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ripe for the picking
choosing a bottle of wine 
by Yee-Fan Sun
1 2

Now, I'm a smart girl. Talk to me about physics or philosophy, current issues or biology, and I'm mostly right there with you in the conversation, keeping up all right. I've studied higher levels of math than my evolutionary biologist boy (not that I use it much these days); I have a schmancy degree from a snooty Ivy League college (ditto). But when it comes to wine, truth be told, I still haven't a clue what the fanatics are talking about when they rhapsodize about tobacco undertones and hints of chocolate.

This used to bother me, particularly when I found myself faced with a wall full of wine, desperately trying to determine a selection method that might yield better results than closing my eyes, twirling around, and grabbing whatever bottle my hand touched first. I like to know what I'm doing when I'm shopping, and reading label after label tossing around descriptors that bore no relation to any adjective I would ever have used to describe wine just made me feel even more hopelessly moronic. I read up on wine terminology, and tried new wines whenever I could (for the sake of study, of course). I got to the point where I knew that a Cabernet Sauvignon was way heavier than a Merlot, that a Zinfandel (yum) was not to be confused with a White Zinfandel (yuck). But what I've really learned is that I just don't find wine interesting enough to be constantly poring over the latest Wine Spectator to discover the best new buys. I like drinking wine a heck of a lot more than thinking about it.

So what do you do when you haven't the time or the inclination to become a true wine aficionado, but you still want to find that perfect bottle of wine for your next soiree? A few words of advice…

1 Find yourself a nice, friendly, knowledgeable wine shop. Yes, the wines will often be a buck or two cheaper at a supermarket or other large chain store, but at places like that, you're pretty much on your own; if you're wanting a little more input from your wine monger, a smaller, local shop is generally a better bet. A good wine shop should have a decent selection of wines featuring a broad range in prices, and should be easy and comfortable to browse. My favorite place in Tucson is a little liquor shop in a strip mall that you'd never take a second glance at if you were just driving by. But walk inside and you immediately know that it's run by folks who genuinely care about what they sell. There are little notes tacked all over place in which the shop owners have written up helpful little descriptions about their favorite bottles - and you can tell that they're more interested than helping customers find a wine that tastes good than scamming as much money off them as possible because the recommended wines can be found all over the shelf hierarchy, from the very top-end all the way to the floor.

2 Ask for help. The guy at the counter asking if he can be of any assistance? Use him - it's what he's there for. And don't worry if you're not up on your wine lingo. You'll probably be asked a few questions - red or white? heavy or light? are you serving it with food, and if so, what? Don't panic if you don't know; your wine guy isn't testing you or anything, he just want to help you find something you really like. If you're just plain clueless, admit it, and swing the question right back at him by asking him what wines he likes to drink.

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