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Explore Your Palate, One Case of Wine at a Time

Red Wine

Wine isn’t precious. Choosing a wine isn’t complicated. Can we just get over the pretense already?

It is delicious and there is a lot to love about it, but most of the time, it doesn’t need to be put on a shelf and admired. You can find a $12 bottle to drink with your leftovers on Wednesday night and end up patting yourself on the back because it was so great. But all the talk about high scores, great reviews or 40-year-old vines makes it easy to forget that wine should pair with your every day life as easily as your morning coffee.

The only thing you need to know about a bottle of wine is whether or not YOU like it. And the way you start learning what you like is by getting yourself a case of wine. But not a matched set: an explorer’s case. Once you stop and think about the bottles you are putting in to your case you are learning something, and you are already thinking more about the wine you will drink than you may have in the past.

My recommendations for your first wine explorer case 

6 reds

1 Pinot Noir from Oregon or New Zealand
1 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile
1 Malbec from Argentina
1 Grenache from Spain
1 Barbera d’alba or Barbera d’asti from Italy
1 bottle of something you’ve never heard of.  Be daring!

6 whites

1 Chardonnay from France or Chile

(label note: the French label Chardonnay as Burgundy or Chablis)

1 Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or France

(label note: the French label their Sauvignon Blanc as Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé)

1 Torrontés from Argentina
1 Gruner Veltliner from Austria
1 Sparking: Prosecco or Cava (drink it anytime)
1 bottle of something you’ve never heard of/always wanted to try


Try young, inexpensive wines

These wines should be young; they should be from 2011 or 2012. The vast majority of wines are actually made to be consumed within a year of bottling. They should be in your preferred price point. Don’t worry about buying the ‘best’ bottle; the point is to explore your own palate – reviewers and well-intentioned wine loving friends be damned. Choose them just because you like the picture on the label.


Take note of which ones you loved or hated – and why

The other thing you need is a simple note-taking system for yourself— just some way to remember if you liked or disliked the wine. If you keep the receipt, you can put a plus or a minus next to the wines. Once you’ve tasted it, if you feel creative, describe the wine using ‘real words.’ Saying something like “it smelled like dirty socks” is sure to trigger your memory, and any way to remember what you liked or didn’t like works (what you don’t like is just as important as what you do like).  These simple notes will come together to form a map of your wine preferences, helping you to create your next case. None of this takes long, none of this should be complicated; all of it should be fun.


- Alix Ford, DIYSommelier.com




  • Geoff Hess May 17, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Finally!! A great post that explains that wine should be consumed and enjoyed…and not just “studied”. At last a connoisseur that understands this. Great post. Thank you.


  • Leah May 17, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Simple, practical advice. Why have we been intimidated for so long? Thanks Alix!


  • Jan May 17, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Good points here. I can never remember what wine I like when I’m in the store so I should totally start writing them down. Thank god it’s Friday so I can start drinking…..


  • Susan Cusack May 17, 2013 at 11:43 am

    You go girl! A W E S O M E !

    Best of success to you!


  • Reid Yalom May 17, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    In general I like you suggestions, but I am offended that you, have not included any Californian wines on this list. Kind of shows typical East Coast bias.


    • Alix May 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Actually, the only reason I didn’t include California in this specific “explorer case” is because everyone drinks California wines all the time in the US (and we know California wines are great), and I think it’s an opportunity to try something new. But a GREAT option to the above is to alternate a French Chardonnay for an “unoaked” California Chardonnay.

      With so many options out there everyone will win.


    • Andrea VJ May 17, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      How is it East Coast bias when all the wines she recommends are other countries, except for Oregon? Anyway, I appreciate the friendly and straightforward advice!


  • Jodi May 17, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    But the whole world is represented… And the west coast of the US. Plus, 2 bottles are not mapped out so the plan leaves room for personal choice. For a first case to explore this seems like a good suggestion to me.


  • Jodi May 17, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    I agree with the advice here… Getting a case a month from my local shop years ago was how I started to compare and understand what I liked. And, my shop owner happened to turn into a great friend!


  • Cloudy May 18, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Thank you!!! I never knew where to start! Seriously, like most everything in life, so it seems is wine tasting – get the basics going and you’re on your way. I’m on the case -literally!!


  • steve krawse May 18, 2013 at 6:47 am

    A simple and uncluttered way to “map of your wine preferences,”
    looks like fun…and adventurous.
    You are one talented lady Alix, looking forward to reading more.


  • Hillary May 21, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    I love the suggestion for buying a case of wine. I’m going to use it immediately!


  • Jason May 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I don’t drink wine often and partly because I find it overwhelming to figure out what I like and don’t. I can’t remember the nomenclature and think it can be a pretentious process to get involved in. I love the advice this site gives to a simpleton like me. I don’t feel excluded from the conversation


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