We’ve all stood in a store’s wine section wondering, “What do I buy for this dinner party?” I still struggle with the huge array of choice in country, variety, and price. You’re never going to find (thank goodness) a one size-
fits-all wine solution, but you can follow a few simple steps to make better wine choices.

Firstly ask yourself some questions. How much do I want to spend? Do I want white or red, and do I have a style in mind/country in mind? Is the wine pairing with food or just for drinking on its own? Family dinner? Anniversary, birthday, holiday? Date night? Weeknight stress relief? Party night?

For a family dinner or dinner with friends look at the menu and remember that in general heavier foods need a bigger wine and lighter foods need a lighter wine.
• Chardonnay: Poultry, cream based pastas,
lobster, scallops
• Pinot Noir: Salmon, duck, veal
• Cabernet Sauvignon: Steaks, roast beef
• Zinfandel: Barbequed meats, burgers
• Sauvignon Blanc: Salads, cheese, turkey
• Syrah: Tuna, lamb, sausage
• Pinot Grigio: Chicken, shrimp
• Nova Scotia whites: Local seafood

Or you can start with the meal, and work the equation in the other direction.
• Sunday brunch: Crispy, salty bacon and waffles with syrup call for an off-dry Riesling
• Multi-course dinner party: Syrah blends from the Rhone Valley are versatile, and rich in flavour and complexity.
• Romantic dinner: Pinot Noir is the grape of romance, with many varieties from France and the U.S.
• Celebration dinner: It is hard to top champagne or port for a celebration. Champagne goes with almost all foods and port is perfect with dessert.

You still have a lot of choices, but you’re starting to narrow the field. Now that you know your general range, ask the store staff for guidance. They tend to be well trained and knowledgeable. The NSLC has also introduced a well done “Wine Discovery Guide” with every wine classified by style and taste. Look for the information on the shelf and at mynslc.com.

But you can have fun ignoring traditional guidelines, too. Instead of Chardonnay, try Viognier for a more floral and spicier option. For pasta dishes think areas of Italy that are not Chianti, like Montepulciano from Abruzzo. For meat dishes, try a Portuguese red. And if you are cooking, by all means add some of the wines to the pot.

Without the worries of balancing the food you can just focus on the flavours you like the best. For romance nothing beats champagne, but if this is above your budget we have gained lots of choices in Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava in recent years.

For a party night, experiment with American red blends available. For consistency it’s hard to beat a tasty Valpolicella from Veneto or a Sicilian red. And from France, it’s easy to like the easy drinkability of Beaujolais.

I saw a lot of Pinot Grigio as a patio sipper this past summer. Much of it tasted like lemon water, so if you want quality and more taste stick with northern Italy and Friuli, or Alto Adige. Lastly, for happy hour or a picnic (even an indoor one), try some dry rosé.

Have a tasting party with everyone bringing a different wine, try with and without food and you’ll be surprised at what stands out. Send us your suggestions for your favourite occasion wines with or without food and we will publish in our February issue and draw for a wine prize of four Riedel glasses, compliments of Bishop’s Cellar.

The under-$25 wine review

Liberty School Central Coast Chardonnay 2013
California, $21.99, NSLC Port of Wines

As the weather gets colder, I don’t always want to immediately switch over to red wine. Sometimes the occasion calls for a white, and the rich sunshine of a good Chardonnay is perfect to stave off an impending winter. This one is plush with ripe pear and tropical notes. Distinctively New World in style and colour but a nice vein of acidity holds the vanilla and toasty notes in check. Baking-spice finish. 90/100

Tommasi Valpolicella Ripasso 2013
Veneto, Italy, $24.99, NSLC Port of Wines

For those of us who cannot afford expensive Valpolicella Amarone, the Ripasso is an excellent option. Since the wine is passed over Amarone skins in the winemaking process, we get some of those rich and flavourful characteristics at half the price. Plummy nose and rich velvety mouth weight. Impressive balance with just the right amount of plush tannins. Worth every penny. Great with a plate of thinly sliced Italian prosciutto. 89/100


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