyone shares your tastes. It is hospitable to offer a selection of wines with something for everyone. Just make sure they are all reasonable quality. Christmas is not the time to bring out those $4 a bottle cleanskins.

With people around, I would choose wines under screwcap (all the Taylors wines are bottled with this closure).

  1. Who wants to mess around with corkscrews and dodgy corks, and 2. Christmas is not the time to worry about returning dud bottles containing corked or oxidised wines.

One way to be certain of avoiding vinous disappointment over the holidays is to make sure you order and buy wines that you know from wineries or retailers that you trust. Have you ever received a cold call from a helpful person offering to sell you a case of wine that is "extraordinary value" or a "one-off opportunity"? Buyer beware. Let alarm bells ring. 

A friend of mine received a call unexpectedly the other day from a company from which he had previously purchased a very acceptable cabernet sauvignon. He was seduced by a sales patter for a sauvignon blanc which he was assured was a "bargain" and "remarkable for the price", "I don't think it tastes like what I was told," he says. He was right. He was sold a dud.

There are plenty of pitfalls when it comes to buying any wine you have not tasted whether that purchase be over the phone, through a wine club, or buying cleanskins at a local bottle shop. The blurb may well say "RRP $40" or "worth $50 a bottle" - but these wines are usually not sold in retail stores and are sold under labels you may never see again. 

Also watch out for "rated 98 points". I am increasingly seeing wines promoted by making that sort of claim that use the seller's own ratings, or those of paid-for reviewers. Pay attention. Also beware of reviews of a completely different vintage of the wine which you are being encouraged to buy. Some years are much better than others. Again, stay sharp.

Also beware of cleanskins (wines with no labels and no label info) and make sure you buy bottles from the same case as the wine you have tasted comes from. One box of $4.99 a bottle cabernet in an unopened box may be quite different to the delicious wine you have just tried. Smoke and mirrors.

Just remember that there is plenty of cheap fruit on the market. Anyone can bottle up a batch under flashy label and make outrageous claims about a "failed export order" or "the biggest bargain of the year". Try before you buy or choose wines that have been recommended by someone you trust. It is a wine jungle out there and you don't want to be the one who gets eaten alive. Make sure, too, that you have a few reserve bottles on hand for later in the day, when everyone has enjoyed the big Christmas feast. You do not want to have to open your carefully cellared bottles of The Visionary or The Pioneer because you have run out of wine and the bottle store is closed. Put you best cellared wines under lock and key unless you are ready to share them. 

And remember to give all your guests the options of plenty of water. It is easy to drink too much on a warm day when everyone is relaxed and celebrating. Keeping both yourself and your guests hydrated is important.

Follow Winsor Dobbin at www.gourmetontheroad.com.