During a trip a few years ago to Willamette Valley wine country in Oregon, I realized I wanted to do more than just drink the wine in my glass. I wanted to learn all about it…the different grapes, how they’re grown, why a Pinot Noir tastes different from Oregon than it does from France, and so on. With that love of educating myself about wine, I enjoy educating friends, family and clients about it too. Here is just a small sample of my wine wisdom I would like to pass along:

1. Support your Mom and Pop shop. Sure, it’s easy to pick up some wine while you’re already in the grocery store, but you’ll get better quality wine at a local shop, rather than the mass brands you’ll typically see at the big box stores. You’ll also receive attention and recommendations from a knowledgeable wine lover. Don’t be intimated to ask for help, it’s what they’re there for!

2. $20 rule. Everyone has different budgets but generally speaking, the quality of wine increases once you hit the $20 price point. If you can spend that, do it.

3. Are the wines you love expensive? While I stand by my $20 rule, you don’t need to spend a lot of money for a tasty wine. Love Barolos, but not the price tag? Barolos are made with the Nebbiolo grape. Look for other wines made with the same grape. Love Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but don’t have $100 for a decent bottle? Try other wines from the Rhône Valley in France. They’re made with the same grapes (Grenache, Syrah) and are from the same general region. When you find a wine you really enjoy, do some research and next time you’re in your local shop, ask for help in finding something similar.

4. Old World vs. New World wines. Old World wines are generally wines from Europe, and New World wines are essentially from everywhere else, such as the U.S., Australia and South Africa. Many Old World wines are named for their regions, whereas New World wines are named for the grapes. Take the Chardonnay grape, for example. California Chards are labeled as such, but in France, they’re known as White Burgundies. Burgundy is the region in France where the Chardonnay grape is predominately grown. The world of wine can be confusing, so this is where Google and the folks in your Mom and Pop Shop become your friends! (See, it all goes back to number one on this list!)

5. Think outside the California box. Expanding your palette can be a lot of fun. There are some fabulous wines from the New York Finger Lakes, Washington state, and some of my all-time favorites come from Oregon. And that’s just the U.S. Ever try wine from Turkey? Israel? Japan? Explore!

6. I get a headache here from the same wine I drank in Europe, but felt fine there. Were you on a relaxing vacation in Europe drinking your wine overlooking the beautiful lush green countryside while pairing it with decadent cheese? Sounds lovely! But it’s likely you’re getting headaches because you’re drinking too soon and too fast after a stressful day at work, before you’ve eaten anything and hydrated yourself. It sounds like common sense, but drink a glass of water with each glass of wine and pair it with food. Your headaches, in all probability, will disappear.

7. Storage. If you’re ever faced with a strange phenomenon called leftover wine, a red, sealed tightly, can be kept at room temperature up to 3-5 days. Whites, also sealed tightly, could last up to a week in a refrigerator. If you store your wines at room temperature, keep your wines out of direct light, in the coolest part of your home and store them on their sides, so the corks stay wet. If you store your wines in a wine fridge or cooler, a constant 55 degrees is fine for both reds and whites. When ready to drink the whites, lighter ones can be put in a regular fridge for an hour before opening and fuller bodied whites could benefit from 15-20 minutes in the refrigerator. Lighter bodied reds (Gamay, Pinot Noir) are ready to be opened, because they should be served lightly chilled. Fuller bodied reds, like Cabs, should be left out at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes before opening.

8. Glasses.While you don’t need luxurious Zalto glasses to enjoy your vino, the glass you choose really does bring out the taste of the wine, so put down the mugs and paper cups. You can find inexpensive wine glasses at most stores, just look for glasses that are thin, not thick, and a medium sized bowl is a good universal size for reds and whites.

Have questions for me? Ask away at thirstyforpinot@gmail.com. Cheers!

Looking for a great deal on wine for the holidays for gifts or your own bar? Click here!

Stacey Fink

A native New Yorker, Stacey left behind a publishing and marketing career and embarked on her Second Act by recently relocating to the Tampa area to continue her pursuit and passion for wine. When not studying for her wine certifications, she’s a wine sales rep and consultant. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, continues to cheer on her beloved Mets and Rangers and she’s also trying to adjust to a 7-month season of high humidity.