There’s enough information to keep us learning for a lifetime about where and which wine to buy. Furthermore, you’ll find many different opinions and preferences on the matter. These guidelines are just meant to help you. Once you know the basics, you can play around and find the right fit for you.

Try to make some decisions ahead of your buying trip so you don’t get overwhelmed. A budget is not a bad place to begin. Navigate the middle price range for a safer choice. This way, you are not likely to pay an inflated price for an unremarkable bottle, nor flunk the grade with an inferior choice.

Next, decide about the class of wine you are going for. For French wine, for example, the label will have one of three “classifications”. Remember that French wines, as opposed their international counterparts, are named after the place where they are produced rather than the type of grape. So here are the main categories that make life easier, since someone else has done the legwork for you:

1. AOC: Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (or Appelation XXXX Contrôlée, where the XXXX stands for the region or locality of production, for example Appelation Beaujolais Contrôlée). The AOC wines are the top tier, produced according to strict standards. This is the type you buy if you are building a collection and you are planning to store the wine.

2. AOVDQS: Appelation d’Origine Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieur. This is the middle tier.
3. Vins de Pays: Third tier. This refers to wines made with 100% of a single grape variety grown in the particular “Pays�?. Best consumed right away.

4. Vin de Table: everyday wine, accounts for 70% of wine production in France.

Next, decide how you wish to buy your wine (packaging).

Bottled: check to see where the wine was bottled. The best will be bottled in the property/domain/chateaux. If it says “bottled in the region�? then you don’t have the same assurance of quality, there is now an intermediary in the process. A cooperative qualifies as “bottled in the property�? so not to be confused with an intermediary bottling operation. Check the capsule, the little foil cap over the cork. It should have a stamp on it. If you are planning to consume shortly, you can go for “pays�? wines. For all wines, it is best if you buy them at least two weeks before consumption and let them “rest�? after transport. If you are buying to stock up the cellar and let the wine age, you can go for young AOC wines that will improve with time. If you find a wine you like, go ahead and buy by the case. You’ll get a nice discount (10% to 15%) and you’ll always have a good bottle at hand.

another option is to buy your wine “en vrac�?. You go to the distributor or, better yet, to the winery if you have that option, taste the wine you like and fill up your container directly from the barrels. It is rare to acquire a high quality wine “en vrac�?. This option is reserved for medium or table wines. As a beginner, beware of the seller that says that the wine in bulk is the same quality as those he sells in bottles. There are exceptions, of course, but as a general rule, the producer will save the best wine for bottling. The attraction of buying in bulk (besides a fun trip to the winery) is the price. You can get well over a 25% savings this way.

En primeur: this fashion of wine buying appeals to investors and gamblers alike. It is similar to buying a commodity future. The producer sells you the wine according to the predicted quality, and the premise is that once the same wine hits the market you would have to pay a much higher price for the same thing. The tricky side is that the “predicted quality�? may not necessarily materialize and you could end up with a whole bunch of mediocre wine. If everything goes well, however, you could be saving upwards of 40% of your money on an excellent wine (and have a story to tell). If you’d like to try this system, make sure you chose a reputable merchant. Some smaller producers make an event out of the “en primeur�? sales. Peter, a fellow forum poster in the Languedoc, usually buys his wine en vrac at his local village. The en primeur turns into quite a festival, complete music band and tasting sessions!

Wine Clubs: here’s an interesting way to learn about wine, have someone else make educated selections for you and generally have a steady supply coming through your door. It is easy. You sign up with a wine club, and they ship the wine to you on a monthly basis (or as often as you wish). The wine comes accompanied with information on how to store it and serve it. I recommend this option as a fun way to get started your wine education.

Note: this it common sense but I thought I should mention it anyway. Your best bet if you are buying in quantity is to buy the wine somewhere were you can taste it first.

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