If you’re like me, the prospect of going out to buy a bottle of wine is daunting. Are different whites and reds really that different from each other? Do you have to spend $40-$60 in order to get something palatable?
If you made it through your early 20s on a diet of two-buck-chuck and that one Chardonnay your parents always had in the house, but you are unsure how to evolve your wine know-how, never fear. Here are some helpful tips from me—a bonafide avocado toast eating, formerly wine-illiterate Millennial—for the wine novice looking to spread their wings.
- Start out with a plan
Wandering into the state liquor store and seeing racks on racks of wine that all look about the same is intimidating in and of itself. But, before venturing into that great unknown, decide why you’re buying the wine. Are you looking to pair a wine with a home cooked meal? Are you hosting friends for drinks? Do you want a nice bottle to cap off the day? Whatever your endgame, have a sense of what you’re willing to spend and what your goals are before you face the dozens of options presented to you.
- Be willing to experiment and ask for advice
Even if you’ve just barely entered the 21-and-over promised land, most of us already have a sense of what wine we like and are comfortable drinking. That tried-and-true Merlot will always be there for you, so go ahead and try something a little different—a Rosé, or perhaps that Pinot Grigio your friend raved about. If you’re up for the adventure but have no sense of where to explore first, feel free asking the DABC guy (fingers crossed he knows his liquor) or your fellow alcohol buyers. They’ll often have recommendations for you and be able to steer you towards a wine that might end up being your new favorite.
- Screw top wines can be just as good as corked wines
While I’ll be the first to admit that the “pop!” sound a cork makes gives me a strange sense of satisfaction, that doesn’t necessarily mean the bottle is any better than a good ol’ screw top. Aside from the myth that we’re in a cork shortage, there are several reasons a winery might choose the aluminum cap over a cork: it provides a more consistent, cheaper way to cap wine, ensuring no air exposure causes the wine to turn. Secondly, wines with screw caps are often intended for same-year consumption, which means the bottle remains as fresh as possible.
- Reading a label: Old World vs. New World
Perhaps you’ve attempted to shop for wine by picking up a bottle and reading the label carefully. While those around you might see your lingering gaze as a thoughtful consideration of the product, you know that you really have no idea what it is you’re reading. If it’s an Old World wine (meaning it comes from European or Mediterranean locales), it can be especially difficult as many Old World labels assume that shoppers are already familiar with the types of grapes grown in certain regions and, therefore, the type of wine in their hands. New World wines (meaning non-European or Mediterranean locales) often make it a little easier on the buyer by listing the type of grape right on the label. While Old World wines are attempting to be more globally competitive by listing the grape on the label, this is not always the case and you may have to do a quick Google search to be sure (or, skip right on down to tip #5). The winery name and production year will also appear alongside the region. Reading a wine label is a useful skill you’ll want to work on as you become more familiar with wine culture.
- Download the Vivino app
Vivino was created to help the wine illiterate and expert alike. The app, which downloads for free to both iOS and Android platforms, allows you scan wine labels and find out what type of wine you’re holding, what region it’s from, the winery that bottled it, the year and ratings from other Vivino users who have already sampled that very wine. You can make purchases based on this info, try the wine on your own and then go back to record your impressions. The app saves your reviews and builds an individualized wine profile that grows as you expand your tastes. Still not convinced? The app will also scan wine lists in restaurants and bars, show you the ratings of the various selections and then help you choose one based on reviews, your meal and your personal taste profile.
- Visit a winery
Ultimately, if you’re serious about expanding your index of wine knowledge, you’ll want to visit a winery. This may seem like a difficult task in Utah, but we actually have several wineries in both northern and southern Utah where you can participate in tastings and really learn how to drink wine like an expert. If you want to fold some wine experience into your travels, Idaho has a burgeoning winery culture as well, especially the Ste. Chapelle winery in Caldwell. Do some research about which wineries will carry stock you’ll be interested in tasting, and, whether you ascribe to the “practice makes perfect” or “fake it til you make it” school of thought, wine will no longer be as intimidating as it seems.