Swirl Girl: Upgrade your wine drinking habit

A new wine is a lot like a new lover: At first glance, you're intrigued. After a few sips, you're truly curious, maybe even smitten...eager to learn more about this potential suitor. But whether you fall head over heels for the new wine has as much to do with your previous wine relationship baggage -- aka your palate -- as it does the actual quality of that particular wine. If you've clung to the same pinot grigio just like you did your last dead-end relationship, it might be time for an upgrade.

While we all have roughly the same set of approximately 10,000 taste buds, everyone has different tastes. That's why someone who enjoys a sweeter-tasting wine like riesling rarely uncorks a bone-dry Rioja. In order for our wine palates to develop, we need to continually expose them to fresh, exciting flavors, and knowing the kinds of wine you typically like to drink is the first step to upgrading your palate. After all, it's unlikely that you eat the same food day in and day out, so why would you stubbornly stick with the same wine?

When plotting out your palate makeover, think of (or better still, drink) a couple of your favorite wines/old standbys, and ask yourself the following question:

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Am I loving this wine because it seems...

A) Crisp and refreshing? (think lemon-lime soda) B) Creamy and toasty? (like a pear tart with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) C) Sweet and fruity? (imagine you're biting into a caramel apple)

Now, match the recommendations below to the answer you selected above.

A) If you're drawn to dry, acidic wines like pinot grigio, branch out and try the citrus-packed Spanish Burgans albariño 2008 ($13) or an equally zingy, verdejo, the predominant grape in the delightful Naia verdejo 2007 ($14, also from Spain). B) Creamy and toasty flavors found in white wines are usually associated with wines that have spent some time in oak barrels. Slowly back away from the chardonnay and reach for a rich, round pinot gris, like the luscious Handley 2008 ($16) from Oregon. C) Perhaps the white wine best loved by people who crave the sweet stuff is riesling, typically from somewhere in California or Washington State. The good news is, these wines can also be made in a drier style, which tends to make them much more food-friendly. Reach for an old-world riesling, such as the 2007 Schmitges "Grey Slate" riesling ($18). Or better still, choose an exotic, spicy gewürztraminer, like the absolutely delicious Trimbach 2005 ($18).

Even if you don't fall in love with the new wine, hey, at least you've expanded your horizons. Cheers!

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