Taking a Bottle of Wine to a Party

Oh boy!  You've been invited to a party and asked to take a bottle of wine.  Now what?  You don't think you know a thing about wine but are expected to show up and not embarrass yourself.  Well, fear not!  

There are several things to consider. First, who will be attending the party. If this is an invite to the bosses house for dinner, that's one thing. If it's a after-work happy hour, a beach party or picnic, that's another.  The primary thing to consider is who you are buying the wine for. 

So, let's start from the easiest position to be in.  If you are invited to an after work happy hour, a beach party or picnic with a big group, don't fret.  Just about any bottle will do.  The point will be to enjoy some food and wine and have a good time.  Show up with a chilled bottle of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon  Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, a Rosé or White Zinfandel and your bottle should be a hit.  

Next, if you are invited to someone's house for a big party, whether it be an open house or a birthday party, again it's hard to go wrong.  The big group will just be looking for a bottle that can be opened and enjoyed while socializing at the party.  Along with the previously mentioned white wines and rosés, you might venture into the reds wines and consider some popular Red Blends, Zinfandel, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Inexpensive versions of these can easily be found in the $10 range. And, like the beach party or picnic, it will be easy to introduce your wine with little threat.

Next comes the smaller couples party where you are to take a bottle of wine. Now your wine will be noticed. If you know the hosts well, ask what type of wine they'd like for you to bring.  They know what food they are going to be serving and should give you some direction on a white versus a red.  Otherwise, show up with a nice bottle of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Merlot in the $15 price range.

A harder situation is when the boss invites you over for dinner or you are in a social situation where you are trying to make a strong positive impression.  Even if you weren't asked to bring a bottle of wine, you should show up with one.  If you are trying to impress, plan on shopping by price and find a nice bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, or Zinfandel) in the $20 price range.  Yes, that may be a bit pricey compared to what you would usually spend, but you want to impress.  And, spending a few extra dollars will be well worth it.

Finally, if you've been invited to someone's house where you know they are big wine lovers, you want to be looking at the upper shelves at the 'nice' wines.  If you can go $20 to $40, do so.  And focus on the red wines. A nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah or a fine red blend should impress. 

Oh, and whether it's a picnic party or a small gathering, be sure to look around at what other wines show up.  It will give you a better sense for next time. And, you just might want to drop off your bottle and try someone else's wine that you've never tried before.  

So, boldly go out there, pick up a bottle of wine to share and, most of all, don't worry. Your wine will be appreciated and rapidly consumed.  Cheers!

Choosing a Red Wine Along the Aisle

So, we've examined the wine aisle from the higher quality, higher priced wines on the top shelf to the lower quality, lower priced wines down around your feet, and then looked down the aisle at the white wines.  Now lets look at the red wines.  These can be can be a bit more difficult as you are getting started. Red wines can range from sweet, to light and fruity, and to big and bold with earthy flavors. 

The sweeter red wines are most often found in the bulk wines. Don't be afraid to try these out. You may find large jugs of red wine or boxes of wine.  This may be the place start if you prefer white wines that are slightly sweet.

On the fruity side, there are wonderful wines with flavors of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and blackberry.  Now these aren't going to taste like a berry soda, the flavors in wines are much more subtle. But as you explore these you'll start to be able to distinguish the flavors.  Fruity red wines include Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Barbera.  Another aspect of red wines that you may immediately experience is that they make your mouth feel dry.  This is the tannin in the wine that results from the grape skins and stems.  This dry-mouth sensation is similar to what you might experience when drinking a strong cup of tea.  So, start with some of the softer, less tannic, reds like Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel. Then, work your way into Merlot and finally to Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre.

Then there are the herbal, earthy red wines. These have description of having flavors of black pepper, clay, forest, smoke, leather and even tobacco.  Again, these flavors are more subtle than they sound.  These herbal reds include many of the wines from France and Italy and include Chianti, Beaujolais, Barolo, Barbaresco, Montepulciano, Cotes du Rhone, Saint-Emilio and the Rhone wines.  These too can range from soft to tannic. On the soft, or less tannic side, are Cotes du Rhone, Saint-Emilio and the Rhone wines. The higher tannic reds include Barbaresco, Chianti, Barolo and Medoc. 

So confidently take a step forward and choose a bottle of red wine. You are sure to pick one full of flavor that can either be enjoyed by itself or with food.  And continue to enjoy your wine journey. Cheers!

How to Pick a White Wine on the Aisle

Last time we took a look at the typical wine arrangements in a large retail store, with the high-end wines on the top shelf, the mid-grade wines in the middle shelves and the low-end wine down at foot level.  Now, if you've zeroed in on the middle shelves, that still can leave you with rows of wines that run from the front of the store to the back of the store. "Now what?" you ask yourself.

Well, along those middle shelves you are probably going to find five types of wines; reds, whites, roses, sparkling wines and dessert wines.  Add, you may know that when you're out at a restaurant or visiting a friend, you've had some white wine that you like and you've had some reds that are OK.  But, the white wines and red wine each take up nearly half the aisle. So, let's focus in on picking a bottle of white wine. 

As stated in a previous posting, drink what you like.  Do you like a light, slightly sweet white wine?  Well, you have several choices including Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer.  These are usually easy white wines to start with.  Or, if you are looking for something that isn't on the sweet side, the un-oaked Chardonnays may be a great place for you.  The un-oaked Chardonnays (often noted on the label) will be light-bodied and crisp, with emphasis on fruit flavors of apple, pear and citrus. Or, the Chardonnays that are aged in oak (and most are to some extent) have bigger body and flavors that add vanilla, butterscotch, toast and spice to the fruit flavors (and no, they don't add things like vanilla or butterscotch to the wine, but that's a subject for another time).  And, the heavily oaked Chardonnays can become rich, creamy and buttery.

So next time you are standing there bewildered on the wine aisle, look up, look down, and then look across and pick a wine that fits in with where you are in your journey of exploring the grand world of wines.  Cheers!

Buying Wine at a Retail Store

So, there you are in the wine aisle, stretching from one end of the store to the other. Or, worse yet, you are in a wine warehouse with multiple aisles of wines.  And you ask yourself "Where do I start?" 

Well, in case you haven't yet noticed, the 'best' and most expensive wines are always on the top shelf and the lower-end, less expensive wines are on the floor-level shelf.  This general rule-of-thumb works in most big wine retailers (grocery stores and other chain retailers). So, if you are looking for a very nice bottle of wine to give as a gift, to take to your boss's house for dinner, or to give to someone you know has a great appreciation of wine, keep your eyes on the upper shelves.  On the labels of these wines you will generally see the region (e.g., Napa Valley, or Sonoma) and/or appellation  (e.g., Rutherford or Alexander Valley) where the grapes were grown.  These are usually higher quality, dependable grapes from well known regions.  The upper shelves are filled with great wines that you usually can't go wrong with.

If you are just looking for something nice to take home for a casual dinner, the middle shelves are great hunting grounds.  Here you'll find wines from big wine producers that make good solid wines that are ready to drink.  While some will identify the region where the grapes were grown, you will also find many wines that are labeled "California" or have no region specified at all.  If the label only specifies the State, then all you know is that the grapes were grown somewhere in that state, but this generally means that the grapes are from multiple regions within that state.  So, if you love wines from California or Oregon, then look for wines labeled this way.

Finally, if you are on a budget or just looking for a wine to take to a pot luck or backyard barbecue, then the lower shelves are filled with plenty of wines that will work.  And, if you are just looking to try a wine for the first time, these less expensive wines will give you the opportunity to try a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel without paying a lot of money.  Also, on these lower shelves you will find wine blends that don't tell you the region where the grapes were grown or the type of grapes used and they often have fun or catchy names.

So, now you've zeroed in on the shelves that fit what you're looking for.  But, you still may have the dilemma that the self stretches from the front of the store to the back of the store. Well, next time we'll explore the kinds of wines you'll find along the aisle.  Cheers!

What Wine Should You Drink?

So many times the question is "What wine should I drink?" 

A few years ago, I was out to dinner at a very nice restaurant with three business associates, including my manager who was quite knowledgeable about wines.  The restaurant had a very good menu and a terrific wine list.  It came time to order and I chose a really great looking fish entree and a glass of French red wine that was described as something that I would really enjoy. After the waiter had taken our order and left the table, my manger asked me what I'd ordered. I repeated my order, only to have him say "You ordered a red wine with your fish?" and he looked at me funny.  I thought to myself, 'Yes...I ordered a really great looking red wine; is there a problem with that?'  Apparently I'd done something wrong.  I love red wines, and had ordered a really nice French wine that was described as something that I'd really enjoy.  But, to my manager, I'd ordered the wrong wine. Of course, I felt quite uncomfortable through the rest of the meal. But, as we got up from the table to leave the restaurant, I reflected on the dinner. The fish was really great and my glass of red wine was, as expected, outstanding. I'd had a great meal, but felt bad about it.

While I probably could have made a better pairing choice of wine with my fish, I had enjoyed a delicious meal and a fine glass of wine.  What's wrong with that?

So, what wine should you drink?  The answer is very simple; drink what you like.  And enjoy it!