Hooray! It’s game night. I don’t mean a rousing round of poker in the den with beer flowing and plenty of snacks. I am talking about my husband’s adult league basketball game. All the wives turn out and we take turns trying to make it festive so it isn’t just another dull night in the gym. Sure, we like to cheer the team on, but having something nice to eat and drink makes the time pass faster. It is a time to socialize and share quips.

My husband is really into his favorite sport. He wasn’t content to watch it during the high season. Now he has to participate. He was ecstatic to find out that there was an adult team in the neighborhood. He practices all week before a game and is an infrequent guest at dinner. So I wouldn’t miss the team in action so I can share his passion. He went so far as to install an in-ground hoop after reading Baller’s Guide to maximize his prowess. The neighborhood kids love to come and watch. Basketball is sublimely social in so many ways and a surefire magnet for men.

When it comes my turn to provide the refreshments at the league games, you can be sure that it has something to do with wine. While beer or soda is the common beverage, my choice has won over more than one other wife. I gifted each one a bota bag some time ago in the hopes of converting everyone to my way of thinking. It is basically a liquid receptacle ideally made of fine skin. Mountain climbers and skiers love them. I got the idea when I realized that it might get messy trying to pour wine into plastic cups in the stands. The bags are perfect and the wives have decorated them for personal identification. If I fill each one with a wine of choice, red or white, it lasts for the entire game. I toss the empty bottles and go home empty handed, as planned.

Almost any food goes with wine, but I usually bring cheese and crackers so we don’t fill up. You can always buy hotdogs at tournament games, but the group likes to celebrate after at a casual dinner. The appetizer is perfect to whet the appetite as a foretaste of what is to come. Other wives bring thermoses of hot coffee and cookies, but more than one person has told me they like my plan the best. I go with the flow on beer night because I know that I will be resuming my usual wine regimen the next day.

Why is buying a new appliance such an ordeal? With so many products online and in the hardware store, you can’t make a decision. Take the ubiquitous vacuum cleaner. They all look good and promise state-of-the-art design and incomparable service. The brands are legendary: Dyson, Shark, Miele, and more. Modern engineering has created marvels of home maintenance. If you haven’t bought a new machine in a while, you might be surprised at the changes. No one uses a home system that plugs in different outlets. They don’t see a cord anymore. Bags are a thing of the past. A foot control means no bending over.

I poured over the descriptions and reviews and given the similarity in price, I came up with a final list. I had a bad case of FOMA. Gran tells me that in the good old days, you got a demonstration. Someone would come over and shock you by putting a bag of dirt on your carpet. While you stood aghast, you were amazed at how efficiently the vacuum cleaner sucked it all up into its waiting bag. With a quick flip of a lever, you accessed the bag, pulled it out, and tossed it in the trash. I suppose that vacuums work better, or at least they are lighter in weight and easier to push around. Trying to choose the perfect machine is guesswork when you shop on the Internet.

I go by reputation and base price. I want a long-lasting, durable canister vacuum that is compact enough to store in the front coat closet. It has to be easy to wipe clean and refurbish after years of use. I don’t expect to be doing this searching again for some time. For now, I am glued to the computer screen reading The Vacuum Challenge and sipping a glass of my favorite chardonnay. For this reason, I don’t mind the time spent. But I could be checking emails and texts or doing the New York Times crossword. Buying a new vacuum is kind of productive in its own way, but the search seems to go on and on. And I talk about it incessantly to my husband, who is getting quite bored with the subject.

I promised him a quick decision but after a week, it is not forthcoming. Not even close. He wants me to like what I buy since I will either be operating it or instructing someone else. He prefers to back away from all this obsessing over features. Upright or canister style? Cord or battery? Metal or plastic? My husband says just get good suction and be done with it. I hear the fatigue in his voice. It is not surprising that a few days later, a huge box was sitting politely on the front porch. I didn’t have to open it to know what it was. A bright, shiny new vacuum–waiting to be put to the test. The madness of my search was over and I could go back to normal.

There is a reason people call me the Wine Lady. I don’t take offense. I do love the fruit of the grape and can extol its virtues for hours on end. I have been known to offer wine tastings in my home for special friends and family.  I have my preferences, but my collection is pretty eclectic. I don’t buy cases of the same thing in order to titillate my jaded palate. My issue for today’s blog is storage. What on earth to do with the overload when the wine fridge is full and your wine cave is basically your empty basement. You look around for scraps of wood.

For now, the basement will have to do until I move—and who does that just to house more wine? I am not discounting it, but for now I am thinking temporary solutions. I have looked endlessly for nice wine racks and most are decent enough, but limited in space. They come in just a few sizes, maybe for twelve at most, and wood finishes. They are often seen as a décor item, which doesn’t suit my needs for maximum storage. My basement does not have a particular “look” so I am going for the biggest I can get—and maybe the cheapest, too.

While most whites feel at home in a cold, temperature-regulated environment such as a wine refrigerator, the reds flourish in a cool room without excessive heat. You can stack them in a closet or your garage if you have the space. I like the idea of keeping everything together and organizing them according to type: merlot, pinot noir, zinfandel, etc. My basement therefore is going to be the proud recipient of some new shelves to accompany the almost industrial size refrigeration unit I bought last year, when my collection started spilling over the kitchen. I couldn’t drink it fast enough! Ha! Seriously, I am building some simple wood shelves with slots for category divisions. I don’t think you need a lot of fancy tools or skills for this kind of job.

Rejecting the few wood scraps I found lying about, I decided to go ask the pros. After consulting the salesman at the local lumber yard, I arrived at the ideal size and had the wood cut to size on their router table. It looked like one of these ones. Easy! Then I sanded each piece so I don’t get splinters. A few whacks of the hammer and some sturdy nails were all it took to fashion some real storage, not unlike what you find at the wine merchant. The fun part was putting all the reds away. I hadn’t really surveyed my collection in a while and I took the opportunity to do a proper inventory. Then I know just what gaps existed and how many bottles to acquire to round out the array.

I headed to my local wine store the other day and explained to the manager that I had an upcoming dinner party and wanted some wine. We talked about what I was planning to serve, which actually was quite a lot. It wasn’t so much the amount of people we were serving as who were serving it to, It was several people from my husband’s office, higher-ups that he was very keen on impressing. That meant I was pulling out all the stops: a bright and healthy spinach salad, some tasty herb roasted pork, delicious olive oil and rosemary red potatoes, and garlic artichokes with mozzarella. For dessert, I was planning to serve homemade lava cake. I wanted to also make a soup, but unfortunately the weather was a little too warm for what I wanted to make, so that got scrapped.

Anyway, it was a lovely menu, and I told the manager all about it so she could recommend something that went well with everything I was cooking. After some walking around and discussion, we finally settled on Cabernet Franc. There were some bottles from California, some from Bordeaux, and they had some from Chile and the Loire Valley too.

She let me taste a couple of the medium-range bottles – lucky for me that I am a good customer, I guess – and I was incredibly impressed. I found it to be lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, and had a really pleasant blend of strawberries, pepper, and plums. It was exactly what I was hoping for. I ended up choosing a twelve-year-old bottle from the Loire Valley that the manager assured me would be an incredible pairing with my rustic dinner menu.

I asked her what I should do as far as serving the wine went, and she told me that it needed to be decanted for about a half hour (or I should pour it through an aerator) before I planned to serve it. This would soften up the taste and even out the natural spicy flavors.

The salad was fresh and delightful, the roasted pork came out perfect, the potatoes were gone in seconds, and the vegetarian in the bunch adored the artichokes. The best part, for me, was that the wine went with everything so perfectly, it was like I had planned it all together! Honestly, this is absolutely my new favorite wine. If you get a chance to try some, I highly recommend it.

My husband was very nervous at the beginning of the meal, but when it was clear that everyone was enjoying both the food and the company, he visibly relaxed. By the end of the night, I thought that he was actually having a good time. I even got a huge thank you before we went to bed. Seeing him happy certainly made all the cooking and the hostessing and the cleaning up worth it.

Even those who consider themselves informed wine lovers make mistakes serving wine sometimes. Maybe we use the wrong glass by accident, or maybe we get suckered into a new brand of wine or a recommendation that isn’t very good. Sometimes we forget to serve cold wines cold, or the food and wine just don’t go together.

There’s a reason why you have to go to school and be trained before you can actually call yourself a sommelier (a wine steward, someone who specializes in wine service and pairing wines). I’ve learned a thing or two, mostly by making mistakes, and thought passing them along might save you some embarrassment at your next dinner party.

For example, there are different storage methods for different types of wines. Red wines should be stored on their side. And the more humidity where it is stored, the better – 80% is ideal.

Reds are typically served at room temperature. We usually think of room temperature as being around 68°F, but a more optimal temperature for wine is 65°F. Whites should be served cool and not cold. A better temperature range is between 52-55°F. Your fridge is about ten degrees cooler than that, so leave your wine out for about 15 minutes or so to warm up a little bit to reach the proper temperature.

When opening wine, be sure that you are using an opener that will work with the cork you have (some corkscrews work better with synthetic corks, some aren’t long enough to completely remove larger corks). Heavy red wines, such as ports or an older wine, should be decanted. That means you pour it into a special pitcher-like object to allow the wine to “breathe.” If there’s a lot of sediment in the wine, you may even pour it through a membrane – a cheesecloth will do nicely.

Another tip is to be sure you use the right wine glass. If you don’t use your wine glasses often, first rinse them. Red wines require a glass with a wide base, a larger bowl, and a thin rim. This will allow the wine to aerate properly. Whites should be served in glasses with a more narrow bowl. They sometimes have longer stems, because all wine glasses should be held at the stem so that you don’t accidentally warm the wine with your hands. We prefer glasses that are clear so that we can see and appreciate the wine’s natural color.

Regardless of how much you plan on drinking, fill the glass only a third to half full (with the proper sized wine glass, it should be approximately a quarter of the bottle) so that you have room to swirl the wine or sniff it.

I hope that you learned a thing or two from this post. If you have any questions at all, or have made these (or other) mistakes before, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

I am under the firm opinion that you can never have too many bottle openers. There are some that just work better than others, and people often give them to me as gifts. I’ve got all kinds: a waiter style opener, a few butterflies, the lever style, and even an electronic one. I also have an incredibly cool looking table top wine opener, but I don’t use it as often as some of the others. After you read this post, you might just agree with me.

I prefer the lever style, because they require little effort and look very elegant. My favorite one was a lever style that was a little more plastic than metal. I liked it because it was light and worked well – I could open most bottles in just a couple of seconds. Unfortunately, the pin connecting the lever and the actual corkscrew fell out, and when I tried to put it back in, the whole thing broke apart. I was pretty upset, and of course this happened while I had guests over for dinner!

As I said, I do have a bunch of them, so I wasn’t flustered at that point. I got out my electronic model and tried to open the bottle that way, but nothing happened. Because we don’t use it much, the batteries were dead! I immediately wished ours was a rechargeable model and not the kind that runs on batteries, because we didn’t have any extra batteries that would fit in the house (of course, I am pretty sure I got this one as a gift, so I would never complain about it not being rechargeable out loud).

By then, one of my guests – a colleague from work, naturally — had come into the kitchen to find out what was taking me so long to come back to the table. Of course, me being known as the Wine Lady made the whole thing seem especially bad. At that point, I was officially embarrassed and hid my face as I rummaged through my kitchen drawers trying to find another wine opener.

The guest, being polite, asked if I needed any help just as I located an older lever model, a sturdy model wedged somewhere in back of the drawer. I managed to say that I was fine and said a little prayer in my head as I set the opener in place. Fortunately that one worked like a charm, allowing me to save face. I winked at my guest, who had come in with his wine glass in hand. I was able to pour him the first glass as a thank you.

My husband can never again make fun of me for having so many different wine openers “cluttering” up our kitchen drawers. He’s as big a fan of wine as I am, and would have considered it quite the tragedy to have to eat his steak without a trusty glass of Syrah to pair with it!

If you’re reading this blog, you clearly like wine and want to learn more about it. Whether you’re a novice at wine-tasting or a pro, you’ve probably come across a bunch of terms that might be confusing – “bouquet” “mouth feel” and terms like that. Tasting wine is like learning another language. I’ve done a little translating for you so that you can feel more comfortable talking about what you’re drinking.

The first thing to learn is that wine tasting is an experience to many people. It is something to be savored and discussed. The great thing about it being an experience, though, is that it means nobody can tell you you’re wrong. If you try a wine and it smells like a freshly cut lawn to you and flowers to someone else, not to worry. You might be picking up on different things, or have different interpretations. Use whatever words come to mind, there is no correct answer here!

Have you ever noticed that many people pour wine into their glass, swirl the wine around, and then sniff the wine? Here’s what they’re doing: swirling the glass around aerates the wine, which enhances the smell (what they call “bouquet”). The next time you pour yourself a glass, give it a try!

If it’s a white wine, you might catch a light, fruity scent. Red wines smell more like berries, plums, or even chocolate! Sometimes there is even a woodsy odor, like cedar or pine needles. Spicy wines like zinfandels might make you think of ground pepper. Wine that’s been aged in oak barrels can have their own smell, like figs.

Once you take a sip, resist the urge to swallow right away. Try to move the wine around so that you can appreciate all the flavors. Think about how the wine smelled and then how it tastes. If it smelled like apple, does it taste like apple or something else? Does the taste bring out flavors that you missed in the scent? Sometimes you can better determine which flavor made up the fruity smell, and rich scents might taste like coffee or even tobacco.

Next, swallow the wine. Think about how it felt in your mouth as it went down. Did it feel crisp, light, spicy, or smooth? That’s the mouth feel, or feel, of the wine. Is there an aftertaste? If so, what kind? Does the flavor linger, or is it a new and different taste? That aftertaste is called the “finish” of the wine.

If you hear someone say that the wine has a good “balance,” that means it has a pleasant bouquet, a nice flavor, good feel, and a good finish. All of the elements are working together to make a quality wine, regardless of the color, brand, and price.

And that’s it: a quick introduction to some of the terms you’ll hear when people describe wine, and how to be one of those people! Now when you ask someone for a wine recommendation, you’ll understand what they mean as they describe it to you.

There is a large wine store near my house, and I often go there to pick up and they often have tastings about once a month. We go on a date night once a week and this is, by far, our favorite pastime of the things we do.

We go there enough that most of the employees know us by name. They usually greet us and show us what they’ve got that they think we’ll like, which is always a treat. They usually are correct, too! Although sometimes I wonder if it is that they are very good that their jobs, or if it is because we’re that easy to please.

The best part is that it isn’t just a wine tasting night. Sometimes a local restaurant supplies food for pairings, but it is usually a wine and cheese pairing. I like these best. If I wanted a meal, I would go to the restaurant myself – I get that it is promotional for the restaurant and all that, but I would much rather eat cheese that time of night. But that’s just me. My husband usually likes having what he calls “second dinner.”

Since we’ve attended so many of these, there’s a few things I’ve learned about wine and cheese pairings. For instance, did you know that people have been pairing wine and cheese for over 4,000 years? There’s an excellent reason for this. Wine and cheese actually have a lot in common. When you think about it, both wine and cheese are greatly affected by the area that they are made — for instance, the climate and region they hail from. They also both use yeast in a fermentation process. And both improve with age! They are natural complements to one another.

There is a bit of an art to pairing wine and cheese. You can’t just grab any wine off the shelf and stick it with some cubed cheese from the deli section, hoping it will taste good. A good rule of thumb: wine and cheese made in the same region should pair well together. That’s all well and good, but I’m not great at following the rules. So, there’s no reason to limit yourself to specific geographic areas. Here are a few ideas to widen the scope you can offer:

–wines that have a higher tannin content (the higher the content, the drier the wine) go better with harder cheeses.

–Soft and creamy cheeses go better with acidic wines.

–Light colored cheese often goes well with fruity wines.

–Hearty, rich cheese pairs nicely with light reds.

–Veined cheeses go well with sweet dessert wines.

Here are some of my favorite wine pairings: Riesling and Fontina, Gewürztraminer and Brie, Bordeaux and Parmigiano, and Sauternes with Mascarpone. There’s more, but this will give you an idea of some fun combinations to try for yourself.

What about you, what do you like to pair your wine with?