Rarely buy expensive bottles (let’s say $25 retail, $50 restaurant).
Why? Four out of five times (for many, 19 out of 20) you’re not going to enjoy them any more than a bottle costing less than $25 retail ($50 in a restaurant). If you have a stuffy nose, spend very little on wine; 80% of taste is smell (through the back of your mouth, not front of your nose) and if you're nose isn't up for it, neither will you be.
Buy wines from around the world, not just wines from the USA. Inexpensive USA wines are rarely good values. Yeah, many places have difficult to decipher labels (the French don’t really want to sell wine worldwide, do they?), but who cares.
When buying imported wine, try to buy ones that say a “(somebody) Selection,” which are often from top importers. Why? The top importers have no reason to push plonk at you; most of them are super-choosey as to what they buy each year. Their inexpensive wines are almost always the best ones available. (If you think about it, why shouldn’t they be?)
Drink wine from crystal wine glasses. Fill glass no more than 1/3 full. Learn to swirl by placing glass on table, hold at base of rim of the glass, and move around in a small clock-wise circle. Keep practicing. Keep practicing. Swirling aerates the wine, bring the aromas up; quickly smell.
Don’t drink wines you don’t like the taste of - no matter how much you paid for it. Why the heck should you drink something you don’t like?
Buy one bottle of a wine, not a case; only if you really like it should you buy more. Yeah, no matter what the whatever magazine rated it.
Treat wine ratings with a huge grain of salt. Com’on, do you trust anyone to recommend food for you? Everyone has different tastes…this includes wine. Everyone! [And a pax on those evil shelf-talkers!]
Don’t worry about “missing out” on a highly-rated wine or great wine deal. They come all the time…there’s always more wine coming. Really, really, really.
Be adventurous in your wine choices.
Ask for advice from someone more knowledgeable about wine than you.
The wine book for you just might be: The New Wine Lover’s Companion. It’s sort of a wine dictionary. So when you get that French bottle that you can’t make heads-nor-tails of, you can look it up.
Start going to wine tastings and wine classes. When you go, drink all of the same varietal (such as pinot noir) together, rather than jumping from grape to grape. Never wear perfume or cologne to a tasting, nor a white shirt/blouse, or lipstick. Don't be afraid to spit...all of the serious tasters do that.
Make wine your beverage of choice with dinner (or whatever you big meal of the day is).
High alcohol wines (14.5% or higher) don't match too well with food, nor do heavily oaked whites (yeah, that buttery thing).
Develop your wine palate: You need to drink wine practically every day for years and years.
Find the wine store that has the most bottles you don't recognize (as in, the name of the winery), and make that your primary wine buying store. Choose someone there to be your Wine Buying Advice Person. Talk to this person. Don't be shy about your sharing your budget for wine (no matter how meager). Together, you should be able to choose wines you'll mostly like. [To describe the store you're looking for differently, you want the one that has a lot of small producers and lots of foreign selections - even if you intend to focus on California wines.]
Some Buying Choices
for Novice Wine Drinkers
1. German Kabinetts that say Terry Theise on the label (look at the back label on the bottle for the importer). Most of them will be rieslings and they pair well with spicy foods, fish, and chicken. They don't pair well with garlic or heavy meat dishes, like stews, BBQ steak/lamb. Great with lobster.
2. Sancerre blancs and New Zealand sauvignon blancs. Both are ideal for shellfish and lighter seafood (i.e, not hearty salmon). Some Russian River Valley and Mendocino sauvignon blancs work well, too.
Sparkling: Italian Proseccos are the best consistent bargain in sparkling wine.
Rosé: Try French ones from the good importers. They go great with most luncheon food.
1. Côte-du-Rhones: Primarily made from Grenache, these wines are inexpensive and very food friendly.
2. Spanish reds: The inexpensive ones imported by both Jorge Ordonez and Eric Solomon are, generally, terrific values and very food friendly.