I was tasting wine at my desk at 11 a.m. when a coworker asked why. Because I hadn't had time earlier, I said; it's best to taste early in the day when your palate is fresh.
That wasn't what he was getting at. He drinks wine, but never considered tasting as a separate event from drinking. That's because he doesn't read stories about wine.
Joe and folks like him buy the majority of the world's wine: they drink it, they like it or don't, but they don't obsess on it.
I'm not trying to convert anyone into wine geekery. But if I could get your attention for just three minutes, here are 10 things about wine I'd like to tell you. If you read only one wine story this year, please make it this one.
1) The package doesn't matter as much as the product
Don't avoid bottles with screwcaps or bag-in-box wines, and don't assume big heavy bottles are better, because those are just marketing.
2) You can spend too little, as well as too much
The jump to a $10 bottle from a $7 bottle is huge. The jump from a $35 bottle to a $350 bottle is often not as large. You'll drink better if you spend a little more every day, taking the money away from occasional big-money splurges.
3) Cheap wines from famous regions are not good value
If you're not spending at least $35, you're better off not buying from Napa Valley, Bordeaux (reds) or Champagne.
4) Supermarkets are the worst place to buy wine
Nobody knows anything about the wines, and the selection is usually more about the labels than the wine itself.
5) Try all your local wine shops
A good wine shop is the best place to buy wine because you can have a conversation and they'll help you find wines you like in your price range; you're not blindly grabbing bottles that look good. Go in and tell them you're having stir-fried tofu and mustard greens over brown rice for dinner, or whatever, and ask what they recommend. You might pay $1 more than you might have at Costco, but the consultation is worth it.
6) Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay aren't great with dinner
If you're having wine as a cocktail, they're fine. But in a restaurant you'll overpay for either, when the wines in the other sections of the wine list will be better and cheaper.
7) Drink more sparkling wine
Drink it when you get home from work, before dinner, with dinner, after dinner, in the bathtub, whatever. Don't wait for New Year's Eve. It's always appropriate. But don't expect anything good under about $15.
8) If you don't like a wine, it's not you, it's the wine
Just because a wine is expensive or highly rated doesn't make it enjoyable. I taste $100 wines fairly often that I just can't drink, and sometimes they have 98 point ratings from somebody whose taste differs from mine. Don't feel compelled to like a wine just because somebody else does.
9) Wine is food. Think of it that way.
Do you eat the same food every day? Do you expect every meal you eat to be great? Sometimes wine is brilliant, and sometimes it's meh. You don't give up on trying different hamburger joints after you visit a weak one. Go for variety in your wine just as much as you would in your dinner.
10) Drink wine made by a person
This one takes a little bit of work, but it's probably the most important. The world is awash in commodity wines bottled under private labels that have no identity. They're like buying a generic jar labeled "Fruit." Put the winery name into your smartphone and see what comes up. There are some very good wine brands owned by big companies, but every one of them has a real person in charge. If you can't find that kind of information in 30 seconds, buy something else.