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The Non-Expert

Red, White, and You

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we come up with a handy guide—tips, lists, and charts—to choosing wines and playing the connoisseur.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.

 

Question: I am unsure about how to buy wine. I would appreciate it if you could explain how to select wine in one of your upcoming articles. Thanks, Bryan

Answer: OK, Bryan—we get it. You like wine. Congratulations on being better than the rest of us, Lord Cashington, but I suppose even fancy billionaires like yourself occasionally encounter a problem they can’t simply stuff with money and expect to go away. Fortunately, I know a few things about wine. (See my recently published book, Sniffin’ Cork: The MAXIM Guide to Getting Classy Girls All Retarded on Zinfandel, available from High-Five Press.) In fact, before sitting down to write this column, I drank three cans of wine—one red, one white, and one Groovy Grapefruit.

Drinking wine is like reading. There are only a select few of us who know how to do it; those of us who do find it boring and disgusting but continue because we think it might impress pretty girls. Many of us even need to do it in order to fall asleep, wake up in the morning, or escape from our loveless marriages, but most of us wouldn’t be able to recognize a good bottle of wine or book even if it was being smashed repeatedly against our faces to extort an unpaid gambling debt.

Negotiating the Perils of Today’s Wine Store

Without a knowledge of wine-growing regions, grapes, and pairings, and without an obvious starting point to begin your wine selection, your first impulse upon entering a wine store and surveying its dizzying inventory may be to lie down in the middle of the store and cry. Then, after coming to your senses, your second impulse may be to attack every stupid judgmental bottle with the blunt end of a claw hammer. Do not do this. Trust me. (See my recently published book, Hammered: A Modern Day John Henry’s Misadventures Inside the U.S. Injustice System, available from Prisons Without Walls Publishing.)

Instead, use your expert powers of observation, moneybags. After all, you didn’t become a captain of industry, head of the world’s leading producer of feline bondage gear, with your eyes closed, did you? Even a superficial inspection of wine bottles can help you narrow your selection. For example, make it a policy to avoid wine with any of the following on its label:

  • Typos, particularly in the spelling of “wine”
  • Any cartoon likeness of a shark, monkey, Dracula wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, or a drunk Frenchman urinating into a wooden barrel
  • Endorsements like “From the creators of Robocop
  • Scratch-and-sniff technology
  • Instructions to “Shake Well” or “Keep Away From Eyes, Skin, and Magnets”
  • Claims such as “No Trans Fats” or “Contains 30% Real Wine”
  • A vintage date that is a year in the future

Additionally, resist any wine with a pull-tab or a cork shaped like Boba Fett’s mask, and anything bottled in a war-torn country or a completely fictional one, such as Atlantis, Lilliput, or Moldova.

Pairing Your Wine

Once you’ve determined what to avoid, it’s easier to find what you want. Are you pairing your wine with food? If so, use this chart for reference:

FOOD
WINE
Beef
Red
Chicken
Red
Fish
Red
Nachos
Red
Sour Patch Kids
Red
Hot Wings
Red
Marijuana Brownies
Red


If you don’t know what food will be paired with your wine, or you’re simply in a hurry, rely on this winning formula for wine selection:

FANCY SERIF FONT + PARCHMENT LABEL + SOMETHING YOU KIND OF REMEMBERED FROM THE MOVIE SIDEWAYS + $12-$16 PRICE TAG = SUCCESS

Dealing With Wine Stewards

But what if you’re in a restaurant, and unable to see which wines on their list have pretty watercolor flowers on the label? Does this mean you’re helpless? Not at all. Ask your waiter or sommelier. Your waiter will appreciate your trust, and your dinner partner will respect your rare ability to graciously humor the repulsive “help.”

When the waiter arrives with your wine, you’ll obviously need to remind him that his station is beneath you by barking demands while he pours, like, “Keep it coming, Robespierre,” or, “Don’t forget that I can buy and sell you, you miserable cur.” Then, when your server has completed the pour, it is customary to raise your hand as if to strike his face. The gesture will be his signal to pour a few more drops—this is one of those “in the know” dining secrets. And always send back the first bottle, no matter how delicious it is (as if you can even tell!) so everyone in the restaurant will know you are a customer with exacting standards.

The Grape’s Nectar, So Sweet (I Guess)

Finally, all eyes will be on you as you take your first sip of wine. Since no one actually knows what wine tastes like, the confidence of your assessment—and not the quality—will be all you need to convince others of your impeccable judgment in wine. I keep a cheat sheet of wine lingo I’ve cribbed from various special interest publications, such as Wine Spectator, Teen Wine Spectator, and Wine-Guzzling Nut Slutz. Any of these adjectives can be used interchangeably:

  • Oaky
  • Earthy
  • Floral
  • Fizzy
  • Dope
  • Maternal
  • Un-diarrhea-like
  • Sneezy
  • Fascist
  • Clooney
  • Crantastic

State your findings with decisive buoyancy, and you will be the hit of the party. Just don’t go overboard on the wine! (See my recently retracted memoir, One Million Little Pieces.)

biopic

TMN Contributing Writer Todd Levin was a writer for The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien. He has also written for GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and Salon. He lives in Los Angeles, where he comforts himself in knowing at least the sun is bright. More by Todd Levin