How To Level Up Your Wine Game (Whilst Still Drinking Boxed Wine)
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How To Level Up Your Wine Game (Whilst Still Drinking Boxed Wine)

Ain’t no shame in a boxed-wine game, because there some seriously excellent options are arriving on the scene. Here’s how you can remove the red Solo cups from the equation, though, and set yourself up for some learning-while-sipping.

The milestones of adulthood come in an array of shapes and sizes: There’s the day you finally replace your plastic takeaway cutlery with real metal, the moment when you trade up from a twin-sized bed, the day you buy real paper napkins instead of just using paper towels (JK, we are the ride-or-die paper towel generation).

And then there’s the day that you start to question whether you should be graduating beyond your Franzia-out-of-a-Red-solo-cup habit (or at the very least, scaling back on how often you’re playing Slap the Bag).

The good news? There’s no need to eliminate boxed wine out of your diet altogether—even if you’re ready to start exploring a wine culture that’s all a-buzz right now with new a reemergence of traditional winemaking methods over corporate ones, as well as organic and biodynamic techniques that are changing the way we all—this younger generation especially—think about fermented grape juice.

But there are a few basic steps you can take to ensure you’re set up to embark on your own wine adventure. Because as wine expert and certified sommelier Whitney Adams puts it, if you’re not there already, there will likely come a day when “you’re not just drinking it to get drunk. You want it to taste good.” And once you start down that path, she cautions, you’re on your way to getting “ruined.” Because after that, “you won’t want to drink just any old thing,” she says.

Here’s the upside to your impending ruination, though: “I’m a big believer that you don’t need a lot of stuff to be a wine drinker and a wine lover. You just need some curiosity, something to drink out of, and something to open it with,” says Adams.

Simple enough, no? Here’s what you’ll want to set yourself up with before falling into the bottom of many (many) delicious glasses of wine.

Find your wine shaman

For those who might be unsure of where to start, Adams encourages drinkers to find someone to help expand their palette. This can be anyone from an employee at a local wine store who understands your tastes, all the way to a professional wine journalist like the New York Times‘ Eric Asimov, whose selections are almost guaranteed to delight.

Learning what you like based off their recommendations can help you feel confident when you want to start branching out on your own. “You need people to guide your palate,” Adams says, “and kind of expand your wine horizons.” Analogous to your favorite acupuncturist or yoga instructor, “you will need your wine person—your wine shaman, if you will.”

Skip the grocery store

Yes, sticking a couple of bottles in your cart while you’re picking up eggs from Vons is extremely convenient, but Adams strongly recommends going to a speciality wine store. There, you’ll find knowledgeable staff who are willing to share their expertise, and you can usually find better value on bottles. Which isn’t to say you’ll find the same $6 bottles you would at a grocery store, but rather, that “a ten dollar bottle at a wine shop will go a lot further for your money than if you spend it at a grocery store,” says Adams.

And lest you think we forgot about addressing the boxed wine issue: Adams adds that more and more quality winemakers are turning to boxed wine, since it’s affordable for producers and consumers;plus it can even offer a smaller carbon footprint. How’sthat for incentive to drink more wine?!

For the younger generations, who tend to be more interested in immediate consumption rather than collecting at this point, there are quality affordable options like Jenny and Francoise. Their “From the Tank” collection focuses on organic and sustainable ingredients, and tastes like the the high-quality table wine you can drink around France. C’est bon.

Get yourself some nice lookin’ stems

In addition to helping white wine stay cool and other practical functions, drinking out of decent stemware is an easy way to make the wine drinking experience more fun. And Adams points out that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get good glasses.

She recommends acquiring four to six uniform glasses in a universal shape; the Riedel Collection for Target is a great place to start. While she notes that stemless glasses have their own function and have become increasingly popular over the years, “there’s something about holding a stem and being able to swirl the wine,” she says.

Just (cork)screw it

More good news for everyone on a budget: Adams is against “gadgets and gizmos,” as she puts it. “You just need something to open the bottle and something to drink the wine out of.”

She says that while some people like electronic openers like Rabbit, all you really need, she says, is a corkscrew, a knife to cut the foil, and a hinge so that it’s easier to open. Like these. Seriously, no one needs to resort to using a shoe.

Don’t underestimate the usefulness of your cork

“I rarely don’t finish a bottle,” Adams says (#relatable). But in the instance that there’s some juice to be saved for later, just shove the cork back into the bottle with a little force—there’s really no need to buy a fancy stopper. And whether you’re imbibing white or red, store the remainder in the fridge to slow down the oxidation process.

The only exceptions are speciality stoppers for sparkling wine, which she suggests getting if you drink a lot of bubbly. Alternately, if you can’t resist a solid decorative stopper like those made by Jonathan Adler, get after it.

Bring on the meats and cheeses

This isn’t a strict necessity, but do you seriously know anyone who doesn’twant some excellent snacks to accompany their wine drinking? When it comes to a charcuterie board that goes the distance, Adams recommends food52: “That’s one of my favorite resources for tabletop stuff. Glassware, beautiful wood boards. Everything that they have in that shop is fantastic.”

Last and perhaps most importantly, the best thing to keep in mind is that wine is personal, and if you let your tastebuds be the leader, happy drinking follows. The wine world can certainly seem stuffy or intimidating, but as Adams puts it, “Everybody drinks wine. That’s what’s so nice. People have been drinking wine for thousands of years. It doesn’t need to be such a complicated thing.”