Before you do anything in this big, wonderful world of wine buying, it's important to find a good wine merchant. In today's wine culture, this is easier than ever. There are more small to medium-sized wine stores popping up in response to the increased demand for wine, and many of these are equipped with at least one friendly and knowledgeable manager who will be eager to help you find a wine that suits your style. It is also worth noting that there are just as many large liquor outlets appearing that may have a decent wine selection, but no one who knows what they're talking about. And, of course, there remains the inherent risk of finding that old-school merchant who continues to treat customers like ignoramuses.

It is also true that the easiest and most enjoyable way to learn more about wine is to find a merchant whom you can trust. Usually, this trust is based on the following factors:

Selection: How does the merchant choose its wines? The most reliable stores hand-pick their wines based on actual tastings. The wine buyers will meet with various traveling wine reps and sample selections, choosing to buy only those wines that are distinctive, interesting or otherwise bring something new to the table. However, many merchants are appearing who pick their wines based on scores found in a magazine. These types of establishments will be limiting and often their staff is not terribly knowledgeable. The first question to ask your merchant is: How do you choose your wines?

Service: Is the staff friendly, unpresumptuous and courteous? There's a lot to explore in the world of wine, but only those merchants who are willing to help you explore it on your terms should be given your business. Look for the staff to tell you their opinion, not something they read in a book or magazine.

Wine Club Services: One of the best services a merchant can provide is hand selecting a case. Many stores now will offer to put together a case or a half-case for you on a monthly basis, that conforms to criteria you lay out: half red, half white, international selection or only from certain countries, average price is under $15.00/bottle etc. This is great because you get to learn about new wine you wouldn't otherwise explore. Often the merchant will include complimentary tasting notes, and one of the best benefits is you get a discount!

Let go of that inner voice

Probably the biggest obstacle to having fun with buying wine is your own self-doubt. Walking into a wine store can be nothing short of completely overwhelming and intimidating, and more often than not there is a record that plays in your head that says "You can't do this, you don't know anything and it's too hard to learn".

Nothing could be further from the truth! You learned how to shop at a grocery store didn't you? Think of all the various labels, products and categories that can be found in the canned food aisle or the produce section! Being able to navigate the terrain is something we take for granted because we were immersed in grocery store culture from a young age. With wine, you are doing the same thing. Just immerse yourself in the process and soon the intimidation will fade to a sense of adventure.

Form a Plan

The buying process is easiest when you have an idea of what style you're going for. Are you serving a dinner that you want to match with a wine? That's a plan in itself; just ask the merchant what his or her advice is. While you're at it, ask why they made the recommendation they did. Most likely you'll learn a thing or two. Encounters like this add up to great knowledge over time!

It's also important to have a good idea of what you'd like to spend. Remember that today it is easier than ever to find a good wine in the $10 - $15 range. You shouldn't spend more for everyday occasions, but maybe you are celebrating so you would like to splurge a bit. If you go over $25.00, you should be getting a wine that offers something more complex, interesting and fun than you would otherwise get. Vineyards understand that when customers pay up for a bottle they should get something distinctive. Make sure your merchant knows which situation you're in so they can make sure you're not disappointed by a pricier bottle.

Act Like a Kid

That doesn't mean you need to run through the wine cellar screaming with a football helmet on; it means you should ask questions without trepidation or fear. One of the primary reasons children are able to accumulate so much knowledge about the world in a short period of time is that they don't have any reservations about being curious. If you want to have fun (which is what wine is ultimately about) and become more worldly and educated in the process (a cool side benefit), it's best to ask whatever question pops into your head. Any wine merchant worth their salt will be more than happy to discuss the answers with you, because talking about wine is fun after all! If they give you funny looks find another merchant.

How You Describe Food

There are quite a few resources within the website that will help you learn how to describe what you like and don't like about wine. While you sift through all that, remember that you can't go wrong describing the wines you like as if you were describing the foods you like. Think of food-related adjectives like juicy, light, spicy, bold. You can use these to describe what you're after and the merchant should know exactly what you mean.

Future Wine Merchants

While you're out looking for merchants, consider it a gold mine if you find one that happens to be embracing a new trend in wine retail where wine is sorted not by country, but by taste. This means you will see sections such as Fizzy, Fresh, Soft, Luscious, Juicy, Smooth, Big and Sweet. Often this type of store will also let you taste the wine before you buy it, and who can beat that!