Wine, oh! A Crash Course

manBran says:

Beer and the occasional liquor concoction had been the only real staples in my repertoire for quite some time, but when I had the opportunity to attend my first wine tasting a few years ago, I was introduced to a world filled with bold Malbecs and sweet, dry Rieslings. My life was turned on its head when I discovered that there was more to life than PBR and Jack Daniels.

To some, wine can be a very intimidating subject of interest. Self-proclaimed “aficionados” lurking around every corner and grocery stores investing towards in-house sommeliers will dissuade even the most curious individual. But let’s cut through all the bull and get get down to what’s really important (read: the wine, duh), and all the wonderful things you truly need to know about it.

1. When in doubt, remember: Beef and lamb? Red. Poultry, pork, and seafood? White.

Wine parings delve into a whole new layer of viticulture, but if it’s a situation where you’re merely trying to entertain a few guests, refer to this advice and you can’t go wrong. Do keep in mind, though, that “red” wine comprises a whole range of elixirs from Zinfandel to Cabernet, so be cautious when selecting a go-to table wine for your dinner paring. I recommend a basic Syrah or Merlot for they’re exceptionally drinkable. Conversely, “white” wines can be anything from Chardonnay to Sauvignon Blanc, so it would be wise to opt for a Chenin Blanc for table wine or a sweet Riesling for after dinner or dessert.

2. “Vintage” doesn’t always translate into “better”.

In all honesty, some of the best wines I’ve had were drank no more than 1-2 years after their production. Try not to get so wrapped up in vintage wines that have been “aging” for decades and what not. You can get a quality wine of any type at your nearest store for a decent price without all of the pretentious baggage that comes with a 30+ year-old bottle of Chianti.

3. The customer isn’t always right.

I understand that you may have tried this one awesome wine that one time, while on vacation in southern France, and now it’s the only wine you’ll ever drink, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work in your favor for every meal that you have. If you’re going to a restaurant, especially one with a sommelier or overall wine expert, use him or her to your advantage; that’s what they’re paid for. Let them know what dishes you plan on having that night and ask for suggestions on what might pair well with what. You’d be surprised how different–and better–your food will taste with the help of an expert opinion.

Brian Wilder is a writer for Home Ec 101. You can also find him at Things My Grandfather Taught Me. If you have a question you’d like Brian to answer send it to


  1. Pamela on January 21, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    My husband started drinking wine some years ago: for the health benefits! (I am not making this up), and now we plan holidays to stop at vineyards and sample the wine. It is a fun way to learn about what you might like or not, and he is getting an education without really trying. AND – anther side benefit, most vineyards are gorgeous with many of them having patios that you can sit on, enjoy the view and sip a glass or two.

  2. Toy Lady on January 21, 2011 at 9:17 am

    It's also usually a safe bet to keep the food and the wine from the same general area – at least until you're familiar with the wines. Steak goes well with a good Argentinian malbec, while pizza is pretty nice with a chianti.

    And, of course, Champagne goes with everything. 🙂
    My recent post January’s Third Thursday- No Whiskey- Just Rye

    • ... on January 23, 2011 at 8:44 pm

      I've never liked champagne, but I do enjoy the occasional glass of Asti.

  3. Shelley on January 21, 2011 at 7:18 am

    I don't care much for Syrah or Merlot; I think they are too heavy, though I like dry wines. I prefer Beaujolais or Chianti myself. When in the restaurant we generally order the 'house' (cheaper and usually drinkable); or, we'll order the next wine up from the cheapest, usually a safe bet. Wine snobs are real bores and really, what does it matter? I'd say start at the cheapest wines and gradually spend more until you find the cheapest wines that you enjoy. The ghastly ones can always be mixed with lemonade or fruit juice or to used cook with.
    My recent post Careful Reading

    • HeatherSolos on January 21, 2011 at 8:59 am

      I'd go as far as to say, most snobs are bores. You're right, you don't need a fancy wine for sangria. Now I'm wishing for a summer evening and a glass of sangria. It's before 8am and in January. Sigh.

      • Brian Jacobi Wilder on January 23, 2011 at 8:47 pm

        I'd drink two glasses of sangria every morning if it wasn't frowned upon socially.

  4. mseda on January 21, 2011 at 2:04 am

    Most good wine stores will have a surprisingly large selection of sub-$20 bottles and the staff will actually know which ones are good. So even if your shopping on a budget don't be afraid to go to the fancy wine store because your much more likely to come away with a fantastic wine for $10 than by picking the coolest label on the grocery store shelf. My favorite shop always has a $5 feature brand that's generally pretty good, usually a from a newer vintner trying to build a following.

  5. HeatherSolos on January 20, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    A fun way to find affordable wines is to invite friends over for a cheap wine tasting. Everyone brings their favorite bottle under $10 or $15. You'll get to sample a bunch of wines without shelling out and being stuck w/ something you don't enjoy.
    If you have a smartphone, use it to take pictures of your favorites and keep those pics in a folder of your photo gallery. Then the next time you're at the store staring at the wine racks, you can just use your phone to pick one.

  6. Keter on January 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    When shopping low price point wines, you can get some really awesome bargains. Cheap no longer equals bad, necessarily. Here's the trick: learn the growing regions you like. Go to free or cheap wine tastings to educate yourself on what you like, and keep good notes. Then look for lower cost wines from the same region. Buy one bottle, try it that evening, and go back for a case or two if you like it…or for a different one to sample if you don't.

    I found that I like just about all Chilean and Argentinian wines, South African, German, Spanish and Washington/Oregon whites, French Burgundy and Bordeaux, and Malbecs from just about anywhere, and that I've never met a Rose that I didn't hate. I also found out that almost all Australian wine gives me a sulfite headache, and the risk of the same for California and Texas wines is about 50/50, but I've never had a bad reaction to a Chilean wine.

    The most fun of all is serving a $9 bottle to your $100/bottle snooty friends and having them cluelessly rave. ;o)

    • Brian Jacobi Wilder on January 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm

      Every once in a while, I like to be the "snooty" friend of the group with my $75 bottle of malbec reserva, but I've never really been a huge fan of Californian wines. Oregon and Washington are definitely revolutionizing the way we thing about seasonal wines. I need to start drinking more of it.

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