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How to Choose Good Wine

I love throwing parties. But I'm no Martha Stewart. Coordinated table linens and fancy floral arrangements are not a part of my party repertoire.For me, a great party involves three elements - plentiful, delicious food, good conversation and great wine. I love scouring cooking magazines and the web for great recipes ideas. We try to invite interesting people to our dinner parties (or at least ask interesting questions). And so that leaves the wine. The food can be delicious, the company divine, but a sub-par wine can definitely put a damper on the evening.

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Whether you're hosting a girlfriend for a venting session or a dinner party for 12, here are my tips for finding the best vino for your event.

Taste. This may be the most obvious, but often overlooked option. Yet it easily is the simplest and most fun way to ensure you won't be disappointed. Often times before a big event, I'll purchase one bottle of 5-6 different wines, invite some friends over and pull out the pens and paper to jots down notes. Too spicy. Too bland. Too big. Too bitter. Too berry-y. You can easily settle on which wines have the characteristics you're looking for.

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Cheat. Between doctor appointments, work deadlines and the recipe for your go-to chicken tacos, you have enough information circling in your brain without having to memorize which wines go best with which dishes. Lately I've been using a new app on my iPhone from the guys at the California Wine Club - the CWC Food and Wine Pairing Wheel. This app provides seven different categories to choose from '?? Meat, Poultry, Fish, Pasta, Cheese, Starters and Desserts '?? and within those categories a number of specific flavors, meals or ingredients to choose from. Select a category, select a dish and the app provides 3 different wine pairings '?? often both red AND white options. The app is easy to use, helps you think beyond the '??red meat-red wine'? paradigm and currently is free!

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Ask. I shop for wine at a number of different places, but the places I return to the most are the places where I can get to know the "Wine Guy/Girl." Often times these people not only order all the wines and know what they carry, but they regularly taste what they sell. Bottle labels are nice to look at, but they make a poor basis for determining what wine to buy. Talking with Charlie or Heather though will provide you with details like which of their 10 Chiantis will go well with your fresh tomato and basil pizza. Or which $15 bottle of wine is actually a sub-label of a fabulous winery. Or which new Chardonnay they themselves bought a case of.

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Learn. One of the best ways to learn about wine is byjoining a wine club. I recently had the chance to try out the Premier Club from the California Wine Club and I have to say that it is one of the easiest and best ways to learn about wine. Each month two bottles are delivered to your doorstep along with Uncorked, a 12-pages magazine that gives detailed information about the wines in the shipment. Not only have the wines been superb (this month's delivery was from Castoro Cellars in Paso Robles - their 2010 "Blind Faith" Pinot Noir and 2010 Paso Robles Gewürztraimer) but proprietors Bruce and Pam Boring taste every wine they send out and are able to provide details and suggestions about the wine that are nuanced and sometimes technical, yet still easy for even the most novice wine drinker to understand. This helps you move from merely liking the taste of a particular wine to understanding WHY you like it.

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Plus, once you're a member, you can also stock up on your favorite past deliveries. They offer great discounts on buying additional bottles of that month'??s wine as well as previous months. Keep wine clubs in mind for upcoming holiday gifts too - from bosses to brother-in-laws, wine clubs are an easy, fun and very welcome way to show you care.

 Share. Finally, another great way to learn about great wine is to talk about it with other wine-lovers. By sharing your your great finds and flops - and hearing about theirs - you can further develop your tastes, learn about new varietals and vineyards and hopefully avoid bad bottles.

How do you find your favorite wines?

Kate Bayless is a writer, editor and lover of big, bold reds. Her work has appeared in Parents, AmericanBaby, FitPregnancy, iVillage and other publications. Visit her at www.katebayless.com or @katebayless.

Momtrends was not paid for this review. California Wine Club provided a sample of their Premier Club shipment for this review.

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