10 Wine Buying Tips for Beginners

Updated on June 19, 2019
NaturallyInspired profile image

Jennifer is passionate about wine. She has worked in the wine industry for 2 years as well as the restaurant industry for over 10 years.

Choosing a wine should be an enjoyable experience. But with so many varieties, styles, and regions to choose from, it can be an overwhelming task. Whether you are buying wine for a special occasion, a gift, or yourself, here are 10 tips to help make your decision easier and a little more enjoyable.

1. Decide on a Budget

This is the first thing you should do before you even enter the winery or store. Decide how much you would like to spend on a bottle and stick to it. If the staff offers you any help, don't be afraid to tell them what your budget is. That way they can better help you find a wine that's in your price range.

2. Ask for Help

Don't be afraid to ask for assistance when choosing a wine. The staff is there to help you, and in most cases, they know a fair bit about the wine. Let them know what style of wine you typically like—for example, white or red, dry or sweet—and let them know approximately how much you want to spend. Some places, especially wineries, even offer wine samples, which can be very helpful and fun, too.

3. Understand the Different Styles of Wine

It's a good idea to become familiar with the different styles of wine. It will help when you are choosing a wine if you know which styles you like and which you don't like. At the very least, you should know the difference between red, white, rose, and sparkling.

A few basic wine characteristics to know:

Sweetness (or Dryness): Usually, the first thing people notice about a wine when they taste it is the level of sweetness. When a wine has very little sweetness, it is referred to as dry. Knowing whether you like sweet wine, dry wine, or something in between (often referred to as off-dry or medium-dry), is important when choosing a wine.

Body: The body of the wine referrers to the weight or the mouthfeel of the wine. A good way to understand it is thinking about how water would feel in your mouth and comparing it to how olive oil would feel in your mouth. Water would be light-bodied, and oil would be full-bodied. Wine can be light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied.

Acidity: Wine that is acidic has a sharp, tart like taste in the mouth. It's usually the result of grapes that were a little under ripe. Think about it. If you picked a grape off the vine before it was ripe, how would it taste? Sour. Cooler climate regions usually produce more acidic wines because there's not as much sun and heat to fully ripen the grapes.

Fruit: When a wine is referred to as fruity, it is talking about the flavors of fruit that can be tasted in the wine. One misconception is that when a wine is fruity, it means that fruit has been added to the wine. In most cases, wine is only made from grapes (unless it's a fruit wine). These fruit flavors usually come from riper grapes which is why warmer climates produce fruitier and sometimes sweeter wines.

Tannin: Tannin can be easily confused with dryness because tannins leave a dry feeling on the tongue. Tannins are what gives red wines that bitter taste. Wines that are high in tannins will leave your mouth feeling really dry after you swallow it. The tannins come from the skins of the grapes which is why whites don't have tannins. With white wine, the skins are removed before the fermentation process.

Also, read my other article 10 Wine Terms for Beginners and How to Taste Wine Like an Expert to learn some of the terms people typically use to describe wine which may help you better communicate what characteristics you personally enjoy.

4. Get Familiar With the Wine Regions and What They're Known For

I'm not saying you should know all of the wine regions of the world, their climates, and what type of grapes they grow. But getting a basic understanding of some of the more popular wine regions and what grape varietals they are primarily known for can help quite a bit when buying international wines. For example, Chile is known for Carmenere, Australia is known for Shiraz, Germany is known for Riesling, and New Zealand is known for Sauvignon Blanc. If you are looking to try a wine from Chile, you should look for a Carmenere. If you are looking to try a wine from New Zealand, you should look for a Sauvignon Blanc.

Wine Folly has a good article about the Top Wine Regions of the World. It talks about the ten most popular wine regions of the world and the grape varietals they are known for.

5. Understand the Sugar Content in Wine

There are five main categories to describe the sweetness in wine that you might be familiar with. They include dry, off-dry, medium, medium-sweet, and sweet. You can usually find this description on the back label of the bottle.

The actual sugar content in wine is usually measured in grams per liter. However, some wineries still use the sugar code system to measure the sweetness in the wine. This can be very confusing for some people because not everyone understands these numbers. This can result in buying a wine that is too sweet or too dry for your liking.

The actual sugar content is not usually found on the bottle itself but on the price tag on the shelf. If you can't find this information on the price tag, then ask a staff member for help. Chances are, the information is there somewhere. If not the staff should know or be able to find out.

The chart below gives you a comparison of the sugar codes to the actual sugar content. Anything about a sugar code of 5 is considered sweet.

Sugar Code
Sugar Content (g/l)*
* (g/l) - grams per litre

6. Learn How to Pair Wine With Food

If you are choosing a wine to go with a meal or if there will be food served, it's a good idea to have a basic understanding of how to pair wine with food. In general, rich and full-flavored wines pair well with rich and full-flavored foods. And lighter-bodied wines usually pair well with lighter foods. For example, a T-bone steak would pair well with a full-bodied and full-flavored red wine. While a crisp spring salad would pair well with a light and crisp white wine.

There are many other things to take into consideration when it comes to pairing wine with food like spices, sugar, fat, and acidity. Fatty foods, like red meat and hard cheeses, pair well with full-bodied reds because the higher alcohol level helps to cut the fat. A spicy dish goes well with lighter off-dry to medium-dry wines because the sugar helps counteract the spice. You wouldn't want a full-bodied red with spicy food because the higher alcohol with the spices would make your mouth feel like it's on fire. Really sweet foods should always be paired with sweet wines (pair desserts with dessert wines).

These are just some of the basics when it comes to wine and food pairing. If you want to learn more, Wine Spectator has a great article about How to Match Wine with Food. Or check out this Wine and Food Pairing Chart by Wine Folly.

7. Read the Label

Now that you have a basic understanding of the different styles of wine (the wine regions, sugar content, and pairing wine with food) you can use this knowledge to help you decide on a wine. But first, you must read the label. The label on the back of the bottle will describe the wine, it's style, and the specific flavors that are prominent. It may also tell you what food it pairs best with. The label should also give you an indication of the sweetness in the wine, usually by using a descriptor like dry or sweet. For actual sugar content, you will have to check the price tag on the shelf or ask a staff member.

8. Remember Price Doesn't Always Mean Quality

Don't go for the most expensive bottle on the shelf assuming that it is the best one. Price does not always mean quality. In my experience, I have found many great wines in the medium price range and even some in the lower price range. I have also had some more expensive wines that I didn't enjoy. It all comes down to your own personal preference.

9. Take Pictures of Your Wine Labels

You may find many great wines along the way, but chances are you will forget what they were. If you find a wine you love, take a picture of the label with your phone, so you never forget what it was. That way you're not running back to the store, looking at every label, trying to remember what that wine was.


10. Download a Wine App

Personally, I have not used any of these, but I have heard great things about them. Vivino Wine Scanner is the most popular wine app with 30 million users. Simply take a photo of the bottle with the app to search for the wine. This will bring up ratings, reviews, average price, tasting notes, and food pairings. You can keep track of the wines you like and get new recommendations based on your likes. A wine review app is a great way to make sure you never buy a bad bottle again

Questions & Answers


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      • NaturallyInspired profile imageAUTHOR

        Jennifer C 

        6 months ago

        Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image


        6 months ago from USA

        What a well written article that is very helpful for beginners! I like your recommendation about taking the photo of the label.

      • NaturallyInspired profile imageAUTHOR

        Jennifer C 

        6 months ago

        Thanks Liz. You're not alone. I've run into this problem many times working in wineries. People often don't remember what wine they had when there are so many to choose from.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        6 months ago from UK

        I would describe myself as a wine amateur so I very much appreciate your tips in this article. I especially liked the one about photos. So often I find a wine I like and then struggle to buy it again, because I forget the name. In Europe I still find that there are bargains to be had. Prices are much more reasonable in Portugal, Spain and France than in the UK.


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