The waiter presents you with the bottle of wine you’ve ordered, pours you a glass and waits while you swirl, sniff and sip appreciatively. “Mmm,” you say, pretending you didn’t chug boxed wine during college. Sound familiar?
If you’re going to continue ordering wine at bars and restaurants, you’ve got to bite the bullet and learn a little something about it. You don’t need to be able to discern whether the grapes were cultivated during a dry or wet year after one sip, but you should probably be able to tell the difference between a chardonnay and pinot grigio. Consider this your five-step guide to becoming a wine snob, and wave goodbye to Two-Buck Chuck forever.
1. Start with the basics
First, you’ve got to start tasting wine—wine that’s actually half-decent, that is. Enroll in a Wine Tasting 101 course led by a knowledgeable sommelier—it’s the best and most cost-effective way to sample a wide variety of quality vintages in one sitting. You’ll not only learn some of the terminology and tricks of the trade, but also start to develop your palate. This class also comes with a handy wine evaluation chart to help you match up the aromas and flavors with each varietal.
2. Figure out what you like
Consider this your excuse to drink all the wine you want. You have to understand your particular taste before you can order with confidence, after all. Challenge yourself to pick out the interesting-looking bottles you can find at your local liquor store, or turn to another wine workshop if you need a little more guidance. Various tasting rooms and restaurants around New York City offer classes in everything from Prosecco, Champagne and Everything in Between, to Rieslings and White Wines of the World, to Exploring Red Varietals. Are you more of a merlot or beaujolais girl? You’ll soon find out!
3. Further develop your palate
Master sommeliers can tell everything about a wine—its variety, region of origin, the year it was bottled even—from just one sip. OK, you probably won’t get to their level overnight, but signing up for a Blind Tasting Workshop will certainly help develop your palate. When you have to put your deductive reasoning skills to the test, all of your senses become heightened. It’s one of the best ways to form an unbiased opinion about a wine—something you’ll need to cement your status as a vino expert.
4. Explore different regions
Experts like to talk a lot about a particular wine’s terroir: the conditions in which the grapes were grown, encompassing everything from soil and water quality to the weather. Much of this has to do with the region, which explains why two chardonnays—one from California and one from Australia—might taste completely different. Still, even avid wine drinkers can have a tough time distinguishing these subtleties. The best way to learn? Working your way through tasting many vintages from all over the world over time. These upcoming tastings will get you started: Old World vs. New World, Discovering the Wines of Emilia-Romagna at Eataly, A Tour of Spain and Grand Italian Tasting.
5. Play with pairings
The final step in becoming the kind of person who can confidently pick out a bottle for the table is learning how to pair wine with food. Yes, you probably already know that red wines complement heartier fare and white wines lean more towards light, summery meals, but there’s so much more to it. Make Wine and Cheese Pairings your starting point—it’s a classic combination, after all. You might also want to dabble in Cooking With Wine, or perhaps get even boozier with a Whiskey and Wine Tour.