A Trick For Choosing Wine

Wine shops can be overwhelming. So many bottles, so many pretty labels—but what do they actually taste like? We spoke to Michele Pravda, owner of Brooklyn wine shop Smith & Vine, who taught us this fun way to choose wine…

If you like BUTTERED TOAST, try a California Chardonnay. “Chardonnay has buttery undertones,” Michele explains, “especially when it’s aged in American oak, which gives it a rich flavor.”

If you like TROPICAL FRUITS, go for a Viognier. “It has tropical notes, especially mango,” she says. “Tropical fruits are strong, big and intense, and so is Viognier.”

If you like APPLES AND PEARS, you’ll love Pinot Grigio‘s crisp, fresh flavor.

If you’re a fan of CITRUS, you want a wine with more acidity. Gruner Veltliner is a good bet, and Michele recommends a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: “It’s got a definite fruity flavor to it, but with more acidity.”

If you like the SMELL OF FRESHLY-CUT GRASS, try a white Bourdeaux, which has “a grassy, herbaceous flavor profile.”

If you always pick out the RED CANDIES, you’d like a wine with notes of sweet red fruits. Try a Rioja, which tastes like sour cherries.

If you like DARK CHOCOLATE, try Malbec. Michele recommends choosing one from Chile or Argentina for notes of rich, dark chocolate.

If you can’t get enough BACON, choose a smoky Pinot Noir from Oregon. (In wine vernacular, “smoky bacon” is a prized flavor for pinot noir.)

If you like SPICY THINGS, go for a Syrah. Michele’s favorites are from Northern Rhone, which have an especially bold, spicy flavor profile.

If you’re a STEAK fan, you’ll love Bandol from Provence. “It has almost a bloody, gamey meat flavor,” says Michele. Bonus: Bandol also pairs well with steak!

And the best tip of all? Just drink. “Regular consumption is the single most important characteristic of the confident wine lover,” says New York Times food critic Eric Asimov.

Which would you choose? What do you normally drink? Thank you, Michele!

P.S. 8 etiquette tips for drinking wine, and a trick for keeping lipstick off your wine glass.

(Illustrations by Caitlin McGauley for Cup of Jo. Interview by Caroline Donofrio)

  1. Now I know why I always order a glass of Pinot Grigio when I’m at a restaurant… I do love pears! This post was informative, yet simple to understand. I also love the darling illustrations! They make this post even more reader-friendly! The hyperlinks are useful for a newbie trying to learn about proper wine etiquette, as well. Normally, I choose wines blindly, hoping for the best, but I am grateful that I came across your post! It even made me reflect on potential pairings.

    Thank you!

  2. What a fun post! The illustrations are absolutely beautiful too!

  3. I love this post! I have returned to it multiple times. Thank you for always providing such fun and useful information!

  4. I’m a huge sweets well more candy eater. Reading this again (maybe commenting again I forget lol) I am certainly better at picking wine more so light color based on the word play. Meaning how they describe it. It hasn’t failed me yet but for the others, I’ll stick to this list lol

  5. The pictures of food pairing with wine are extremely cute. I understand how wine shops and other liquor stores are overwhelming. There’s no direction or guidance as to what each are and taste like. Alcohol

  6. I second the question about whether or not we can order these illustrations as prints! They are beautiful and I would love to buy them!

  7. I’m totally obsessed with the first illustration. Does she sell it? it would be perfect!

  8. the only thing my siblings and I have in common is that we all choose wine based on the prettiest (my sister and I) or the coolest design (my brother). but it’s all about the label

  9. I love bacon! So pinot noir I guess, but first I should learn to drink red wine… I’ll write it down on my to do list!

  10. I learned, after years of living in Argentina, that Malbec goes with everything :) that and a good Pinot Noir. I don’t drink white wine.

  11. Love this! I’m a fan of California Chardonnay and Malbec. But I never knew about the bacon-pinot noir connection. Looking forward to trying it again with his in mind…

  12. cute! i love buttered toast, but i hate chardonney. go figure!

    i pretty much stick with a cabernet. sabastiani from sonoma is our house vino!

  13. All of the above!
    But different times different wines…so this is very useful.

  14. I use the vivino app. You take a picture of the wine´s label and it gives you ratings form other users. I find it super helpful.

    Also I always tend to go for Spanish wine because it is way cheaper then French and tastes just as good!

  15. This is so helpful! I never know where to begin when choosing a wine. Thank you!

  16. This is awesome! I’ve always known that I liked a smoky red, but had no idea what to ask for beyond that. Now I know that a Pinot Noir is a good bet. Thanks! Love the illustrations, too.

  17. Excellent article!!! Thanks for making my trip down the wine aisle a little easier!!!!

  18. Helpful!!! (Mmmmm. Wine.)

  19. I’m so picky with wine, so this will be so helpful the next time I make it to my local wine shop! I think I’d go with a citrusy one, I love sweeter wines.

    Sierra |

  20. i know which types i like, and beyond that always pick a wine by the label!

    agree with the other commenters about the illustrations: LOVE. especially the top one.

  21. I am a red wine girl all the way and during the summer I like Rosè. This is such a great illustration and definitely made me want to try something new!

  22. My husband often chooses the bottles we have. (This post will help build my confidence.) Lately I’m drinking a late harvest Zinfandel & a young Cabernet Sauvignon. They’re both leaning toward the sweet end. My husband likes much drier wine.

  23. I love these especially the woman picking out the wine. It’s be perfect for above my bar cart.

    Are they for sale?

  24. Great post! I normally choose a bottle under $15 that I like the look of the label. It’s a risky business if you ask me to bring the wine! Im definitely a wine noob :)

  25. What if you like ALL of these things?! ;)

  26. I agree with a few of the other commenters – the illustrations are lovely! I’d love these hanging above our little bar area:)

  27. I love Malbecs from Argentina and Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand!

  28. This is great (and I agree with some other commenters, it would make a fun print or greeting card!); thanks for sharing…

    My husband has really gotten into wine and has learned quite a bit about what to buy and how to taste by listening to the America’s Test Kitchen podcasts. There’s been a marked improvement in the wines we’re drinking so he must be learning something!

  29. What a grand idea! Thank you so much for sharing. I should probably download the last pictures on my phone so I can have them handy the next time.
    Also can you please ask Caitlin McGauley to make at least the first illustration available to buy in her shop. I absolutely fell in love with the stylish woman lost in front of all these wine bottles!

  30. I love buttery toast, but I do NOT love buttery wine! On the other hand, my mom turned me on to New Zealand Savignon Blanc and it is SO good–especially in the warmer months. Trader Joe’s actually has an amazing one for about $8–I think it’s called Kono. I love the grapefruit-y flavor!

  31. This is super helpful! Definitely saving this for my next trip to pick out wine, thanks!

    Sweet Spontaneity

  32. It’s funny how my wine tastes change. A few years ago I loved Cabernet Sauvignon, now it’s Malbec. I drink far less booze after having kids and prefer a wine that’s easier on the palate.


    I’ve always struggled when it comes to choosing a wine. For me, or as a gift for someone else.

    This is the kind of practical info I love. THANK YOU!


    L I F E + 1

  34. It’s actually very interesting. I’ve pinned it! I buy wine often, but usually I just go for ones that I already know. Now I’ll try a new one, I like tropical fruits and dark chocolate so I know what to choose :)


  35. I should try the Malbec one!
    When i choose wine i prefer organics ones or at least “grower”.
    It ‘s written on the top of the bottles in France.
    Otherwise, i like Medoc, Bordeaux, Rioja…


  36. awesome! i LOVE citrus and ironically, my favorite wine is this cheapy $9 bottle of new zealand sauvignon blanc called Matua! so i guess this might be pretty accurate :)

  37. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Will be sharing on FB…great tips! Wine shopping can often get confusing. Thank you.

  38. And if you like all of these things…drink more wine.

  39. My tip for choosing wine is to look at the shelf and pick the one that is most empty… Must be good if a lot of other people think so!

  40. I love this! I am trying to become a little more knowledgeable on wines, rather that just getting the cheapest one. Now if you could only provide a pronunciation guide, that would be great too. I typically order Chardonnay and Merlot because I know how to say them…

  41. So incredibly helpful! Thank you!