I LOVE wine, I admit it! I am a self-proclaimed “Wine-O”. Spoiler…I am not a licensed sommelier, just a restaurant girl who LOVES wine. I can easily navigate a wine list if I am out with the ladies on “Girl’s Night”, but what I love most about wine is helping others find their perfect bottle! If you are the type of person who gets stumped at the liquor store and ends up with some obscure bottle that you will likely hate, or if you are looking to try some new wines that are “sure things“ at the new trendy hot spot up the road, here is what you need to know:
1) First and most important, KNOW YOUR PRICE POINT! Are you in the mood for a big night and a $200 Barolo? Or are you more of a $2 buck chuck sort of person? The good news is you can get pretty amazing bottles at the liquor store for $12-$25 a bottle, or dining there is a sweet spot around $40 that many restaurants offer. Many restaurants also offer deep discounts on wine by the bottle on slower nights, like Sundays and Mondays. Just be up front with the person who you are purchasing from, and DON’T fall victim to the aggressive server person who is trying to win shift contest or the counter liquor store rep who needs to move aging inventory.
2) Geography! It’ not just a junior high subject. There are too many wine brands to count and often producers change labeling and even blends often. The best thing to take away from a bottle you enjoyed is the grape(s) and the ORGIN. If you loved that German Riesling, don’t worry if you can’t find the same brand next time. Grapes differ greatly around the world, so a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon will NOT have any similar notes to a Super Tuscan Sangiovese Cabernet blend. Stick with a known grape and place.
3) Wine Geek words…not just for geeks anymore. Remember when you were younger and wine coolers were the drinks of champions? They served their purpose, and got you attracted to wine, but every kid out grows Kool-Aid. Now, look for wine terms on the bottle like “Estate Bottled” and “DOCG” to guide you. Not all countries have a ratings designation, but France, Spain, and of Italy do and since they have been making wine for centuries, you are usually safe there. (Refer to number 2 for Geography preferences.) “Estate Bottled” refers to origin again, but more specifically the brand’s farms. Many wine companies buy grapes in bulk from farmers and then produce them under their own name, but wine estates will keep their best grapes to sell as their brand, so those are always better in taste and texture. For more wine geek words, I recommend “The Wine Lover’s Companion” there are several editions in print, and its like a wine geeks vocabulary list. Hear a term, look it up and you are ready for the next big weekend wine tasting event!
4) Know Thyself, Know they guest. Too many times customers tell me they want a full dry red wine, like a merlot. Merlot is neither dry nor full bodied…hence my dilemma. Then I am faced with the choice of making them look ridiculous in front of their party or pretending that I don’t know what I do. I find that most times when planning to host an event or meeting a friend for a meal, blends tend to work best. I can usually match a California blend or something Sicilian with a kick to just about any group if I can get a few specifics worked out up front. Dry or sweet, full or light bodied and white or red. That’s also a good time to work out desired price point too. (Refer to first step again)
5) Vintage, it was the best of times and worst of times! The vintage refers to the year the grapes were harvested…and unless you are familiar with weather patterns, that is a tough thing to discern. Some years, certain wines, like a Brunello di Montalcino, will not even be produced if the weather is not ideal. Farmers would much rather take the juice of a less stellar year and produce a less spectacular bottle then have their pride and joy compromised. Sometimes it was super dry year and the grapes suffer, other times it was too wet and there was rot or disease. Wines that need aging might be too young to drink, or else they are getting too old. There are some pretty fantastic wine apps out there that can guide you if you are not into doing the research yourself. If a deal is too good to be true, there is probably a good reason so steer clear.
So hopefully your next purchase will be an amazing bottle that makes you swoon, for the right price! A wine is only as good as the person you are sharing it with so, drink it with someone you like or love to make sure that all these steps are successful for you! Salute!