31 Days

Day 17

Master the
Wine Basics

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If you've ever been handed a wine list or stared down a long aisle of bottles at a wine shop and felt a bit lost, you're not alone. Understanding wine can be intimidating, and unlike that awkward “talk” you had with your dad when you were younger, such knowledge likely isn't passed down quite so directly. Learning about wine takes time, patience and experience—but that's the fun part.

At some point, we men are expected to possess the knowledge to order and appreciate wine, but getting to know your reds and whites isn't so black and white. Before diving deeper into the bottle and learning about the finer points of tannins, stem lengths or booking a flight to Napa, let these basics help you order and enjoy your wine with confidence.

Guide to understanding wine

Shop Small, Specialized

If you're looking to expand your palate and discover something new, try a local specialized wine shop. Grocery stores generally carry wine from the largest distributors—who do an excellent job of creating labels, names and brands to market to specific demographics, even when the wine doesn't vary that much. Let the shop clerk know your price point and start taking notes.

Wine importers

The All
Important Importers

Wine importers

Here at Valet. we advocate finding a brand and supporting them knowing they'll put out the best product. Wine is the same way. If you find something you like, check the importer on the back of the label and branch out to find their other offerings. Importers travel the world to discover winemakers that few people outside their village have ever tasted. Talk to sommeliers and store owners about what you like in wine, and see if they have any importers they would recommend. Because it stands to reason that if you like one of bottles in their portfolio, you share their taste and would be interested in trying more.

What About
“Natural” Wine?

Well, it's a misleading title for one. "Low intervention" is more accurate, and it's sparked legitimate debate about the health benefits. The main takeaways are there is less sulfites in these low intervention wines and the alcohol content is going to be one to two percent lower. If you feel healthier or less hungover after drinking it, by all means, pop open another bottle, just know that may be the placebo effect kicking in.

Let It Breathe

Riedel Cabernet Decanter

Cabernet decanter,
$55 by Riedel

If you're going to buy one accessory to get your new hobby flowing, start with a basic decanter. In a perfect world, you'd want your wine to breathe for 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the bottle, but it's tough to be patient. Even if you pour your bottle in while you start on your first glass, winemakers assure us that it'll make a difference. Let science do its thing and avoid all the other gimmicks out there. Plus it'll look great on your bar cart.

Riedel Cabernet Decanter

Cabernet decanter, $55 by Riedel

The Two Crowd Pleasers

A Pinot Noir and Riesling are the red and white that are the easiest to pair with food. If you're hosting or in charge of ordering for a table, these foolproof bottles will be the safest choices. And when the menu gets spicy, exotic, or you're seeing things you don't recognize in a language you don't speak, venture back to these basics.

Go Ahead and Cheap Out

“This one will make me look cheap,” we've all likely thought when looking at an inexpensive bottle on a wine list. But that's likely not a bad thing. Restaurants know it looks better to order the second most inexpensive wine, so that's bottle they're looking to get rid of quickest. If you order the bottle with the lowest price tag, you're still ordering wine that the restaurant deems worthy of their guests.

Call It Research

If you want to know more about how deep the obsession can run, watch the documentary Somm (streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime), which follows four candidates trying to pass the Master Sommelier exam.

Somm documentary