how to choose a good wine

Next Thursday the wine bars will get their first taste of this year's Beaujolais. Beaujolais Nouveau Day is about as populist as the wine world gets. But if you do get hooked on wine on the 16th, it may be worth remembering the man who once came a cropper on this very day. An awkward customer asked the barman what he thought of keeping a couple of cases for a year or two. "Great idea," replied his host, knowing full well it would taste like vinegar. Who said revenge is sweet?

I too am no stranger to the wrath of Dionysos and think that rather than describing themselves as "elegant" or "rich", some wines should carry warnings. Words like "bludgeon" spring to mind. Or "repeater", which haunts you throughout the following morning.

It was after a particularly vintage bludgeon that I decided to change my habits. But how would I go about finding those bottles that are elegant and rich?

One of the first lessons I learnt was to ask for help. The wine trade has been forced to shed its traditional snobbery and search for new markets: shops now hold public tastings for the curious, but uninitiated. I spoke to Neill McKenzie of Laytons Wine Merchants, who tried to guide me through a jungle of vineyards.

I found that a lot can be told from the label. Well, that's what you'd have thought. "Nice label, nice wine. Right?" Not exactly. It's what the label says that matters, and the more specific the information, the better a bottle is likely to be.

We started off with the vintages. The most basic wine guide can tell you which are the best years of a particular wine. But if the year is not given, the wine may be a blend from different years.

Next came the wine classifications, a tricky affair. Appellation d'origine Controlee, for a French wine, and Denominazione di origine Controlata Garantita, for an Italian, are a basic mark of a wine's quality. But as a more sophisticated guide, the system can be misleading. It all started in 1855 in the Medoc, a district of the Bordeaux region, where local wine merchants determined the top five classifications. Premier Cru Classe, or first growth, is the highest, followed by Cru Bourgeois and then down to basic Appellation Controlee Bordeaux.

Classifications also vary in terms of region and place of production. Here, exclusivity is a very good sign. If the bottle gives a precise origin, such as Appellation Chateauneuf-du-Pape Controlee and then the name of the domain, it will obviously come from a more established product than plain Appellation Cote du Rhone.

Right then. I've looked at the vintage. I know what appellation means and I know my Premier Cru from my Cru Bourgeois. Time for a bit of shopping then.

Scratching at the surface of the established wisdom of the wine world can bring great rewards. People are often seduced by the big names like Bollinger and Veuve Cliquot, which dominate the champagne market. Perhaps they are some of the best, but better value can often be found in the less famous varieties. Laytons champagne is increasingly popular in London and not surprisingly at pounds 11.45 a bottle.

So now it's time to do some choosing. I am expertly diverted south of expensive Cote de Beaune region to the Chalonnais. Here, you can find the reassuringly specific label of Montagny Premier Cru 1994, Le Vieux Chateau, with an Appellation Montagny Le Vieux Chateau Controlee.

It sounds like a lot to swallow but it went down a dream. And, dare I say, it was rich and elegant. Sitting back with none of the side-effects I had been used to before, I realised that I had done it, I had chosen a decent bottle of wine. Now, where's that champagne?


Laytons Wine Merchants, 21 Motcomb St, London SW1, hold public tastings. Info: 0171-235 3723

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
Life and Style
food + drink
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Year 6 Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + D.O.E - Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone:...

NQT Supply Teachers

£80 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: NQTs required for short and lo...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home