5 Wine Tips from a Napa Valley Winemaker

BY: Sarah Gorr |Apr 19, 2017

Is there any beverage quite so intimidating as wine? The varieties, the lingo, the supposed notes of plum and vanilla when all you taste is . . . purple. Good wine and extensive knowledge of wine has become synonymous with an upscale lifestyle and high-brow taste, and that can make choosing a bottle a daunting affair. That's why I reached out to wine expert and winemaker, Judd Finkelstein from Judd's Hill Winery in Napa Valley, who helped me put together this collection of wine tips designed to make newbies feel more confident about the wine they drink.

Forget the Jargon

Bold. Fruity. Balanced. Peppery. Velvety. Wine terminology is seemingly limitless, and deciphering what those terms mean in relation to what you like can be frustrating. Judd agrees adding, "As my father would say, 'It's not rocket science,' and we shouldn't be caught up in this weird wine-speak." Instead, talk to your local wine merchants. Don't worry about the "right" terms, and just try to describe what you like the best way you know how.

Get Familiar with Wine Regions

If your local store doesn't have a wine guide for you to bounce questions off of, then Judd says to just "let geography be your guide. Certain areas are known for specific styles and flavor characteristics. For instance, New Zealand's sauvignon blancs are known for their grassy and citrusy flavors." The more you can zoom in on the map, the better your selections will match your tastes.

Don't Break the Bank

Contrary to popular opinion, "good wine does not have to be a cash dump." TV and movies let us believe that the best wine in world needs to cost a mint, but according to Judd, that's just not true. "Many of the so-called 'cult' wines have their reputation established by one or two exceptional reviews and then consumers clamor to get their hands on them," he says while noting that this doesn't take into account the fact that the reviewer will almost assuredly have a different palate than you do. "Good wine is what you like, no matter the price."

Drink, Drink, Drink

Of all of Judd's wine tips, this one might be the most simple. As he says, "To know wine, drink wine." An obvious piece of advice when it's laid out, but still one that can be hard to put into practice when you're trying to choose a wine because there are just so many darn types of wine! But if you're not drinking it, you're not going to figure out what you love about it.

Context Matters

Thankfully, Judd has another tip for how to go about selecting what to try: "It's all about context. What's the weather outside? Am I eating? What am I eating? Who am I with? What's the mood of the room? These can all affect the enjoyment of wine." For example, if you're at a restaurant, ask your server what might pair well with your dish. If you're celebrating with friends, try a sparkling white or rosé. If it's a hot day, go for something chilled. Testing things out this way will help you try a wider variety of wines. Just remember that as Judd says, "[Wine] can be elegant. It can be pleasurable. It can be engaging. But, it is just a drink."