The most important thing to know about wine is what you like. That may sound somewhat simplistic, but knowing what you like can be the trickiest hurdle you will have to overcome as a wine lover. If you frequently visit the wine section of a store and look like you know what you are doing, you will eventually be asked for advice selecting wine. When it happens to me, I start by asking the obvious question: what kind of wine do you like? The majority have no idea, so they take a wine I enjoy, which they may or may not like.
Like many casual wine drinkers they don’t really know what they like. More important, they don’t understand what they like. So how do you go about understanding what you like? First, get organized. When you find a wine that you enjoy, be prepared to note at least the following characteristics. In order of importance:
1. Grape variety (Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.)
2. Geographical origin, (Australia, Oregon, Napa Valley, etc.)
3. Wine maker or brand (Beringer, Mondavi, Sterling, etc.)
- Some or all of this information may be on the by-the-glass wine list. If it’s not, ask to see the bottle. The waiter will be happy (no kidding) to bring it to your table.
- Second, expose yourself to as many new wine experiences as possible. This is fun and doesn’t have to be expensive. Try varying your selections when ordering wines by the glass at restaurants. Instead of Merlot, try a Syrah/Shiraz or red Zinfandel. Instead of Chardonnay, try a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. Do the same at parties and be sure to sample all of the wines they are pouring. Attend wine tastings. There are frequent tastings hosted by the restaurants and county clubs in our area.
- After a time you will begin to see patterns in what you like. You may see that you enjoy Merlots from two or three different wine makers in Sonoma County California or a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot both from Beaulieu Vineyards or several Pinot Noirs all from the Carneros region of northern California. This is the beginning of really understanding what you like.
- Armed with this understanding you will have no fear of wine lists or wine stores. If you can’t find the particular wine you are looking for, you will know there is a good chance you will like a Merlot from an unfamiliar wine maker as long as it is located in Sonoma County; or that you may like an unfamiliar Pinot Noir as long as it’s from the Carneros region; or that you may be willing to try something new, like a red Zinfandel, as long as it’s from Beaulieu Vineyards. As important, you’ll be able to ask for recommendations at restaurants; because the first thing they will want to know is; what kind of wine do you like?