Forget any old rules of judging a wine by its color, nose, and taste on the palate. Here is our list of the top five considerations when choosing a wine.

  1. No Chemical Headaches (aka, will I feel like crap tomorrow?). Sadly many cheap wines (and even some expensive wines) are filled with undisclosed chemicals that give you a throbbing headache the next morning. I hate headaches, and I don’t want to drink any wine that gives a chemical headache the next morning. Our number one rule in choosing wines is to avoid any wine that might give us a headache. After this list, I’ll provide some pointers on how to avoid these wines.
  2. Taste. The primary reason we drink wine is that we love the taste of it. After the feeling like crap tomorrow question, there’s simply nothing more important than drinking wines that you love the taste of. That is of course so long as you can afford the wine, which is the next consideration.
  3. Price. Much to my (and my husband’s) disappointment, we are not made out of money. As much as I’d love to drink a 1982 Chateau Latour once a week, that’s just not possible. Affordability is an absolute key when choosing wines. There’s nothing like finding a great $20 – $30 bottle of wine from Paso Robles or Santa Barbara to enjoy on a regular basis.
  4. Coolness. Wine is about the story and experience, not just the taste. So, what are the things that make a wine cool? Here are some examples. I’ve met the winemaker, and he or she is interesting and not a jerk. I like the story of the winery. I have a good memory of the first time I tasted the wine. Or, on a less personal level, the wine is really old, it’s from an exotic part of the world, or it’s a varietal that no one knows. Coolness matters.
  5. Mood and Location. Obviously, I’ll want to drink a different wine depending upon whether I’m sitting outside on a hot summer weekend day or about to start a steak dinner. An Australian Semillon or a South African Chenin Blanc are great choices for the first option and horrible choices for the second option. And what I want to drink depends on who I’m with, what my mood is, and my sense of adventure on that particular day.

10KBottles, Stringer

If you want some suggestions on avoiding headaches from wine the next morning, here are some thoughts. While not all super cheap wines give chemical headaches, most do, especially those from a box. We avoid these wines like the plague.

On average, American wines are more likely to have chemicals than wines from other regions of the world. There are some wine regions that almost never use chemicals and their wines are very safe (for example, South Africa).

Ingredient labeling on wine is rare but permissible, and the few brave American wineries who ingredient label, (like Ridge) are always safe.

When there’s a wine we’ve never had before that we really like, my husband and I will split a bottle and see how we feel the next morning. If we feel good, then we’ll buy more. If we get a chemical headache, we remember to never buy or drink that wine again.

And, we’ve never once had a headache from any Italian DOCG or DOC wine, and we’ve drank a lot of DOCG and DOC wines, including some very cheap ones. (DOCG and DOC are Italian governmental standards for certain wines, and the bottles have the DOCG or DOC prominent on the label.) We drink a lot more Italian wine than we would otherwise simply because our experience has gotten us to truly trust the DOCG and DOC government ratings. If you don’t trust those ratings, just trust us. 

Anyhow, that’s our top five list. What is yours?

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