Exactly a year ago, I was finishing up my year at the Chicago Portfolio School, designing at super late hours, drinking the cheapest wine and beer I could find, and generally only interacting with fellow students and the occasional ad agency employee. This year, however, I am a working adult who's expected to know a little about wine and attend social functions with *gasp* real adults who have houses and 401Ks and wine collections.
This transition hasn't been easy and, at times, it's been pretty awkward (those who know me won't be surprised by this). But out of my awkwardness has come a little wisdom, which I'll share with you.
1. Know how to pronounce at least a few basic wine varietals
There's nothing worse than ordering a wine based on what you can pronounce, so learning a few of the basics will give you more options when ordering a glass. The key is to strike a balance between sounding silly because you pronounce the silent letters and sounding even more silly because you pronounce it in an over-the-top French or Italian accent. My recommendations for a few super simple options with my own, very official pronunciation guides:
- Chardonnay: (Shar-don-ay) If you're a Chardonnay fan, you're in luck because if there's only one white wine at an event, it's probably Chardonnay. And it's pretty easy to pronounce.
- Sauv Blanc: (Sahv Blahnk) Though it's actually Sauvignon Blanc, using the more colloquial term will save you a few syllables and make you look more comfortable around wine
- Cab: Cabernet Sauvignon is a pretty universal red wine, and, again, you can't go wrong using the more casual "cab." The bartender will know what you're referring to.
These are by no means your only options, so if you want to dig a little deeper, here's a thorough pronounciation guide.
2. Know how to hold a wine glass
One of our experts, Bob, wrote a more thorough article on this topic, but the short version is: if it's chilled to the perfect temperature, hold it by the glass's stem (if there is one). If it's too cold, it's fine to hold it by the bowl of the glass to warm it up a bit. And for God's sake, please don't put your pinky up.
3. Get a basic overview of wine terms, but don't act like you know everything
Nothing says "The last bottle of wine I had came from a box" like pretending you know everything about wine tasting. Admitting that you're still in the learning process is actually a good way to keep a conversation going with someone you hardly know-- ask about their favorite bottle, when they first got interested in wine, etc. Chances are, you'll learn a little more about wine, and they'll be flattered you consider them knowledgeable.
4. Bring wine with a story, not a price tag
Unless your company is funding the purchase, showing up to a party with an overly pricey bottle of wine will make it look like you're trying too hard, especially if you chose it simply based on the price. On the other end of the spectrum, showing up with a $5 bottle from CVS to anything other than a "Remember how terribly we drank in college" party looks equally bad. The key, I've found, is finding a bottle with a story. Whether you found it in a really interesting way or the winery sets itself apart, showing up with a moderately priced, really tasty bottle that you can talk about does WONDERS for your "wine cred." Even if you literally know one fun fact about it. Here are two scenarios to illustrate that point:
- Scenario A: Jordan grabs a $6 bottle of Yellowtail from the grocery store on the way to a dinner party with a few of her coworkers (including higher-ups). She walks in, sets the bottle down, and makes a joke about bringing out "the good stuff" to cover up the fact that she didn't really know what else to bring. Sure, people will drink it after the other wine is gone, but it's pretty obvious that no thought went into the choice.
- Scenario B: Jordan asks for suggestions from her more wine-knowledgable friends (or Google) and finds a really good bottle of $20ish red wine from a winery that's powered by wind turbines. When she sets the bottle of wine with the others on the counter, it stands out a bit. When someone asks her about the wine she brought, she can (without really knowing anything about the tannin levels or acidity or other wine tasting terms) say, "it's a red blend from this great wind-powered craft winery. It was actually the first in Northern California to use turbines." Boom. Instant cred without actually saying anything about the wine.
Am I saying you have to get wine through our site to have cred? Absolutely not. That same experience can be found with a lot of Googling or searching through wine shops on your own, but from personal experience I can say Winestyr makes that process a lot quicker via our suggestion form (found in the bottom right corner!), our winery pages, and our winery introduction emails (which you can get by signing up for our newsletter on the right). And, in case you were wondering, that wine I referenced was the Anaba Turbine Red Blend. Yum.
And, with those four steps, you're guaranteed to have a less awkward time in the weird transition period between keg stands and wine-and-hors-d'oeuvres mixers. If you have any other questions or want to hear some of my terribly awkward tales of wine newbie-dom, feel free to leave comments or tweet at me @jordanbear.