Studying wine is a lot less fun than drinking it, but some people feel guilty in their ignorance of its seemingly-infinite details. Thankfully, a lot of the things wine nerds obsess about don't really matter to normals. Here, five fewer things to worry about when you pull your next cork.
The next time you're fretting about whether to drink Riesling or Gewürztraminer with your Thai takeout, keep in mind that awful pairings (Cabernet and asparagus) and transcendent pairings (Sauternes and foie gras) are outliers. Here's a simple one-rule pairing guide: Most combinations of wine and food are enjoyable.
The year it was made
Weather in winemaking regions affects the way wine tastes, but not as much as who makes it. A bottle from a good vintage by a bad winemaker will pale in comparison to one made in a not-so-great year by a winemaker who gives a damn. So find producers you like and ride the seasons with them.
Which grapes are in it
It's not always clear what those grapes are, anyway. In the U.S., wines labeled as a certain grape (like Cabernet Sauvignon) can legally contain up to 25 percent of any other grape (like Merlot, or Moscato, or some obscure thing like Malvasia Nera). In some of the world's great old vineyards, which were planted way before genetic testing allowed scientists to determine which grapes were which, the winemakers may not even be 100 percent sure about the varietals. Also, grapes can produce a wide range of flavors: a rich, buttery Chardonnay from California doesn't taste anything like a lean, unoaked Chardonnay from Chablis. Just relax.
Its score on the 100-point scale
I mean, c'mon.
How much it costs
There are plenty of bad $100 wines. And there are plenty of great $100 wines that, in the wrong context, are going to taste worse than some $10 wines. On a 95-degree summer day, would you rather be drinking a pricey jammy room-temp Zinfandel or a cheap and crisp, cold, slightly fizzy Vinho Verde from Portugal? And don't think this is only true for inexperienced palates. When sommeliers finish their shifts at fancy restaurants, where they've spent the last 8 hours tasting the supposedly-brilliant-and-complex wines ordered by high rollers, the last thing they crave is $3,000 Bordeaux. Most gravitate toward beer.