Top 10 No-Fail Tips for Picking a Stellar Wine off a Wine List
Search for recent Chardonnay vintages
Not all Chardonnays age well. Most should be drunk within three years of the vintage. Only top Chardonnays, such as the Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, age gracefully.
Pairing: For fatty fish or any kind of seafood in a lush sauce like this sizzling shrimp scampi, look to Chardonnay.
Know a name or two to trust for complex regions
For Burgundy, Louis Jadot is reliably good and widely available. Other excellent names: Louis Latour and Joseph Drouhin.
Pairing: Rich skate and mushrooms go particularly well with white Burgundies.
Pick cava for an affordable Champagne alternative
One top cava producer is Segura Viudas, which started producing sparkling wines at the end of the 19th century.
Pairing: This hot pot of chewy rice noodles with ground pork, shiitake mushrooms, and eggs pair especially well with a bright, fresh Spanish cava.
Look to Southern Italy for great values
Among the best values: Native Southern Italian varieties like nutty, rich Falanghina; dense, powerful Aglianico; and big, juicy Primitivo (the Italian counterpart to American Zinfandel).
Pairing: When it comes to hamburgers, any robust red wine is likely to pair well. But Bobby Flay's smoky-sweet chipotle-peanut barbecue sauce requires an intensely juicy, flavorful wine, such as a Primitivo.
Learn a few good recent vintages for popular regions
Among the vintages to know: 2005 in Bordeaux or 2007 in France's Southern Rhône Valley.
Pairing: These juicy steaks need an equally juicy red as a partner, albeit one with firm tannins to help cut the richness of the beef. France's Bordeaux region is a good source for wines like this.
Look to dry Rieslings for a great all-purpose match
Dry Rieslings are great with almost anything other than red meat. Great producers include Trimbach, Domäne Wachau and Jacob's Creek.
Pairing: A dry Australian Riesling has enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the spicy-sweet peanut sauce served with this grilled shrimp satay.
Choose "grower" Champagnes
"Grower" Champagnes, from small, independent French estates, are the latest trend in sparkling wine. Names to know: Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, Champagne Egly-Ouriet, Chartogne-Taillet Champagne, Vilmart & Cie, Guy Charlemagne.
Pairing: A rich snack like these crispy hush puppies–cornmeal dumplings–would be perfect with Champagne.
Search for reliable Bordeaux values
Most Americans associate Bordeaux with the complex and very expensive wines of great châteaus such as Lafite-Rothschild. But the region has many châteaus that produce reliable values, too. Three to look for: Château Bonnet Rouge, Château Greysac, and Château Cap de Faugères.
Pairing: Meat as buttery as this beef tenderloin goes well with a tannic red Bordeaux.
Pick "second labels" of top producers for bargains
Two excellent second labels include Nelms Road from Washington's Woodward Canyon and Salanques from cult Spanish producer Mas Doix.
Pairing: These meaty chops deserve an equally substantial red wine as a partner; Nelms Road is a great choice from Washington state.
Know a few high-end accessible French wines
Many top French wines are reliably great no matter the vintage, but they're produced in minuscule amounts. Here, three stellar, findable French wines: William Fevre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru, Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Rouge, and Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
Pairing: Champagne like Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill goes well with salty foods like fried artichokes.