Try some different varietals (yes, including merlot)

It’s nuts, when you think about it, that a one-minute rant in the wine movie Sideways several years ago led merlot sales to drop considerably, just because Paul Giamatti’s surly character Miles didn’t like it. I think that points to how everyone wants other people to think that they’re good at wine (myself included) so that they would never pull out the suspected faux pas of ordering merlot. As a result, Whitten comments, “If someone’s making merlot right now, you know they’re really trying,” so it’s probably worth an exploration.


And merlot’s not the only one. Whitten thinks “it’s always worth people’s time to explore some non-familiar varietals. There’s so much out there. Especially in white wine, there’s a lot of value to be found outside of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc—a lot of diversity out there.” But not in here in the Trader Joe’s, to be honest; the vast majority of whites available fall under those two categories, making that Viognier/chenin blanc blend even more of a standout.

At the end of our awesome afternoon, Keith reminds me that even as a sommelier, he’s still learning about what wines he likes and doesn’t like: “After all, it’s impossible to try them all.” So why should plebes like myself (and possibly yourself) try to be some sort of expert? Instead, just take one of the suggestions above and buy a $15 bottle from Trader Joe’s (or ask the friendly Hawaiian-shirted person at the store). If you love it, you have a staple forever. If you don’t, you’re out less than twenty bucks, and you move on to the next one. For a fan, the wine journey never really ends. But as with so many adventurous travels, the joy of a lower-priced, self-curated road trip can be more valuable—and fun—than a swanky flight in first-class.