I know this might sound improbable, but once upon a time I met a beautiful, sophisticated woman at a dinner party who was not familiar with wine nor knew how to select a good bottle. She was a widow who had been married to a minister. I knew this meant that she had a fresh palate to take to wine school.

I began with teaching her about boutique wineries. In case you’re not familiar, boutique (a.k.a. small production or artisanal) wineries typically produce two to four varieties of wine specific to an AVA (American Viticultural Area), sub-AVA or estate grown grapes. I use the real estate industry axiom “Location, Location, Location” to unlock the secret of finding a great bottle of wine. In the vernacular of wine, the first location refers to AVA or region, the second is sub-appellation and the third is estate, chateau or named vineyard. Typically, these wines will not be at eye-level in the wine aisles as this real estate is reserved for the well-known name, quota-driven marketing powerhouses of the industry. These labels have legions of sales people who fight like gladiators for every linear foot of shelf space or line on a wine list.

Confessions of a Wine Label

You don’t need pretty labels or wine scores from so-called experts to locate a good bottle of wine. In many wine producing regions of the world, real estate is too expensive to produce a bad bottle, put your name on it, and try to stay in business (i.e. as in Napa, Sonoma or Bordeaux). Wines level up in quality with every extra detail on the label regarding varietal, vintage, AVA or growing area, estate and vineyard. Checking off these items every time you choose a bottle of wine will help you zero in a great find. You don’t need an expert to tell you what you should like. Sharing wine while dining with friends or joining an independently-run tasting group is a great way to learn about wine without following someone else’s agenda or ego. It’s just grapes, not astrophysics.

Armed with this idea, my double-blind vino test subject has proven that this is a winning formula. She has honed her wine prowess and thoroughly impressed me with how fast she progressed from vino challenged to vino pro. Examples of her vino divining include finding a private label Stags Leap District Reserve Merlot at $14.99 retail that tasted like a $40 one. Other finds include a Russian River Estate Pinot Noir marked down to $12.99 that tasted like a $100 Kosta Browne and a Rioja Riserva, aged 18 months, for $7.99 (90 pts) that rocked. She has repeated this process over and over again knowing it’s not necessarily the big name or price on the bottle that determines the quality, but more the place — the terroir. Unknown names represent the best bang for the buck. Much like life in general, the less traveled roads offer the best discoveries.

Happily Ever After

In our real life fairy tale, my wine student and I are walking through the wine aisles into the sunset. The beautiful woman is now my fiancee and Umami.Life editor, Catherine. Together, we have made the elements of our vino success available to you in the Go Pro Wine Guide. We wish you “Cheers!” on your journey and happy returns to the wine aisles.

— Dale Blankenship

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