I have a confession: I don't know much about wine. This was mostly a non-issue for me before moving to Seattle because most of my friends and family in NY didn't know about wine, either. When I moved here, I realized how much serving wine was actually a part of the culture; having people over for dinner generally meant having wine to serve them.
In keeping with my philosophy that what goes in my mouth should taste good, I'm mostly a fan of picking up brands that I think I'll find tasty. We could argue that knowledge gives you a different sense of what tastes good, and maybe once you've had a really good wine it's hard to go back to bad ones, but ultimately it's still just a matter of preference (of course, with my limited knowledge, I wasn't really thinking about the fact that wine can be used to enhance the flavor of a meal). My mother's preference was for Manischewitz.
I know what you're likely thinking, and I wouldn't entirely disagree. I'm sure most wine enthusiasts would be appalled by this, or the fact that it was actually occasionally served to guests at parties (either that or White Zinfandel), but no one ever seemed to be bothered by this. To be fair, wine (or alcohol in general) weren't standard parts of the meal. They were very occasional and usually precipitated by someone asking if they could bring something. If someone mentioned wine, though, someone was likely breaking out a bottle of Manischewitz.
With that background in mind, I was at a severe disadvantage when I moved. Most of my guests would offer to bring wine, but I like to make sure my guests don’t have to worry about bringing anything which meant I wanted to be the one to buy the wine.
At one of my very first dinner parties here, I did the unthinkable and actually brought out a bottle of White Zinfandel. In my mind, this was the classy wine, and definitely a step up from Manischewitz. The bottle went untouched as several of my guests (who apparently don’t like showing up empty handed) had all decided to bring a bottle of “real” wine. I was thankful (if slightly embarrassed) for the lesson and to my guests for deciding to bring the wine, anyway. I also realized I was going to have to learn a thing or two about wine.
How do you go about picking your wine? I’m betting that most people aren’t taking long wine classes or even doing massive internet searches for how to pair wine with a meal. I still don’t know much, but at least I’m no longer serving the undrinkable. While I’ve also usually got a bottle or two of wine on hand, for the most part, I’ve decided to let my guests bring the wine, and focus on the things that I do know.