Do you feel out of your depth when in company that seems to know what wine pairs well with what and how to describe a wine’s bouquet (aka its nose, or to us mortals, its smell!)? Me too. I know I prefer red (my fave is Chateauneuf du Pape) and I prefer sparkling overall but that’s as far as I go. Fancy joining me in a crash course in wine? Come on in then.
1. Develop Your Wine Palate
Getting an invite to a posh meal with your boss can be a blessing as well as a nightmare, if you know nothing about wine and don't want to look like a novice to the high-life. What you need to know about wine can be easily learned though, at least to get you through one evening of dining in a Michelin-star restaurant. Hold the wine glass by its stem so your hands don't warm the wine. Buy a few bottles of what you like best, such as French Cabernet Franc, Mosel or chardonnay, and make every sip swirl around in your mouth before swallowing it. You'll experience all the nuances of the wine's flavor that way. If you've got time before that all-important dinner, join a wine-tasting group to learn more.
2. Knowing Your Grapes and Regions
Learn some of the basics by heart, so you won't feel embarrassed because you don't know what to order to impress your client, new boy/girlfriend or boss. Chablis is chardonnay, Sancerre is sauvignon blanc, red Burgundy is pinot noir, red Bordeaux is cabernet sauvignon and merlot, Chianti from Italy is sangiovese and Soave is garganega, while Rioja from Spain is tempranillo. With a few essentials like these you'll feel more confident.
3. Experiment with Wine
Try different regions, find out what's trendy, be brave about chilling red wine and discover what food goes best with certain wines. Every year wine connoisseurs look to different regions to discover tasty new wines. Recent favorites included the Etna region of Sicily, the award-winning Douro Valley, Alentejo in Portugal and Swartland in South Africa. Try England's sparkling wines, chill red wine instead of serving at room temperature and experiment with the different types of Sherry, such as fino and manzanilla, if you want to serve traditional aperitifs.
4. Don't Be a Snob
What you need to know about wine is that only snobs turn up their nose at screw cap bottles and lower prices. Even if a bottle doesn't have a cork, the contents can be delicious. A screw cap doesn't mean the wine is inferior or cheap. It can be rather bewildering knowing what to order from a wine list, but you can always stick with grapes that are ideal for matching types of food, such as sauvignon blanc for a lighter white wine to go with fish, chardonnay for a richer white to go with poultry or pinot noir to match meat dishes.
5. Look out for "Eureka" Moments
Playing it safe with wine will eventually turn you into a wine snob, but experimenting with different regions will afford you many wonderful "Eureka" moments. Don't just buy the safe cabernet, zinfandel or pinot grigio from the regions you know best. Find a new wine to tickle your palate once in a while. South American red wines can be a revelation, their earthy, often peppery taste going well with strongly flavored meat.
6. Turn to Books and Travel Guides for Inspiration
What you need to know about wine can also be discovered from books and travel guides. The Algarve in Portugal for example is a wonderful wine-growing region and its tourism board publishes a free downloadable guide on the vineyards and wines of the area. In fact, there are wine routes you can explore in many countries, such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, USA, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
7. Visit Wine Museums
Many cities boast wine museums, where you can find out what you need to know about wine in an informative and fun-packed way. Try "Vinopolis" in London or the Wine Museum in Malaga, Spain, next time you're on holiday in Europe. At the end of your museum's tour, there's usually a wine shop where you can buy some of the fabulous wines you tasted in the museum.
I feel better informed already. What’s your favorite wine, or do you try any?