Over many years of close observation of how people buy wine, I have found more to be female, and who are more interested in labels than the contents of the bottle. If the label appeals, they grab it, and of course the bottle must be on display at eye-level. Some pay scant attention to enclosure – screw cap is preferred by some (for ease in opening), others still go with cork-enclosed bottles.
Of late, I have noticed men or women with newspaper or magazine clippings in
their hands, looking for 90-point wines recommended by local wine writers (remember Ontario is a monopoly alcohol beverage distribution province). Shoppers with more knowledge and money rely on Vintages and Classics catalogues.
Buying wine according to the taste preferences (scored) of wine writers is one way of doing it. You can purchase a wine that appeals to you because of the rating given by a wine writer but also be disappointed since each writer has different perceptions of wine.
Obviously, this is an easy way to buy wine, but may cost a lot, or in some cases not so much.
You must also remember that very well known brands almost never submit their wines for scoring. Try to find a classic first growth Bordeaux or for that matter a Gaja wine or grange hermitage scored by a writer. They are too good to seek publicity. They are sold even before the wine is bottled.
Of course, you can ask a sales person for recommendation and hope he/she is not on commission. In Ontario or Quebec a store consultant may be able to direct you to a wine that would likely please you. Some of the consultants of the knowledgeable and actually enjoy wine.
Then you can go by grape variety other than the very popular ones – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinto Noir, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc, and select a brand with which you may or may not be familiar.
Wineries try to persuade you that their brand is the best tasting in the category, but beware of vintages, if they apply, or batch numbers. Even the same brand is blended in batches and may vary ever so slightly, and in some cases noticeably.
Try these reds – Tempranillo, Mourvedre (aka Monsatrell), Petit Verdot, Petit Syrah (aka Durif), Cabernet Franc, Xinomavro, or any other for that matter. (There are more than 8000 grape varieties).
And for whites, you can try Albarino, Grenache Blanc, Moscato d’Asti, Muscats, Sylvaner, Rivaner, Muller-Thurgau, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio), Kerner, Semillon, Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Picolit, Marsanne just to name a few.
You can also go by region e.g Bordeaux, Burgundy, Ontario, British Columbia, Cotes du Rhone, Loire, Piedmont, Sicily, Tuscany, Napa valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and New Zealand.
Each region yields a completely different wine even if the sale grape variety is used, but in most cases, at least in Europe, regional wines are blended, except in Burgundy, and Piedmont. Even there winemakers separate the wines of different blocks of each single vineyard and blend according to their liking.
The best way to buy wine of course is by going to the winery, tasting a number of wines, and then buy what pleases your palate most. However, it is time consuming and in some cases an expensive proposition.
In Europe, millions of Germans living close to France cross the border to Alsace, taste the wines, and then buy. The same is true for Swiss from Geneva who travel to Burgundy, and Belgians from Brussels or Liege.