Michael Mitarnowski

Have you ever found yourself in a restaurant next to that table where the snobby couple spends all of dinner swirling wine around in their glasses? I can't stand them! For those people, wine snobbery is a way to look smart, or more often, an excuse for alcoholism, and swirling their glass prevents them from having to make conversation. Unfortunately, it's these rich, snobby, Wine Spectator-reading folk that are most often associated with wine-enthusiasm.

When you get into the wine community, however, and talk to the people who grow the grapes, make the wine, run the wine shops, and work in the wine sections of grocery stores, you realize they're some of the coolest people around. They're also the first to admit that you can never know everything about wine. Each brand, year, and varietal is different, based on formula, weather, soil, the containers wine is stored in, the amount of time it's stored, and countless other factors. One brand and formula of wine will taste differently from year to year, and while I might prefer the 2002 Chianti, you might like the 2004. In short, one person is not the authority on which wine is the best. We're all capable of cultivating our own unique wine appreciation, and no one can tell you what you like is wrong.

Of course, in order to develop your wine palate you'll have to dive right in, and here are a few ways to get started.

Start cheap—There's no reason to waste money on expensive bottles of wine before you've even figured out what you like. Sarah, at Cork (corkwineshop.com) at 2901 NE Alberta, recommends starting your exploration with entry-level wines. The way she explains it, entry-level wines are made by good wineries, but the wine receives different treatments than the more expensive varieties.

"The wine might be aged less, " Sarah said, "or stored in American oak vs. French oak."

Whatever the case, the wine might not reach the quality of a certain vineyard's more expensive bottles, but it's still good and often retails for under $20. Entry-level wines are a good way to get acquainted with a brand without sending you to the poor house.

Check out wine tastings—On Friday nights, Cork offers themed wine tastings that offer a sample of wines from different regions, like Australian Shiraz vs. French or American Syrah (same grape, different part of the world). Also, Thanksgiving weekend is huge in Oregon for tastings at vineyards in McMinnville and the East Willamette Valley (eastvalleywine.com). Another great way to introduce yourself to a few types of wine is the wine-blending class offered at Urban Wineworks (urbanwineworks.com). You blend different varieties and see which one your palate gravitates toward.

Ask questions at your local wine shop—Sure, we all buy lots of $4 wine at Trader Joe's, but don't be afraid to stop into local spots like Square Deal, Every Day Wine, Great Wine Buys, or Cork. The folks who work there have a wealth of knowledge and are super helpful in finding something in your price range. And worry not, most places offer a decent selection of wines for under $20, or even $10.