Divas: Taste as much as possible. Find a shop with helpful salespeople. Many stores are now organized by flavor instead of region or type of grape, making it easier to find winners based on your "flavor profile," or the characteristics you enjoy. Another good way to start is to select a region—say, California or New Zealand—and then ask your salesperson to recommend five or six typical, affordable wines from there. As you try them at home, jot down notes about color, smell, and taste. There are no wrong answers: You're learning what tastes good to you, not trying to impress others.
O: What's the ideal serving temperature for wine?
Divas: The lighter the body and color of the wine, the cooler it should be. But avoid extremes: Excessive chilling can mask the flavor of a white; too much warmth heightens the alcohol fumes of a red. A rule of thumb is to take whites out of the fridge 15 to 20 minutes before drinking. Reds should go into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before opening.
O: Does the glass matter?
Divas: Look for one with a long stem so the warmth of your hand won't heat the wine. The vessel should be clear and unfaceted so you can see the color and clarity of the liquid. Many experts insist on different glasses for reds and whites, but if you have a limited budget, make sure your glass has a bowl roomy enough to swirl the wine and release its aroma, and a rim that tilts inward so the aroma is channeled toward your nose. Ikea sells a great line of glasses that meet these requirements.
O: Are screw tops or wines-in-a-box any good?
Divas: Yes to both. Once associated with cheap vino, screw caps are becoming increasingly popular for wines of all prices. The tops are simple to open and close wherever you are—think picnics—and allow you to easily save an unfinished bottle. Boxed wines also once had a bad reputation, but today's options are often good quality. Try Delicato's Bota Box Merlot or Shiraz.
O: Does the vintage matter?
Divas: Not necessarily. The climates of wine-growing regions like California, South Africa, and Australia don't fluctuate enough from year to year to matter. In Europe, where the climate does vary, the best vintages can be quite expensive; top bottles are collected by aficionados and aged for many years. Lesser vintages are often fine for immediate drinking, however.
O: How do you store wine at home?
Divas: Many fancy cabinetmakers feature built-in wine racks above the refrigerator, but these are pointless—rising heat can ruin the wine. If you can't afford a cellar or wine refrigerator, find a cool, dark space with a consistent temperature. Try underneath basement stairs or on a closet floor. If you're going to drink the wines fairly quickly, countertop racks are fine so long as they're not in direct sunlight or near a heat source, like the oven.
O: How do you overcome being intimidated by restaurant wine lists?
Divas: Easy. Don't read them. When a multipage wine list hits your table, ignore it. After you've decided what to eat, ask the waiter what goes well with your food. Either he'll be able to make suggestions, or he'll send over a sommelier to advise you. Eating at places that serve a good selection of wines by the glass will also allow you to experiment without investing in a full bottle.
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