Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wine is Easy (honest) by Melinda Curtis

There are many things in life that intimidate me – modern car engines, tax forms, computer viruses.  But not wine.  Yes, I’m from California.  Yes, I've worked at a winery.  Yes, I’ve earned a certificate from the prestigious UC Davis wine appreciation program.  But learning all the complexities is like learning a foreign language – if you don’t use it, you lose it.  I admit: I’ve forgotten more about wine than I’ve retained.  And so, when people turn to me for advice about what wine to order, I developed a bit of shorthand.

Do you ever drink wine or spirits?  If spirits, are you a mixed drink or straight person?  Do you drink black coffee or lattes?  Do you drink full-sugar soda or diet?  Orange juice, cranberry juice, or grapefruit juice?  Prefer chocolate for dessert or fresh fruit?  Season your steak with salt/pepper, a combination of dry seasonings, or a creamy sauce?
You don’t need answers to all the questions, just a starting point, a hint, a clue.  And you don’t need to follow the “wine rules” (red with red meat, white with fish/poultry).  That’s old school.  My cheat sheet is below.  My caveat: this is a system that works for me.  You might have different preferences and that’s okay, too.

If I’m with people who don’t normally drink wine, I veer toward white wine, usually something lighter, like a Sauvignon Blanc.  These wines – especially the ones from New Zealand – are very soft and subtle and generally please everyone.  Sauvignon Blancs from California tend to have a hint of grapefruit.  If you’ve got full-sugar soda or orange/cranberry juice drinkers, try a Riesling or a Moscato – although these aren’t what I’d recommend drinking with your main course, as they’re rather sweet.  If someone likes lattes or chocolate, a “rich, full-bodied” Chardonnay would be good (stay away from “oaky” Chards for this type of drinker).  One warning about Chardonnays: they come in more flavor variation than jelly beans – never assume if you like one Chard, you’ll like another.  Finally, if you have a mixed bag of flavors being mentioned in your group, try a white wine blend.  These are usually lighter in body and flavor, blended to please a broader spectrum of wine drinkers.  Some have a hint of sweetness, some a hint of brown spice or floral notes, so they aren’t boring.

If I’m with wine drinkers, I’ll veer toward red wineMerlot is something I choose for people who like creamy sauces and is safe for a mix of wine appreciation levels (hard to screw up and not a wine with tons of different flavors at affordable levels).  If people like black pepper and strong spices, I might choose a Syrah or Chianti.  If chocolate or lattes came up, I might choose a Pinot Noir, but one from a drier climate (Oregon Pinots taste softer to me).  If there were preferences for fruit for dessert, I might choose a Zinfandel or a Shiraz.  I’ll choose a Cabernet Sauvignon if people like strong flavors (black coffee, pepper, straight spirits) and there is red meat coming to the table (probably the only wine type that I consider doesn’t go well with white meat or fish – but that’s just me).  Remember how I compared Chards to jelly beans?  Same applies to Cabs – lots of styles and flavors, therefore harder to pick one that pleases a variety of palates.

Wine is a lot like the different coffee drinks available at Starbucks.  You can get a plain, but good, cup of coffee, add different tastes to that cup (shake some cinnamon on top, add creamy whip, etc.), or have the coffee be a complement to heavier flavors (chocolate, caramel, etc.).  It fits your mood and your taste buds.  Wine does the same thing. Selecting a wine is a little adventure and when you ask people for their preferences, they become vested in that adventure with you (and therefore the adventure’s success isn’t all on your shoulders).  If you’re nervous about making a decision, you can always ask for a taste of something to see if you like it before you commit.  Have fun!

Melinda Curtis writes the Harmony Valley series of sweet romances set in a small town winery for the Harlequin Heartwarming line. Brenda Novak says: “Season of Change has found a place on my keeper shelf”.  Melinda also writes independently published, hotter romances as Mel Curtis. Jayne Ann Krentz says of Blue Rules: “Sharp, sassy, modern version of a screwball comedy from Hollywood's Golden Age except a lot hotter.”  Melinda is married to her college sweetheart, and has three kids in college.  She follows the NFL because one young quarterback is from her hometown, and follows Duke basketball because Mr. Curtis has a man crush on Coach K.  Her latest release is Season of Change.  You can learn more about her books at


  1. Would love to hear if you have a favorite wine or if you have a question about which wine to choose for dinner tonight!

  2. I never learned to appreciate wine, preferring ales and some beers. But this is very helpful to know what to buy when I have the family over!

  3. I'm generally not all that keen on wine - if I go out I'd generally choose a beer - but funny you mention it, because I was out tonight for dinner at friends and they served a Moscato which I'd never heard of, and it was so nice!! It is now my fav wine.

  4. I never thought about breaking down wines by what people like - what a clever concept, Mel! But I can say yes to liking everything in your post, so I guess that means I like all kinds of wine, which is pretty true if they're good. Except I don't like champagne. Not fitting for a romance writer, is it?

  5. Fascinating! When hubby and I visited the Sonoma valley we went on a couple of really interesting winery tours. Lovely area. I don't drink any alcohol, I'm afraid. I'm a water and herbal tea girl. Trying to be healthy!