Editor’s Note: This new weekly sponsored column is written by the staff of What are you willing to spend?

This is always the first question we ask when assisting a customer buy a bottle of wine. These days you can find a nice bottle of wine in any price range depending on what kind of complexity of flavors you are looking for.  We typically recommend three price ranges to our customers, under $10, $10-$15 dollars or over $20.  As a consumer, you should be aware of your wine allowance before you walk into a store and stick to your budget. You do not want to go into a wine shop with a budget of $20 and leave with a bottle that is $30-$40. Even if the wine is great, you won’t be walking out happy and will not find the same enjoyment in the wine. You can find a fantastic wine under any budget for any occasion.

What are your tastes and preferences?

Next question we simply ask is, what kind of wine do you like? First time wine buyers usually reply with: “Wines that tastes good.” This is true for all us wine drinkers but figuring out the exact type you enjoy, paired with certain foods, will go a long way in creating a wonderful wine-drinking experience. Simple questions to ask yourself in regards to your wine preferences include:

  • Do you prefer white wine or red wine?
  • Do you like dry or sweet?
  • Light, medium or full-bodied?

It is important to know your tastes and likes rather than a wine publication’s or wine merchant selling you wine. They may recommend a perfectly good wine that most people like, but that is not exactly your preference or taste. Another issue that comes up quite often is a consumer having a wine they enjoyed at a dinner party or at a restaurant but can not remember the name. To combat this issue, take a picture of the wine or write the wine maker, type the year down on a notepad (or in these times, your phone). A friendly wine merchant will be able help you locate that particular bottle or something similar to the wine you were looking for. Best rule: Buy the wine you will drink.

What’s for Dinner?

When buying wine for a meal or dinner party, you have to consider the best wine pairing for the main dish. There are some basic guidelines and questions you should ask yourself before buying a wine for a meal:

  • Is the meal going to be light or heavy?
  • Is the meal going to be fatty or lean?
  • Is the meal going to be rich or acidic?

With these characteristics in mind, you must try and keep flavors of the wine and meal in balance. Pair light foods with mild light wines, pair big, heavy, flavorful foods with big, heavy wines, and pair acidic food with acidic wines. If you are eating a meal with a heavy acidic content, you should go with an acidic wine to maintain the acids in the food. However, you should not mix acidic foods with a heavy creamy wine. They simply do not mix and will give off a metallic taste that no one likes.

Spicy food can be a little tricky, but you can definitely pair a nice sweet wine with Indian or Chinese dishes.  The sweetness will blend well with the spices and will not destroy the flavors of the food or wine. When in doubt, it is easy just to match the type of meal with the region of wine the meal cuisine is from. For instance, matching an Italian meal with an Italian wine, French cuisine with a French wine, American cuisine with a nice Californian wine and seafood with a wine grown in coastal areas.

Ask Questions!

The most important thing a consumer can do when buying a wine is simply ask a your local store’s wine buyer. When you were in any level of school you probably remember hearing your professor saying “There’s no such thing as a bad question” or “Don’t be afraid to raise your hand.” Well, it goes for wine shopping as well. A good wine store has a person that should be able to answer all the questions you have and point you in the right direction. We taste wine every day, take courses and most importantly listen to our customers about what they like and do not like.

Next time you enter your local wine shop, having a price in mind, knowing what your wine preference and knowing what you’ll be eating for dinner will go a long way in enhancing your wine-drinking experience. Bon Appetit!

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.

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