I received a marketing email from one of those review websites talking about wine shops, wine bars, etc. It listed several of their favorite local wine shops/wine bars/restaurants and gave a few details about some of them. Most of the reviewer comments referenced a desire to learn about wine and lauded their shop/wine bar/restaurant for not being pretentious or 'snobby'. As you've caught from most if not all of my posts as it relates to wine snobbery, THAT'S WHAT WINE IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT DAMMIT! Wine is meant to be approachable and enjoyable--not 'I'm so smart that I can tell that this wine came from an east-facing slope on a mountainside in Sonoma County'. (don't laugh--there are people out that who can tell that stuff and it's pretty darn cool and amazing!). Let me flesh that out a bit, actually. While a true sommelier should have an incredible grasp on wine and of all things wine, the average consumer just wants something yummy to drink and/or go with their meal. ME TOO! If you go somewhere and they don't know what they are serving (and don't give you help/ideas) it's time to move on--find a place where the servers have PASSION for their food and drink!
A friend recently took us to one of ATL's high-end steakhouses. The wine list was on an iPad and obviously was incredibly broad and would have been in a very thick binder if printed. For most people, that would be fear-inducing and would commonly result in either a blind pick of something that sounded familiar or a selection of something they did know about but was very pricey (take "Silver Oak" as an example--nothing against it, as it is a great wine, but like KJ Chard, it's just a well-known wine that gets tossed about as 'incredible' among people with deep pockets and 'some' knowledge of wine--there I go, being a snob). The thing about wine is to try things. Maybe it's not the best time to experiment when facing a $50-75 bottle at a restaurant but go to your local shop or liquor store (or even grocery/warehouse club!) and see what's out there. Yes, you'll find a ton of cheap blends with colorful labels (a favorite of mine being Apothic Red for around $8 or $9) and some silly 'critter wines' (e.g. wine labels with some animal on it meant to make it seem 'cute' so you will buy it. Not my typical choice). By the way, I'm sure if I had asked, I know the staff at that steakhouse would have helped me if I was clueless-don't EVER be afraid to ask for help; most servers LOVE to share their favorites and most sommeliers love to share their ideas as well! Again, if not, vote with your wallet and go somewhere else next time!
Do you drink white wine? Try something other than Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. I wax poetic about Viognier; try a Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc--you don't have to spend a ton but try to focus on a specific GRAPE varietal. Ditto for reds--if you like Merlot, try a Cabernet; if those make you happy, you may love Syrah or (my favorite) Zinfandel. What about a lighter red like Pinot Noir or something funky like Monastrell/Mourvedre? Temperanillo? Once you decide you like a particular varietal then explore regions or countries and experiment some more. So now you have some CHOICES out there.
Once you get the varietal figured out (e.g. I love Sauvignon Blanc), as noted, when you dig around you may realize how much you like a certain style (California SB can be a bit 'buttery' (unfortunately!) while New Zealand's are more crisp and acidic (hooray!) as they should be). SO if you like the crisp style of New Zealand (such as Marlborough region), the next time you see a wine list with a Sauv Blanc from that area you can feel confident in ordering it even if you have not heard of the producer. Same thing with reds; a Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in California (or Carneros) is a great region--the more you try, the more you learn and then that list becomes much less scary.
Wine is meant to be enjoyed. I think of it as a journey--we've all had horror-show vacations; the same can happen with wine but if it's bad, you can send it back. If you hate it, you can try something else. It's all temporary and there will always be another glass or bottle out there! As 'the man' says: Stay thirsty my friends!