The question: how does one buy wines in Singapore successfully?
One of the premises: buying with confidence requires one to know a little more of the wines being offered for sale.
I am the type of person who would spend (probably too much) time researching about something, before I’d offer up my hard-earned cash in exchange for the goods. So, naturally, with buying wine, I’d make sure I know at least a little of the wine – an “informed purchase”.
Unless you’re spending an amount of money that you consider as “spare change”, and you’re more than prepared to accept a “bad purchase”, making an informed purchase is part of successful wine buying anywhere in the world.
Especially in Singapore, where wines are expensive and the plethora of choices almost insurmountable!
Learning to decipher the label code
Now, one of the greatest obstacles to knowing anything about a wine is its label. Not just for the wine novice, possibly even for those considered of “intermediate-level” experience.
For “old world” wines (meaning those from from Europe & North Africa), the wine labels hide information behind established laws about where the wine comes from. These less-than-apparent information require a little understanding of laws relating to wine production: AOC of France, DOC of Italy, DO of Spain etc…
For “new world” wines (wines from so-called colonised countries, such as USA, Australia, NZ, S. Africa, Chile, Argentina), the labels tend to give information far more plainly.
What one should look for in the labels are: where the wine is from, which vintage (year) the wine is made, which producer made the wine, what grapes were used to make the wine. A synthesis of the above information will give a reasonable idea as to what sort of wine can be expected, and allow for further investigation into the quality of the wine.
General (most countries)
>> “Reading wine labels” by the The Wine Doctor (Chris Kissack)
General (EU only)
>> “European Union Wine Label Information” at Wine-Searcher
Specific (Burgundy) >>
>> “The label… (of Burgundy wines)” by The Burgundy Report (Bill Nanson)
Armed with some basic information of the wine, one can easily search the internet, or printed resources, for specific information of the wine. Online, wine review sites or blogs are plentiful. Some specialise by countries, others look at any wines the writers can get their hands on. The important question is: how do these reviews relate to me?
In Singapore, whenever a wine is offered for sale, there’s a tendency for the wine to come with ratings. For the general public, this is a good thing, as it gives some sort of recognition of quality by established wine reviewers from around the world. One may see ratings like: RP (or WA) 89, WS 90, JH 91 etc… these are acronyms of some famous reviewers.
– RP represents the world’s most recognisable name in wine review: Robert Parker Jr.; while WA represents The Wine Advocate, which RP founded. Many use RP & WA interchangeably, but one has to note that there are many reviewers working for WA reviewing wines from different regions around the world, so WA is not necessarily RP.
– WS is for Wine Spectator, a wine publication from the USA, which reviews wines regularly via a number of staff reviewers.
– JH is short for James Halliday (and his Australian Wine Companion), who is considered the authority on Australian wines.
Due to the type of wines being sold in Singapore, the above reviewers tend to be more visible than others. But, online, one can get reviews from hundreds more! There are also wine websites that deals specifically with particular wine regions, e.g. The Burgundy Report, The Rhone Report, The Wine Doctor (mainly Bordeaux & Loire).
There may not be a review for the actual wine one is searching for, but with some lateral thinking, one can try to decide if the wine being considered is good enough. For example, you can look for reviews of wines made from the same grapes, in the same area, in the same year, but from a different producer, to get a rough picture. Then, you look for the same type of wines made by the same producer, in different years, to see if the producer is a consistently good operator.
The biggest caution about using wine reviews is this: wine tasting is a very subjective matter. A wine receiving good reviews by a professional reviewer may not be well-enjoyed by you. The key is to find a reviewer who you know has similar tastes to yourself – this is done by trial and error, as you tastes wines rated by the reviewer. And once you have found 1, 2 or more reviewers who you can trust, things can get easier…
Other sources of information
There is another place online where one can get precious information about wines, which I have used a lot of: wine forums (or message boards). These are communities where one can immerse themselves in, to not only find out more about a wine being offered for sale, but also to learn more about wines from the other participants in the community. Often, these communities have very knowledgeable members who are willing to share their experiences.
One such community, with added functionality of being able to keep track of the wines you own, is the subscription site CellarTracker. Even non-paying net-surfers can have limited access to their database of members-generated wine reviews.
EnjoyWine.sg originally was conceived as a wine forum for Singapore wine enthusiasts, but the direction changed. However, one can still freely share information about wines, particularly those available for sale in Singapore, with others via our channels:
– FaceBook page (http://www.facebook.com/EnjoyWineSg)
– Twitter stream (http://twitter.com/EnjoyWineSg)
Finally, one can always ask friends who know a bit more about wines for their opinions, or they might go do the investigative work for you!
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Next instalment in the “buying wine in Singapore” series, we shall deal with: knowing your preferences in wines, and knowing who is selling the wines to you.