How to choose a wine for the festive season

A couple choosing wine BUSINESS AND LAW

UniSA News asked Dr Armando Maria Corsi and Professor Larry Lockshin from the Business School for advice on choosing a wine to bring to a Christmas party.

Professor Larry Lockshin and Dr Armando Maria Corsi.Professor Larry Lockshin and Dr Armando Maria Corsi.

It’s Christmas time. For many, drinks are on the menu, but when it comes to choosing the best holiday tipple, there’s a common dilemma: what wine to bring to the party?

It’s a question asked not only by consumers, but also retailers, with alcohol being one of the big ticket items over Christmas. And with liquor sales increasing by almost 60 per cent over the festive season.

So how do we choose the best wine? Do we select the tricked-out, tinsel-wrapped Christmas special, or a carefully considered beverage without the bells and whistles? Well, you really can go either way: minimise risk, or maximize discussion. Let’s start with the first one.

Playing it safe

Wine bottle with 'Playing It Safe' instructions when buying wineIf you’re leaning towards the safe option, then it may be best to follow the path that most wine-buyers take: decide on price range first; choose a wine that you’ve tried and liked before; select from well-known regions of origin; pick a well-known grape variety, and a popular brand; and finally, refine by awards or medals. After 30 years of wine marketing research, these are the tried and tested methods that the majority of us take when choosing a wine.

So if you really want to minimise the risk of screwing up (or unscrewing a bottle of wine your guests might not enjoy), the solution is snooping: the next time you catch up with friends bring up the topic of wine and take note of their answers. If you’re super savvy, save this on your phone, then, when you’re in the market to buy you have the information at your fingertips. Match this to a popular grape variety (shiraz and sauvignon blanc are the most popular red and white varieties, pick a well-known region, ask the store staff, or check your mobile to see if the wine has an award, and the game is done. If you’ve done your sleuth-work, the chance of making a mistake is pretty low. The wine will be great, your guests might say ‘thanks, great wine’, but beyond this, they’ll move to the next topic of conversation.

Take a risk

Wine bottle with 'Taking a Risk' instructions when buying wineBut if you really want to get bang for your buck, there is an alternative: go nuts! It’s Christmas, for goodness sake! Don’t listen to your guests, don’t do what others expect you to do, choose whatever takes your fancy! Let us explain...

Last week we were tasting wine with an esteemed overseas professor. We were in one of the best bars in Adelaide, with one of the top wine writers and judges in the country. Blind tasting, not just because we didn’t know what wine was poured into the glasses, but because the glasses were actually black! To start with, we couldn’t tell if the wine was red or white. Yet it was a very mineral wine on the nose, with notes of ripe apples, peach, and white flowers, followed by layers of complexity in the mouth, quite dense, warm and almost smoky. A very inviting wine too – sorry, too much information? That’s the catch, you see: it’s difficult to deny the appeal of such a description; and now you’re intrigued. You want to know more.

Wouldn’t it be great if this was the wine you took to this year’s Christmas party? A wine that will fuel discussion and debate, creating conversation and connecting people. Such a wine lets you and your guests talk face-to-face (forgetting for a moment to check their social media feeds). And, when they do feel the need to tap into the online space, they won’t just be liking others people’s posts, but may be leading the commentary with your wine conversation starter.

To make this a reality, simply go to a wine store you trust, ask for something unusual, something unique, and see what happens.

Every store manager will have a secret little gem, and will love to pass on their esoteric choices. High risk, could just equal high return.

Whether you play it safe or take a risk with your wine selections this Christmas, the choice is yours. From our vantage point, we’ll probably go with both, as we have our old-time favourites, but we always love to test the waters with something new.

Cheers to that (and Merry Christmas)!