It shouldn’t be that hard to be the life of a friendly afternoon cocktail party. Don’t eat the crab dip with your hands, remind your husband to wear pants and never, ever talk politics. Simple! But these days, you are also expected to “know” wine – and not just in the sense that you know it’s made from grapes or you know you really like it.
You need to know the good stuff from the stuff you’re better off throwing into your emergency disaster kit (we all keep canned food, a sweatshirt, matches and four bottles of merlot, don’t we?). God forbid you bring the wrong bottle to a party! You might as well just scoop up the crab dip with both fists and fling it at the walls because it’s not as if you’re getting invited back.
Realistically, it’s unfair to be held to such a high standard because most wines have more nuance and complexity than the last five Adam Sandler movies combined. Fortunately, like global warming and what constitutes great guacamole, a lot of people have opinions about wine but don’t have the knowledge necessary to back them up. This leaves an opening for you to pass yourself off as a bona fide wine expert.
The key is confidence. While not everyone will agree with your opinion, if you seem to know what you’re talking about, no one’s going to challenge you, lest they be judged the novice to leave off the guest list next year (along with whoever stuck their fingers in the crab dip). Still, you need to know a few basic rules to pass yourself off as a wine expert.
1) True wine experts don’t just grab a glass and start chugging. Seriously, that’s such a party foul. It’s like claiming to be a foodie as you pour Doritos crumbs in your mouth straight from the bag. You want to look at the glass as if you’re checking for water spots and then swirl the wine around for a while. Look at it again. Really, you can never swirl too much because it always looks good. However, do not swirl too hard, as that can send wine flying everywhere, ruining your grape cred and, sometimes, your shoes.
2) After you sip, smile into the middle distance, as if lost in thought and not as if you’ve realized there’s gum in your hair. If you’re ambitious, you can make an “mmm” sound, as if overwhelmed by deliciousness, but be cautious. Delivered incorrectly, it can sound like you’re about to tear into a karaoke version of “Smoke on the Water.” This is not advisable.
3) Buy great wines from Livermore Valley, like a McGrail Cabernet Reserve, a Chardonnay from Ruby Hill or a Tempranillo from Las Positas. Everyone will assume you’re smarter than you really are. You’ll also seem like someone who’s probably well-traveled and hip to the good stuff because they’re award-winning wines that wine experts know. Impressing the crowd with your wine knowledge and impeccable taste is a surefire way to endear yourself to the hosts and, more importantly, make sure you have a spot on next year’s guest list.
4) As you compliment the host on their wine selection, casually mention you detect subtle hints of other tasty things that are not wine. Mentioning that you’ve discovered hints of oak, chocolate, or clove all sound convincingly expert-ish. Saying you can taste anchovy, movie popcorn or Parmesan cheese does not. It also just sounds gross.
5) Talk about what you’d love to pair this wine with. “This would be delightful with a light summer salad of pears and walnuts” is perfectly acceptable. “This would be just the white wine to have with a plate of oysters dressed with muscatel mignonette” is also fitting. Do not say, “This would totally work with some mayonnaise and butter sandwiches” or “This seems like the perfect wine for a Tuesday morning before work.” If I have to explain why, maybe you should just order a pizza and stay home.
San Francisco’s Tri-Valley region is made up of Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and Danville. Come stay in the sunny side of the Bay.
By Liane Bonin Starr