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Here's How To Pick A Good Bottle Of Wine (Even If You Know Nothing About Wine)

It doesn't have to be a guessing game.

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Picking out a good bottle of wine at a liquor store or on a restaurant menu can be a daunting task, especially if you don't know a ton about wine.

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But no one understands the world of wine better than sommeliers. So we asked a bunch of them for their best tips and tricks for picking out a good bottle every time.

Our pros were Bianca Bosker, sommelier and author of "Cork Dork"; Kimberly Prokoshyn, sommelier at Scampi; Dustin Wilson, master sommelier and co-founder of Verve Wine; Brahm Callahan, master sommelier at Grill23; and Laura Maniec, master sommelier and co-founder of CorkBuzz. Here are seven of their most useful pieces of advice.

1. When you find a wine you love, flip over the bottle and memorize the importer.

Think of your favorite importers like your favorite restaurant: you consistently love the food and you know the quality is always good, so you keep going back to it. "Most importers have a 'house style,' and they pick wines that fit that style," says Callahan. So if you like a wine from a certain importer, chances are, you'll like others. If you're not sure where to start, Maniec recommends a few of her favorites: "I love Kermit Lynch, Becky Wasserman, and Louis Dressner, to name a few."
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Think of your favorite importers like your favorite restaurant: you consistently love the food and you know the quality is always good, so you keep going back to it. "Most importers have a 'house style,' and they pick wines that fit that style," says Callahan. So if you like a wine from a certain importer, chances are, you'll like others. If you're not sure where to start, Maniec recommends a few of her favorites: "I love Kermit Lynch, Becky Wasserman, and Louis Dressner, to name a few."

2. Take the time to really figure out what you even like. (And what you hate.)

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Think of wine like you think of food: Everyone has preferences. There are certain ingredients you like and others that you hate, so when you look at a restaurant's menu, your eye wanders toward dishes you enjoy. Wine is the same way.

"The first step is learning what you like and dislike in wine," says Maniec. Drink a lot of it, and figure out the varietals you like best (i.e., light and bright versus tannic and hearty). And take notes along the way: Write down what you like about it, what it tastes like, and what the wines remind you of — whether that's nectarine and roses or tar and leather. You preferences will soon start to come through.

3. Find a wine shop you love, then trust them to point you in the right direction.

If you have access to local wine shops, start there. Unlike supermarkets or mass retailers that carry wine — plus everything else — wine shops can put their focus on one thing. Wine is their speciality, and buyers pay super close attention to their selections. The best shops will curate a selection of wines they're passionate about. "The first thing you need to do to drink well is to buy your wine from someone who gives a damn," says Bosker. "Go to the wine shops that are the indie book stores of booze, where someone has hand selected everything on the shelf and knows it well."Wine shops and wine bars also often offer guided tastings, which are a great starting point. Or, to really up your wine know-how, you could also take a wine education class.
@flatironny via Instagram

If you have access to local wine shops, start there. Unlike supermarkets or mass retailers that carry wine — plus everything else — wine shops can put their focus on one thing. Wine is their speciality, and buyers pay super close attention to their selections. The best shops will curate a selection of wines they're passionate about. "The first thing you need to do to drink well is to buy your wine from someone who gives a damn," says Bosker. "Go to the wine shops that are the indie book stores of booze, where someone has hand selected everything on the shelf and knows it well."

Wine shops and wine bars also often offer guided tastings, which are a great starting point. Or, to really up your wine know-how, you could also take a wine education class.

4. Play around with wine apps that allow you to see ratings and what other people are drinking.

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

There are a bunch of apps — like Vivino and Wine Searcherthat help you choose, buy, and track wines. Prokoshyn's favorite is Delectable. "You can store photos of wines you like and also to follow what other users are drinking," she says. "That way, you can get direction from others."

5. To get more bang for your buck, try wines from smaller, less popular regions.

Napa Valley wine is delicious, but it's also going to cost you a pretty penny because it's one of the largest and most highly-regarded wine regions in the world. To get better value, look to underrated regions. "Going slightly off the beaten path — or not immediately reaching for 'big name' regions — will definitely make your dollar go further," says Wilson. "I'd recommend looking to coastal Spain, Australia, and Corsica for some killer bottles under $40. Get to know their wines, then branch off from there," says Wilson. Prokoshyn agrees. "Go for off-beat regions that over-deliver in quality and, because of their slight obscurity, have better value," she says. She looks to Savoie for lighter and fresher wines, Etna in Sicily for crazy delicious volcanic wines that have a little more power but still a good deal of rustic charm, and Valle d’Aosta in the alps of Italy.
Wine Folly / Via winefolly.com

Napa Valley wine is delicious, but it's also going to cost you a pretty penny because it's one of the largest and most highly-regarded wine regions in the world. To get better value, look to underrated regions.

"Going slightly off the beaten path — or not immediately reaching for 'big name' regions — will definitely make your dollar go further," says Wilson. "I'd recommend looking to coastal Spain, Australia, and Corsica for some killer bottles under $40. Get to know their wines, then branch off from there," says Wilson.

Prokoshyn agrees. "Go for off-beat regions that over-deliver in quality and, because of their slight obscurity, have better value," she says. She looks to Savoie for lighter and fresher wines, Etna in Sicily for crazy delicious volcanic wines that have a little more power but still a good deal of rustic charm, and Valle d’Aosta in the alps of Italy.

6. Once you understand your own preferences, don't be afraid to ask for advice.

According to Bosker, you only really need to know two things when you buy wine: How much you want to spend, and what flavors you like. "That could be as specific as, 'I adore Slovakian dry Rieslings' or as broad as, 'I like wines that taste like peach,'" she says. Communicate those facts at a wine shop or restaurant just like you'd ask a sales attendant to point you in the right direction at a clothing store. "Whoever works there will be able to help you find something fabulous," says Bosker.
Reclaiming Your Castle / Via reclaimingyourcastle.com

According to Bosker, you only really need to know two things when you buy wine: How much you want to spend, and what flavors you like. "That could be as specific as, 'I adore Slovakian dry Rieslings' or as broad as, 'I like wines that taste like peach,'" she says. Communicate those facts at a wine shop or restaurant just like you'd ask a sales attendant to point you in the right direction at a clothing store. "Whoever works there will be able to help you find something fabulous," says Bosker.

7. When in doubt, don't be afraid to try a wildcard wine.

Getty Images, @irvingbottle / Via instagram.com

Almost everyone's heard of California Cabernet Sauvignon, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. "Restaurants call these "gimme wines" — and they charge more for them because guests recognize them first, feel they're safe, and say 'Gimme that! I don't care how much it costs!'” Bosker explains. The best way to find value is going beyond these popular wines and trying new things. So go further down the list, and don't be afraid to order a wine you've never heard of or can't pronounce. "These wines are harder to sell, but they're on the list because someone loves it," says Bosker. "It’ll be a surprise, you’ll learn something, and you'll probably find it delicious."

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