This presents a problem because our information on which wines to buy often comes from the results of competitive tastings where wines are evaluated without food. The dirty little secret about many wines that score highly in these tastings is that they are usually the ones that are fuller, richer, rounder, higher in alcohol and exhibit characteristics like tropical fruit, blueberries, butter and vanilla, etc.
That's the complaint of many European winemakers (particularly the French), whose wines sometimes are leaner, more understated and generally show very poorly when pitted against new world wines where the only food consumed at the tasting is a cracker or some bland cheese.
Because these tasting panels can't provide the volume and diversity of menu items necessary to judge each and every wine, you'll need to factor this reality into your decision-making. In other words, try to imagine how well a particular bottle would match the food you intend to serve with the wine.
I know this is not a foolproof method, but it's a good way to incorporate food into the wine appreciation equation. I guarantee that once you hit the food and wine bull's-eye, you'll understand the value of this type of thinking when you're trying to pick a wine.
One publication that goes to great lengths to suggest the most appropriate pairings of food and wine is certainly true to its name. Food and Wine is my favorite magazine when it comes to emphasizing the importance of properly matching the meals we eat with the most appropriate wine. Check it out.
Speaking of food and wine, here's a pairing I recommend:
Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut ($22): Sparkling wine enthusiasts will love this complex, crisp, yet rich wine made in the traditional Champagne method. Creamy and toasty with flavors of ripe pear, the wine makes a great aperitif with cheese or fruit such as strawberries. It also is a superb match to chicken Cordon Bleu.