Does wine shopping make you feel like a fish out of water?
When I stand before the wall of wine at my local liquor store, I'm dazzled and delighted and my eyes dance with the possibilities that lay before me. It's like I'm seven again and I've coasted up to the candy counter at the skating rink after an All-Skate to the tune of my favorite song ("Karma Chameleon"), and now my only care in the world is whether I will choose a Bit-o-Honey or a Charleston Chew.
I am sympathetic to the fact, however, that it is *so* not like this for many other folks. In fact, stories I hear tend to run along the lines of "Final round on Let's Make a Deal, trembling in fear of the goat." In other words, most people find shopping for wine a far cry from my idyllic regression therapy.
So here's what I propose: On a regular basis, I will present three common wine-related questions and their answers and/or explanations. We'll start small, and work our way up. I'll do the research, you reap the rewards. Soon, you too will be able relax and hum a little Culture Club while you shop for a bottle or two.
Below, are the first three questions. I'd love to hear your thoughts on topics we've explored or ideas for the future!
1. Red, White or Pink?
This is the first question we usually ask when shopping for wine. The answer is simple: which do you like to match your mood or food today? No shade is more sophisticated than the others and none will send a color-coded message to wine snobs that reads "Watch out for this one - she probably still listens to Milli Vanilli."
There are, of course, those who swear off one or another in the trio for some reason - but I promise you, each color has a place in a well-balanced, well-informed wine diet. To ensure you are getting a quality selection, grab a salesman and put on a smile. Any helper would be delighted to hear the words, "I'm looking for an affordable rose' for my patio party this weekend." Really!
Bottom line: Good taste is colorblind.
2. Should I Super-Size?
We are all on a budget these days. If price were no object, choosing wine wouldn't be a challenge - we'd just send our personal assistant out for another case of Dom whenever we got to running low. Here on earth, however, we're often looking for bargains, and in the world of wine, there are a lot to be had.
But beware! Sometimes a deal is too good to be true, and you'll wake up with a wicked case of buyer's remorse the next morning. For today, it comes down to the matter of size. Here are two easy tips to keep in mind: If the if the bottle is as big as your head and has its own little built-in handle, it's a "no". Ditto those double-sized bottles of your favorite brand. The wine inside might be okay, and volume might equal savings, but will you really finish it before it turns? If not, you're pouring money down the drain.
Bottom line: Size does matter.
3. How long does it last?
This is a tricky one, and I'm inclined to recommend erring on the safe side rather than pushing your luck. Wine is always best and brightest shortly after it's uncorked (we're not going to get into decanting right now). Reds can be kept on the counter, in a cool place out of the sun, for one or (maybe) two days. Wines to be served chilled can live for a comparable amount of time in the fridge.
I fear the half-empty bottle kept for company, cork dried and brittle, label smudged from countless fingerprints over gawd-knows-how-long - It's just not any good anymore, people! As my mother quipped during a discussion of this issue, "If you're looking for a bottle of something to keep in the cabinet and work on for a few weeks, what you want is gin." Well said. On a related note, I've read many reviews of gadgets meant to preserve wine and they all seem to be expensive and hit-or-miss. Also related is the fact that fortified and dessert wines (port, sherry and the like) will often keep much longer than their table-going cousins.
Bottom line: After 2-3 days, the honeymoon's over.
Next up: More questions, answered!