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1. I've got £10 - how can I pick a good bottle of red wine? What are signs of quality at a budget price?
There are two ways of looking at this. If you're heading to a supermarket, the best bet is to go for a New World, well-known producer from the likes of Australia - quality will always be good and it will be made in an easy drinking style. The more interesting thing to do is to go into a small independent and ask this question directly. People are always afraid they will be judged when they mention price but in small shops they are normally just happy to help. Also, there are often some real gems at this price point that would not necessarily be obvious e.g. wines from the Languedoc Roussillon.
2. If a wine has this year on the bottle, does that mean it won't be as good and ones that were made earlier?
If it is a young vintage, it does not necessarily mean it is a lesser wine than an older one. It very much depends on the style of the wine. A big bordeaux is not often suitable for drinking young, but a beaujolais nouveau is deliberately made to drink young. If in doubt ask, but wines are being made to drink younger and younger now.
3. What's the difference between Merlot, Shiraz, Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec?
Malbec, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are grapes that tend to make full-bodied wines. Merlot is the softest and plummy, Shiraz is spicy, Malbec is rich and intense and Cabernet Sauvignon is full of blackcurrant and dark hedgerow fruits. Rioja is an area in Spain that makes different styles of wine from a blend of varietals, normally Tempranillo, Grenache and Mazeulo. They are normally full of warm fruit characters and have medium body.
4. I'm on a night out and I want red wine - which type should I ask for?
This is a hard question as it really depends what you like, if you are in a restaurant with a sommelier then tell them what you like and let them help you find a good wine. Many restaurants now have descriptions on the menu so finding a description that appeals to you is an idea. Don't be afraid to experiment, you will come across some duds and some you don't like, but many may surprise.
5. I'm hosting a dinner and I want to serve a good red wine - which type should I buy? What's a crowd pleaser?
If in doubt go for something easily recognisable - a New Zealand Pinot Noir, a Argentine Malbec, a Cotes du Rhone. Think about what you are having for your meal if you have a rich meat dish with an intense sauce choose something heavier, for fish or light meat something lighter.