Please join me as we learn about fancy boozing together!

Tonight's author selection: I'm sampling the Chateau Henri Bonnaud Palette Rouge 2008, which I sell - it was opened yesterday afternoon.*

First, a little background (if you do not care at all, please skip to after the photo). A few months ago, I was a lowly, horrified, horrible temp at an insurance company. As sheer dumb luck would have it (seriously, I cannot chalk this up to anything but kismet), I landed a job as a marketer and salesperson of wine. I replied to a CraigsList ad for a "Brand Manager" and ended up with an 80-hour-a-week position, 50% in-house marketing/design/copy writing and 50% old school on the road sales. Next to milking goats in the freezing cold for free, I cannot say I've loved a job more.

One problem: while I gladly drink it, I don't know nearly enough about wine.

Sure, I know enough to say "oh, yes" or "ew, feet" when I try a new vino, but there is SO MUCH TO KNOW. I feel like a total imbecile when I have company tastings. Like, they're watching baseball and I'm commenting on hockey stupidly.

That said, I'm learning a lot and fast. My dual role allows me access to our products prior to my fellow salespeople, as well as insights into the selling plans, and access to the information straight from the Chateaus and vineyards. I'm lucky. So, so lucky, because I get to work in a field that keeps me learning, lets me meet new people constantly, allows me exceptional creativity, and is almost entirely autonomous. The downside is my paycheck and status as perpetual contractor. Meh. That is easily tempered by free wine. My life is consistently chaos, but I know I need to devote time to actually learning enough to go up against the Big Guys, and I learn best by doing. I want you guys to join me! As an example of the chaos, his is my office:

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Wine!

So, first things first:

Picking A Wine to Try for the Novice

I was once a wine novice, now I would say I am a wine beginner. I drank boxed wine (and not the good stuff) like it was going out of style. I bent waiter's helpers like SheHulk on a Monday. I was 20 (I'm "well seasoned" now at just shy of 30). But between the wisdom of age and a crash course in wine, I can say this: there really isn't any such thing as a right or wrong answer in the world of wine. You may get funny looks if you publicly state that you found the Margaux '09 repugnant, but you do drink you. Fuck the h8ers and put ice in your Cab! Seriously, it's not a competition to see who is the biggest asshole when picking/drinking wine, even though looks may be deceiving. (We'll come back to the looks part! And mostly, I'm writing this to help suss out some thoughts and inject a bit of humor into the process.)

So what do you do when you enter a liquor store, searching for a wine, not really ever having tried one before? Or being given the edict to "bring a bottle of wine" to a party, but haven't ever really found any you love? I think considering the foods I like is a great place to start. If you like savory foods, try a drier wine. If you like sweets, go that direction. Most importantly, ask for help: from the shop owner, from other customers, from wino friends. And what I write below is general guidelines. There are sweet Syrahs, just as there are more tart Semillons.

Most importantly, when exploring wine varietals, stay within your budget! Don't throw down $25 on something you're unsure of. There are so many great wines at under $10 that you could spend ages exploring varietals just in that price range. If you find you love Zin (when I talk about Zinfandel, I almost always mean the red kind. I'll be explicit if it's the white) based blends, then maybe look to more expensive bottles down the line. Wine, like any luxury good, is particularly beholden to the caprice of the market; and Americans in particular tend to "drink with the critics." Try all sorts of things at your price range and find where your sweet spot is! Sure, check the Wine Spectator details on those dangly cards (called shelf talkers), but don't let that be the only thing you consider every time.

Sweet whites:

Of course, Moscato. Our modern moscato is a bastardization of the Italian original that used Muscat grapes. I say occasionally snarky things about Moscato drinkers "not really liking wine," but that's because it lacks what wine drinkers call "character." Sometimes, "character" can be best explained by someone making this face:

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Wine!

so if you like REALLY sweet things, grab a Moscato! It's the gateway wine! (That is not someone I know, that is a Google search for "sour face".)

  • Dessert wines (Sherry, Ice Wine, Sauternes, anything you've seen served in a teeny tiny glass that makes you angry)
  • Pinot Grigio - definitely light and delicious, a good Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris) tends to be lighter on the palate and therefore often fruitier tasting.
  • Riesling - boy, oh, boy. Riesling. So much can happen. I like Riesling when I feel like staring down a bottle like the business end of Dirty Harry's .45. Most often it is terrific, sometimes - just sometimes - I get the wrong bottle. Still, they're often exceptionally pretty bottles that make for Pinterset-worth crafts, even if you hate it.

Sweeter and/or lighter red varietals:

  • Pinto Noir - the California PN made famous by Sideways. Easy to drink, but a good bottle can go bad in literally hours. Often referred to as a "fruit bomb" when speaking about California varietals.
  • Tempranillo - the base for any great red sangria. Sweet, light, and fruity.
  • Sangiovese - I can't speak well to sangiovese. I have a personal aversion to the varietal, but it is lighter, though often drier than the above wines.
  • White Zinfandel - this may actually be the red-headed step-child of the wine world, but it's almost always cheap, affordable, and readily available. A beloved friend only drinks what she calls "pink wine or moscato." White Zin (e.g. Beringer) is a decent place to start! Knock yourself out.

Drier Whites:

  • Chardonnay. The go-to is what we call "KJ" - Kendall Jackson because they have such consistency in their Chard. Chardonnay is typically aged in oak and has what can be described as a buttery, creamy, or vanilla taste (took me years to actually find that on my tongue - thanks cigarettes! - and now I love it. It is generally a well-received white (regardless of the appellation.)
  • Sauvignon Blanc - a lot of (U.S.) stock Sauv Blanc is from Australia/New Zealand. These tend to be citrus-y and bold, think grapefruit or freshly cut grass. French Sav Blancs can be a bit more tempered, though also delicious. This is almost always a good choice to bring to a party - someone will down the whole damn thing.

Drier Reds:

  • Malbec - so hot right now. The Hansel of wine. Supplanting the Shiraz trend of a few years ago, Malbec is the Big Thing. Find an unknown, small production Argentinian Malbec to bring to a party and you'll impress your hipster friends.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon - As was mentioned yesterday on Jez, all you folks are drinking the Cab. There's a reason for that. Deep, fruity, and a often more than a little dry, Cabernet is fantastic. Not all cabernet, but if you like roasted meats, a bloody steak, or like, The Walking Dead marathons, drink a bottle!

Back to the Looks thing I mentioned. Wine bottles are designed the way they are for a reason: like any other packaging, it's to get you to buy them. In all seriousness - and I am not joking when I say this - shop with your eyes when buying wine. I found Layer Cake '07 (back when it was good and light years before I was in wine sales) for the singular reason that I liked the bottle. It was like heaven. If there is something that appeals to you about a bottle - minimalism! cartoons! humor! traditional vineyard shots! - and it's in your price range, try it. More than anything, it's important to explore your own taste buds and see what you like.

On My Selection Tonight

I sell the Henri Bonnaud, and it's one of my favorites. They produce red blends and roses primarily, and the Chateau sits among the foothills of Mte. Sainte-Victoire near Aix-en-Provence. While our company specializes in Bordeaux, I have a soft spot for Provence, possibly because it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
The Palette Rouge is a 34%-33%-33% mix of Grenache, Mourvedre, Old Carignan grapes respectively. It's deep red in color and full-bodied with fragrant, almost floral tones complemented by red fruit. Not overly tannic, it has a satisfying and smooth mouthfeel. Suggested retail sits just under $30/bottle.

Happy drinking!

*If I keep this post up on the regular, I'll always explain if I'm hocking my own wares or sampling another distributor's collection. I plan on having an entire post dedicated to the American Three Tier System to explain what the hell is up with wine sales/making/buying as well and why it's important to know that retailers do not typically have much control of their prices.