Many people like to enjoy a bottle of wine with a meal, but have no idea how to select an appropriate and inexpensive wine for the occasion. I know I went through years of picking wines, even spending a lot on occasion, and regularly picking something completely inappropriate and often bad.
Because of this, I prepared a very simple wine buying guide for those of us who like an occasional glass with a meal (or are even a first-time wine drinker) and want something good and appropriate without spending much money. Tomorrow, I’ll give some under-$10 recommendations to pick up for Christmas dinner that you should be able to find by hitting a few stores.
The color of the wine should match the color of the meal. If you’re looking for a wine to match a meal, the first thing you need to do is match the color of the wine to the color of the meal. Are you enjoying poultry, pork, seafood, or pasta with a light-colored sauce? Select a white wine. Are you enjoying beef, venison, or pasta with a tomato sauce? Select a red wine. Although it’s not perfect, it’s a great way to help you choose if you’re new to wine; this rule of thumb quickly reduces your possible choices.
Complex wines can be very hit or miss. Some varieties can vary hugely in flavor from bottle to bottle due to the grapes, so if you’re just starting out, it’s probably a good idea to avoid these until you can investigate them on your own.
So what should I buy? If you’ve decided on a red wine, pick a Merlot or a Pinot Noir, or a Riesling if you’re looking for a dessert wine. If you’ve decided on a white wine, pick a Pinot Blanc or a Chardonnay. These choices are generally fairly consistent from bottle to bottle, meaning one Merlot is not hugely different from another. This minimizes the amount of knowledge you need to have about vintages and brands.
Ask! If you go into a liquor store right now, you’re perfectly equipped to ask for what you want, rather than coming in confused. Visit a wine retailer and tell them you’re looking for a $15 or less bottle of one of the two varieties you’ve decided upon. With that type of specificity, a good retailer should be able to quickly point you towards an appropriate wine.
What if I’m alone? If you don’t have a guide available, examine all of the wines in your selection area and price range (if you’re just starting, spending much more than $15 on a bottle of wine is a lost cause – it’s hard to really appreciate the expensive wines without having tasted a wide variety), see if any of them have posted descriptions, and use the descriptions as a guide. The number scores are useful, but don’t take them to be law (they’re the subjective opinion of someone who has tasted a lot of wine, usually Robert Parker); if a wine with a lower score has a more interesting description, get that one.
Tomorrow, I’ll toss up a few sub-$10 recommendations for a Christmas dinner wine, something that’s a tradition with my family.