Over-analyzing vs. no thought process
You can be a uninformed consumer and get a wine because it has a picture of a cute cat on the label. You can be like the wine geeks and spend a lot of time analyzing the heck out of what you're consuming using technical and abstract terms.
The decision-making process
The two opposing ends of the decision-making process:
- Deciding simply either you like it or you don't.
- Trying to decide whether a Chardonnay is overly malolactic. Or whether or not a Cabernet's slightly dill characteristic is because of a cool growing season.
Know what you will drink! I've talked to enough people that buy dessert wines then say they never drink them. I'm not picking on dessert wine, but don't buy stuff you won't open later.
The first thing should be do you like it or not then put some thought into why you do or don't.
Decide if it's in your budget. Should you really have a $60 Cabernet with burgers? Well, I've probably done that, but that doesn't mean you should be so fiscally irresponsible.
In what setting will you use the wine? Are you likely to drink it with friends on a summer afternoon on the patio or are you likely to open it up with a big steak dinner? If you are a vegetarian or will be using the wine in really hot weather than a heavy Cabernet may not be for you even if it tastes really good right now. Maybe you should be looking at lighter reds such as Pinot Noir and Merlot or a white wine.
So think about when you'll use the wine and how. Think about what kinds of dinners you normally eat. Lots of beef, lots of chicken, spicy food, Italian food, etc. All that should be part of the decision-making.
The seasonality of wine
Some are better in summer heat and other shine in the winter months. Think of a hot, sultry summer day--would you rather be having a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc or a big, heavy Cabernet Sauvignon? Okay, some will take a Cab any day over a white wine, but you get the idea. Sauvignon Blanc sells really well in the late spring and through the summer while Cabernet sells best in the autumn and winter months for this reason.
That first sip vs. the second glass
This is perhaps the hardest thing of all to understand. This mostly comes down to the acidity in the wine, but tannins and residual sugars also play a part.
What pleases the palate in that first sip? Most react favorably to wines that come across as smooth and fruity. This is why the lower acid, higher alcohol wines do so well as they make a great first impression. Wines that are still interesting by the second glass or when standing up to a meal tend to not seem as pleasing on the first sip. If you happen to be a whiskey drinker you understand this. Even with some hoppy beers you need to get past that first drink or two to really appreciate them.
Are you looking for a cocktail wine or a dinner wine? The softer, lower acid wines can get washed out by food, but can be pleasing sipping wines.
It's your money so it's what you like. Seems simple, but it gets confusing when you get opinions from friends, strangers, wine critics, and salesmen.