Cocktail Hour

Explore Your Palate, One Case of Wine at a Time

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,



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