Because I'm a young woman working in the wine business, friends forever grill me for wine-buying advice. Whether you need wine for a party, to give as a gift or to share with a friend – all wine is not created equal, and each situation does require some knowledge and forethought. (Beyond which bottle's on sale!) A little wine know-how really can go a long way – you'll be able to tell by the impressed looks on your friend's faces. Here are a few of my best tips for navigating your way through those rows of bottles. Cheers!
I know it's tempting, but do not pick your wine by the cute animal on the label or the awesome bottle shape when cruising the wine aisles. Ask the clerk – you may just find a steal or delicious gem. If you're dining out on the town, it's the sommelier's job to help you find the right wine. Put him or her to work. If you're ordering by the glass, ask for a taste first. A good restaurant is always happy to accomodate. When in doubt, go for a name you can trust for consistent wines, such as Mondavi, Geyser Peak, Antinori, Peter Lehmann or, for Port, Taylor Fladgate. An internationally recognized winery can not afford to let customers down.
A word on pairing.
Ladies, do not get hung up on pairing your food and wine. If you do not like the style of a wine that is "supposedly" to go with your meal, you're not going to like the wine no matter how perfect the pairing. But for those of you interested in a little experimentation, I've included some of my favorite pairings below:
Chardonnay: The most popular white wine in America, Chard grapes generally produce full-bodied wines. California, Burgundy (France) and Australia's Margaret River all produce world-famous Chardonnays.
Foods to pair: grilled cheese sandwiches, vegetable lasagna, steamed lobster or crab, chicken tamales
Names to try: Louis Latour (France), Ruffino Libalo (Italy), J Lohr (USA), Kim Crawford (New Zealand)
Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir grapes produce elegant, food-friendly red wines. The most famous region for Pinot Noir is Burgundy, but Pinots are also produced in abundance throughout the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
Foods to pair: anything in mushroom sauce, grilled salmon or tuna, pumpkin soup
Names to try: Dehlinger (USA), Mount Riley (New Zealand), Drouhin (France), Byron (USA)
Gamay: Learn this name, for it represents some of the best bargains in the red wine world. This fruity red is most famously the grape used in France's Beaujolais wines, but Gamay is also becoming better known in California and Canada.
Foods to pair: potato dishes, spicy sausage, roast chicken, pizza
Names to try: Jadot (France), Preston (USA), Mommessin (France)
Cabernet Sauvignon: The most popular red wine grape in the Unites States, Cabernet is the one you'll need to know to impress the average man. Most California cult wines are made from Cabernet or are Cab blends.
Foods to pair: pot roast, wild game, chicken and mashed potatoes, hamburgers and fries
Names to try: Joseph Phelps (USA), Penfolds (Australia), Clos du Val (USA), Montes Alpha (Chile)
Sparkling Wine: Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all bubbly is Champagne. Confused? In order to be called Champagne, a wine must come from the Champagne region of France. But that does not mean that other bubbles are inferior. Great sparkling wines come from Spain, Italy, Australia and the United States.
Foods to pair: There are two types. For Blanc de Blanc, try popcorn, potato chips, caviar, bacon and eggs. Brut Champagnes are great with cheeses, fish in cream sauce and even chocolate chip cookies.
Names to try: Perrier Jouet (France), Iron Horse (USA), Gosset – pronounced Go Say – (France), Gloria Ferrer (USA)
So bring on those wine lists! Nothing says you know what you're doing like recommend a Latour Chardonnay for your date to try with his steamed lobster. Keep exploring and expanding your wine IQ, and soon you'll be recommending your own favorite grapes and pairings. California Cab with that casserole, anyone?