1) Get sweeter Experiment with different categories of wine. Try sipping a smooth glass of tawny or ruby port before or after dinner. Tradition has it that port helps prepare the stomach for food, as well as helps digest it after a big meal. Not sure about the veracity of this theory, but it certainly sounds and tastes good to me.
2) Play with bubbles Open sparkling wines even when Aunt Tilly's not getting married. With falling prices and its high fun quotient, sparklers belong in your belly, not on the shelf.
3) Attend wine tastings Attend at least one wine tasting per month. Bathe your brain with lots of wine since there's only so much you can glean from others' ramblings. Take in the knowledge but remember, no one knows more about what you like than you do.
4) Try a new wine per month Branch out from Chardonnay and Cabernet. With hundreds of other grape varietals out there, it's time to get off your arse and explore. Wineries are planting more diverse vines to dig us out of the rut, so support their efforts with this grape study calendar.
January: Cabernet Franc. A big, bad-ass red grape used for blending in Bordeaux. Great for the cold weather. Labels to look for: Geyser Peak, Columbia Winery and Pride Mountain.
February: Petite Sirah. Misunderstood, this grape is only distantly related to its close namesake, Syrah. Full-bodied, with flavors of plums and black cherry dominating. Seek out: Foppiano, Bogle and Guenoc.
March: Shiraz/Syrah. You say Shiraz, I say Syrah. Same grape, different countries. Medium bodied, fruit driven and fabulous. Explore these: Wolf Blass (AU), Columbia Crest (US) and Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone (FR).
April: Barbera [bar-BEAR-uh]. Light, fun and versatile, Italian Barbera is both the name of the wine and the grape. Look for ones from the Asti and Alba regions -- on the label as "Barbera d'Asti" or d'Alba. Good producers: Vietti and Bruno Giacosa.
May: Riesling. Ahh, Riesling, the quintessential food-loving spring wine. Drink dry, sweet or in-between. Faves: Covey Run, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen.
June: Viognier [VEE-o-NYAY]. Smells like summer flowers and tastes like rich tropical fruit. Once you try it, you'll forget Chard. Try: Bonterra, Pepperwood Grove and Cline.
July: Sauvignon Blanc. Perfect on a hot summer's day by the pool. Citrusy, this white goes down refreshingly easy. The best: Brancott, Kim Crawford and St. Supery.
August: Pinot Gris/Grigio. Dry as a desert with powerful thirst-quenching abilities. Light and white, Pinot Gris is a delicious addition to a late summer picnic. Look for: King Estate, Rex Hill and Luna di Luna.
September: Gewurztraminer [geh-VERTS-trah-mee-ner]. With the spicy colors outside, nothing's better than a glass of smooth, spicy Gewurz. Great with that bowl of chili you're craving. Top producers of this white wonder: Alexander Valley Vineyards, Hogue and Trimbach.
October: Pinot Noir. Just now getting some well-deserved attention, Pinot is the perfect fall weather wine since the medium-bodied juice warms the soul. Good ones: Argyle, Edmeades and Chateau St. Jean.
November: Sangiovese/Chianti. Sangiovese, the main grape in Chianti, rocks when introduced to food and is fruity enough to be drunk alone. Look for these: Atlas Peak (Sangiovese), Antonori (Chianti) and Ruffino (Chianti).
December: Zinfandel. Friendly, warming Zins are versatile. They can be zesty and spicy or fruity and light-hearted. Explore them all. Names to know: Karly, Peachy Canyon and Rancho Zabaco.
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