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?

STEPHEN ADAMSON

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?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Surrey - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Croy...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Marketing & Social Media Executive

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Marketing Graduate or...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer (Trainee) - City, London

£25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A large financial services company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Services Graduate Training Scheme

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are a successful and establ...

SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future