Have you ever had and evening when you make dinner for friends or a date and you’re stuck picking a wine—and cheap plonk won’t do? You’re left perplexed, anxious and inferior. (From choosing a wine that is—not because of the company.) Nothing in your education, up to this point, has taught you how to select a bottle. But isn’t wine knowledge the perfect indicator of a renaissance thinker? Well, no. However, if you follow these simple rules you’ll be well on your way to choosing wine with confidence and, better yet, actually enjoying it.
Rule #1: Wine is food
Remember that wine is meant to go with food. Think about the flavours of a wine as a part of your meal. Tasting notes, colour, grape and region will tell you something about where a wine might fit in with food. Of course there’s the simple white with fish/red with meat rule, but within that there are a lot of variations. The best way to learn is to follow your instincts and let a wine’s taste inspire your meal.
Because wine is food, you should take care to avoid additives in wine as you would with other food products. Keep an eye out for organic, biodynamic and “natural” wines. These producers tend to use less cultured yeasts, artificial colouring and flavour additions that can warp and ruin a wine—not to mention make your hangover that much worse.
Rule #2: Follow your heart and your palate—not points scores
It’s easy to buy a wine just because it was awarded 93 points by some critic. Points can be helpful, guiding your purchase to something declared higher quality. Remember though: wine is incredibly subjective. Most of the critics who calculate such scores favour high-alcohol, ripe fruit and oak flavour in their wines. If you like bigger wines, you’re in luck. But if lots of tannin and alcohol aren’t your thing, you might walk away from a bottle thinking wine isn’t for you.
Instead consider what wines you’ve enjoyed in the past. If a bottle strikes you, take a picture of the label, read up on the region or producer and see if you can find similar wines, either of the same grape or region, to broaden your experience. Wine should be an emotional experience. If one makes an impression on you, keep drinking that style regardless of how many points it has.
Rule #3: Dare to taste and explore
If you’ve followed the above rules you should have developed preferences. Once you do, buy something completely different. It might surprise you. It might let you down. Nonetheless in either case you’ve broadened your sense for wine. Don’t get disheartened and keep tasting. For the world’s best sommeliers and critics the only real way to learn wine is to taste it. Carry a notebook for whenever an interesting bottle is opened. There is no penultimate good or even great wine, there’s only what you enjoy.