So, there you are in the wine aisle, stretching from one end of the store to the other. Or, worse yet, you are in a wine warehouse with multiple aisles of wines. And you ask yourself "Where do I start?"
Well, in case you haven't yet noticed, the 'best' and most expensive wines are always on the top shelf and the lower-end, less expensive wines are on the floor-level shelf. This general rule-of-thumb works in most big wine retailers (grocery stores and other chain retailers). So, if you are looking for a very nice bottle of wine to give as a gift, to take to your boss's house for dinner, or to give to someone you know has a great appreciation of wine, keep your eyes on the upper shelves. On the labels of these wines you will generally see the region (e.g., Napa Valley, or Sonoma) and/or appellation (e.g., Rutherford or Alexander Valley) where the grapes were grown. These are usually higher quality, dependable grapes from well known regions. The upper shelves are filled with great wines that you usually can't go wrong with.
If you are just looking for something nice to take home for a casual dinner, the middle shelves are great hunting grounds. Here you'll find wines from big wine producers that make good solid wines that are ready to drink. While some will identify the region where the grapes were grown, you will also find many wines that are labeled "California" or have no region specified at all. If the label only specifies the State, then all you know is that the grapes were grown somewhere in that state, but this generally means that the grapes are from multiple regions within that state. So, if you love wines from California or Oregon, then look for wines labeled this way.
Finally, if you are on a budget or just looking for a wine to take to a pot luck or backyard barbecue, then the lower shelves are filled with plenty of wines that will work. And, if you are just looking to try a wine for the first time, these less expensive wines will give you the opportunity to try a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel without paying a lot of money. Also, on these lower shelves you will find wine blends that don't tell you the region where the grapes were grown or the type of grapes used and they often have fun or catchy names.
So, now you've zeroed in on the shelves that fit what you're looking for. But, you still may have the dilemma that the self stretches from the front of the store to the back of the store. Well, next time we'll explore the kinds of wines you'll find along the aisle. Cheers!