Becoming a wine aficionado can be a daunting undertaking, especially if it feels like everyone around you is already an expert. Learning about it is half the fun, especially when you remind yourself that it’s the fun part that matters. Enjoying wine and savoring it doesn’t have to be neither a pretentious or shame-inducing experience.

What’s With the Swirling?

If you’ve ever taken a trip to Napa Valley or stopped by a local wine shop for a tasting, you’ll notice people giving their red wine a good swirl in the glass. True wine geeks may be doing this to appreciate the color and physical characteristics of the wine, but everyone else is doing it for one simple reason: chemistry. You’ve likely heard the term “breathing” applied specifically to red wine. When you open the bottle, the wine inside is suddenly exposed to oxygen, which releases its rich and complex flavors.

Opening a bottle alone doesn’t oxygenate it quite enough, which is why people swirl it in the glass right after it’s poured. You can experiment with this at home by letting a bottle sit for about 20-30 minutes after you open it. Pour a small amount in the glass and sniff, and then sip. Give it a good swirl, sniff, and taste it again. You’ll start to notice how the flavor and bouquet changes immediately.

The Big Pairing Question: Red or White?

Old school logic dictates that you should pair red wines with pasta with red sauces, red meats and heavy meals. Fish, so goes the logic, pairs better with white wine, as does pasta with white sauce, cheeses, fruits, and the salad course. While that is sometimes true, there are plenty of red wines that pair beautifully with fish and whites that taste glorious with a hearty beef stew.

Wine should complement the way your food tastes. When it comes to pairings, experimentation is your friend. So is your local wine shop. The fastest way to becoming an expert, after all, is by seeking knowledge from one. Bring your menu to a specialty wine store, tell them what you’re eating and help them make pairings for you. You and your guests will have a blast with each new pour.

How to Buy Wine

Today, whether you’re at a specialty store, liquor shop, or the supermarket, the amount of varietals can be overwhelming, especially for a novice. How on earth do you know which one to pick if you’re new to this, right? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that. Apps like Vivino and Delectable are there to help you. Vivino allows you to take a picture of any wine and it will pop up a description for you. It also helps you scan a wine list so you can order like a pro. You can catalogue and rate which wines you like, helping you learn if you prefer sweeter wines to dry ones. Better yet, these apps are free, so you can download and start having fun right away.

Keep a Wine Journal

If you don’t want to use an app, go analog. Keep a notebook handy to jot down the names of the wines that you like. You’ll start to notice trends after time, like maybe you realize that, hey, you are just a huge fan of white wines like viognier and sauvignon blanc, or that while you love sipping a robust, bold California cabernet all on its own, you prefer a pinot noir with dinner. If you’ve had a sparkling wine that just changed your life, take a picture of it and write down the name as soon as you get home. No matter what form of technology you prefer, be that the pen or the app, keep track of what you drink and what you like.

Dry Versus Sweet: What Does That Even Mean?

All alcohol has a certain level of sugar in it. The amount of sugar in a wine gives it a sweetness, or lack thereof. Dry wines have very little residual sweetness because most of the sugar was converted to alcohol while it was aging. Sweet wines have more residual sugar.

While some wine snobs shrug off sweet wines, the truth is that it’s a matter of taste. Liking dry wines doesn’t make you any smarter or more sophisticated. Again, it’s really about discovering your own preference, owning it, and celebrating it.

There’s no right answer when it comes to what kind of wine you “should” like. Exploring the universe of wines can be a joy and a journey in of itself. Sign up for a tasting in your area today and start your adventure. You may start a lifelong love affair with one of the world’s most celebrated, complex, and rewarding beverages (if you’re 21 or older of course). Cheers!