Wine Guide for Real People

Hello, my name is Courtney and I am a wine lover. Unfortunately being a person who is smitten with wine is often confused with being a connoisseur. No, I cannot sip a wine and tell you its district and varietal and I may even mispronounce a few. The only things that are important to me is that I like it no matter what the experts say, it is easy to find, it is available in most restaurants because I like to order what I am familiar with, I know what it pairs well with and that it is affordable.

Because there are so many types of wine to choose from, one will often feel overwhelmed and avoid the experience all together. There is also the dreaded few who have tried one wine, didn’t like it and then think they don’t like all wine. These are huge problems. Wine is so incredible, better than any other type of alcoholic beverage and they are all completely different. There is a wine for everyone.

The following is my top 10 list of wines you can find in most restaurants and in most grocery stores and 1 bonus sparkling wine. When buying in the grocery store, all of the following wines are under $15. Each listing first contains the name of the vineyard the wine comes from and then the varietal. I have picked my top 10 wines based on the 10 types of wine grapes. I will also be explaining from my experience how they taste and what they pair best with. I am really hoping everyone who reads this blog post will give wine a chance. At the end of this post is a tiny cheat sheet you can print out to help you in the grocery store or when ordering in a restaurant plus a list of top rated harder to find wines that are a bit more expensive and two fantastic links for online shopping to help you locate them.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling
Most Rieslings are light, crisp and sweet and they are all white. There are a few dryer versions of Riesling, but they are still light and crisp and pair with the same types of foods so don’t fret if you accidentally order one. Chateau Ste. Michelle in particular has a light lime and peach off-dry flavor. This is an incredible sipping wine that does not need to be paired with food. When pairing, it fits best with spicy, smoky, high fat, rich and salty foods. Some of my favorite pairings are Thai, Chinese, smoked seafood, any kind of braised meat, sausage, ceviche and BBQ. This is basically the beer of wines.

Columbia Crest Gewurztraminer
Gewurztraminer is similar to a Riesling in taste, but tends to be a little sweeter. This too is a white wine and if you like Riesling, you will like Gewurztraminer and vice versa. Columbia Crest has amazing rose, peach and allspice notes that pair well with salty, spicy and citrus dishes. A few of my favorites are Asian, Mexican and any type of pork or seafood dish prepared with a fruit sauce. I actually really like this wine with dishes similar to the Outback Steakhouse Coconut Shrimp. This too is a great sipping wine and does not have to be paired with anything.

Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay
Chardonnay is a white wine that tends to be a little on the dryer side. They pair very well with seafood and chicken dishes that have any type of saffron, lemon, vanilla, coffee or butterscotch flavors. It is also fantastic with any type of grilled or steamed lobster, scallops and crab. Chardonnay does not pair well with salty, spicy or smoky foods. The Kendall-Jackson has a flavor mix of pineapple, mango, papaya and citrus with a touch of oak.

Woodbridge Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine that is very light and tends to have herb characteristics and fruit notes of sour green apple, pear, melon and mango. They pair very well with seafood, poultry and salad dishes that have intense flavor, are highly acidic, salty or smoky. Woodbridge is crisp and creamy with notes of clover, lemon grass, citrus, melon and peach.

Smoking Loon Zinfandel
Zinfandel is a red wine that tends to be very zesty with berry and pepper flavors. Smoking Loon has a lot of red raspberry, strawberry, cinnamon, bark and clove flavors. It pairs really well with Italian tomato sauce dishes like pizza and also any type of grilled or BBQ meats.

Robert Mondavi Coastal Syrah
Syrah is also named Shiraz, European wine makers use the name Syrah. They are the same grape. Just one of the many fun ways they like to confuse us. It is a very hearty and spicy red wine. The Robert Mondavi is full of blackberry, plum and violet notes. It pairs very well with any type of heavy meat like steak, wild game and heavy stews. My favorites are anything spicy or salty like BBQ and fajitas.

Beringer Merlot
Merlot is a good introductory wine for people just beginning to explore reds because they are a little softer than most other red wine varietals. The Beringer has very deep, dark berry tones with hints of cocoa and herbs. It pairs really well with grilled salmon, roasted lamb, any type of wild game and Chinese food. My favorite dish would have to be Peking Duck.

Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is a red wine that is very velvety and smooth. The Yellow Tail is full of ripe black cherry, mint and oak. I only like this particular Cabernet with red meats, plain and simple. My favorites are red meats that are grilled or paired with really strong cheeses or tomato based sauces. A filet mignon prepared with some rosemary, butter, brandy and blue cheese would be killer.

Barefoot Cellars Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a red wine that is typically delicate, soft and fresh. The Barefoot Cellars is very simple with a silky blend of dark cherry and raspberry and a little bit of acidity and red currant. It pairs extremely well with any grilled salmon, chicken or lamb and smoked duck especially with a cherry sauce.

Citra Sangiovese
Sangiovese is a medium flavored red wine with typical plum and berry flavors. The Citra in particular is mild at first with a little bit of dark fruit and pepper notes, then explodes with spice and acidity. It pairs really well with Italian and Mediterranean dishes, especially if they are salty like pancetta, salami, prosciutto, sausages and anything with a lot of parmesan cheese.

Martini and Rossi Sparkling Wine
A sparkling wine and champagne are similar, but technically completely different. It’s another one of those lovely confusions like the Syrah/Shiraz grape. It is only a champagne if it comes from Champagne France, everything else is a sparkling wine. Champagne and sparkling wine can range from extremely sweet to extremely dry. They all start as wine and the sparkle is added later. They are typically a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. A brut is very dry, extra dry is actually a little less dry than a brut sort of off dry, sec is medium dry and doux is totally sweet and great for sipping. Martini and Rossi is extremely fresh, sweet, pleasant and fruity. Even though it is not mentioned on the label, I would consider it to be a doux. If you like sprite, you will love this wine. This is a wine that does not need to be paired with anything, but goes very well with everything but super sweet dishes.

The following is a cheat sheet for you to print and fold away in your purse or wallet for use in restaurants and grocery stores. Each of the particular wines mentioned are a specific favorite of mine, but the varietal, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, etc…can be used from any vineyard you would like to try. The pairings with the varietal mentioned are all the similar, the particular vineyard doesn’t matter. Have fun exploring different Rieslings, Chardonnay’s, Zinfandels, etc…


The following is a list of favorites that are harder to find and cost more, but are not only amazing to me, they are some of the top rated wines worldwide. You may want to try some of these if you really get into wine tasting and are looking for something to drink during a special occasion. I have also including two links for online wine buying in case you can’t locate some of the wines listed in a local specialty wine stores.

* Saxum ~ James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2007
* Two Hands ~ Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2008
* Peter Michael ~ Chardonnay Sonoma County Ma Belle-Fille 2008
* Revana ~ Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena 2007
* Altamura ~ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007
* Paul Hobbs ~ Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008
* Schild ~ Shiraz Barossa 2008
* Fontodi ~ Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello 2007
* CARM ~ Douro Reserva 2007
* Clos des Papes~ Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape White 2009

Links for Online Wine Shopping:

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