Risky Wine Choices

Risky Wine Choices

What can go wrong when you buy a bottle of wine? You can buy wine that is simply awful due to poor winemaking practices. Other wines may be technically good, whilst not appealing to your personal taste.

If you are choosing a wine for several people to enjoy with dinner, you have one objective - pleasing everyone. If, on the other hand, you are choosing a wine for your own enjoyment, you have a much easier task, and you won't need to apologise to anyone if your choice of wine doesn't quite work out.

So, what are the risky choices for a good general wine that everyone will enjoy?

Cheap Varietals

Cheap wines with a varietal label can often be poor choices. If a bottle of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon were of high quality, you wouldn't be able to buy it for less than £4 or £5. If you are buying at the low end of the price spectrum, you would be much better off choosing a non-varietal wine or a 'lesser' variety.


This is a white-wine grape grown in Germany and Alsace (France), where it produces a dry, aromatic and spicy white wine. However, elsewhere it produces white wines that are frequently too sweet for many. Any wine that is noticeably off-dry is risky choice to buy unless you, and anyone else expected to drink the wine, have had it before and enjoyed it.

Gewurztraminer is an interesting grape variety and definitely worth exploring, but you probably should do some experimenting with it yourself, before buying any for others to drink.


Zinfandel wines have a lot of fruit and a lot of body, and as such are frequently too overpowering for many people. However, once you've tried a few, you will that they can match well with a variety of hearty meals.

Varietals and Old World Wines

If you are used to drinking New World wines, then you may have discovered a favourite grape variety. However, if you want to buy a European wine, you will have difficulty in finding this information on the label. This means that you'll need to develop an understanding of the cross-relationship between New World varietals and French wine regions.

For example, if you like Chardonnay, you will need to try a French white Burgundy from the Côte de Beaune, Mâconnais or Côte Chalonnaise, which will be marked with appellations such as Chablis, Pouilly- Fuissé, Puligny-Montrachet, St-Véran, Montagny or Mâcon.

Check out our Glossary of Appellations for a handy guide to regions and grape varieties in France, and the rest of Europe.

Old Wines

Older wines are difficult to buy - unless you really know what you're doing. Some wines fade when they are aged too long; other older wines are still too young. You may be tempted by a 10 year old bottle of wine, but unless you really know your stuff, it could be that it is still be five years too young or five years too old.

General Rules

If you are buying wine for other people, don't be daring - particularly if it's a wine to be taken with a meal. Stick with the basic rules unless you know that your party doesn't like red or white wine.