How to Choose Wine Like a Pro in Any Situation

Are you intimidated by wine? Vintner Brenae Royal understands. She says, “You can’t wake up one morning and be able to drink tannic Petit Verdot from high-altitude climate region II, or even a tannic Petit Verdot.” At least, she didn’t. Don’t be afraid to admit that you are a novice.

Royal is the manager at Monte Rosso Vineyard, a 250-acre vineyard in Sonoma Valley California. It’s one of the oldest vineyards in California. She didn’t start there, though: A collegiate scholarship made or broke her career in the wine business. Women of the Vine & Spirits is a scholarship program for wine professionals that offers continuing education. They featured her in the Women Behind the Wine series. This makes her an ideal person to help you navigate the most difficult wine situations, even if she doesn’t know a Malbec or a Mourvedre.

It’s a familiar situation: standing in a wine shop and being confronted with dozens of confusing labels. How can you pick a wine you will love? Find an employee and let them know what you enjoy. There’s no need to use an elaborate French vocabulary. Royal recommends Mount Peak Winery Gravity(r), a red blend with a fruity, acidic taste. You can ask for a similar wine if you see a wine that you enjoyed before. It’s best to start slowly when you want to change from your usual wine.

What if you are invited to dinner and don’t know what the menu is? What’s better, fish or fowl? Red or white? Don’t stress. Bring something you enjoy. If you want to be sure that your dinner party will go smoothly, bring something you’ve enjoyed before. It’s difficult to go wrong when you choose a good Pinot Noir. She recommends J Vineyards & Winery California Pinot Noir, which is food-friendly, accessible, and nuanced.

There’s also the most intimidating wine moment: You’re in a restaurant, and your waiter gives you a thick book filled with pages of bottles that sound exotic. Do not be afraid to request the sommelier. Royal says it’s best to be honest with the sommelier and use their expertise. Tell them what you want to order, and then go from there. She recommends that you look at the menu online beforehand so you can have an idea of what your budget is.

Continue your wine education. Royal advises that if you are interested in wine, it is a good idea to read up on vineyards. The amount of work involved in making fine wine, from a farming perspective, alone, would be mind-blowing to most people. While you’re enjoying a glass, find a bottle that has a unique story and learn about it. She promises that it will enhance the experience and make the wine even better.

Ask lots of questions. They’ve been where you are. Royal says, “The great thing about wine, and anyone working in any aspect, is that we start at the same place.”

Watch the Women Behind the Wine video to learn more about Royal and her journey from novice winemaker to expertly managing the Monte Rosso Vineyard.


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