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Dinner invite 

Don't let the snobs intimidate you

Intimidate [in-TI-mi-deyt]

1) To make timid; fill with fear.

2) To overawe, as through the force of personality or by superior display of wealth, talent, etc.

3) To force into or deter from some action by inducing fear.

Quick ... name a product that has thousands of different ingredients, labels and producers, is regulated by a list of requirements as long as an elephant's ... um ... trunk, and is distributed differently in every state and country in the world. It's alcoholic, rich with minutia and undeservedly intimidating to the majority of Americans. Maybe it's exposure to definition No. 2 that rendered people anxious, or maybe it's society that made us all believe that in order to appreciate wine, we must be intimate with every detail before our lips touch the glass.

Many Americans eat vegetables every day without knowing (pathetically enough) they originate from dirt and not the grocery store, and drink beer without knowing the brewing process. Hell, if you really knew what chemically vile ingredients were in last night's frozen dinner, your bowels would let loose with fear. But some daunting force continues to frighten the drinking public into avoiding wine since it's soooo complicated.

It isn't, nor should it be. Plenty of us know the arrogant No. 2 and No. 3 individuals, spewing forth a stream of useless, aggrandizing knowledge. Most people don't care about what grapes the sun bathed during a steamy August day or how much rain they absorbed during a fall deluge. Leave that to the wine geeks, like me, who obsess over that level of detail. Most consumers, so I've observed, only want a good glass of wine to go with dinner, but the factoid spewers block this simple request with a No. 1 punch.

But all is not lost. Everyone feels a little better when he/she marginally understands a topic. All you have to do is fight the intimidation power. Many outlets exist for the curious seeking to get a buzz yet also absorb some education.

Wine dinners, a perceived bastion of snobbery, really aren't -- you just have to shop them appropriately. If a restaurant is mired in super snob appeal, rest assured its organized dinners follow suit. But, aside from in-home wine tastings with friends, there's no better venue to learn about wine in a convivial environment. Say there's a dinner at your favorite bistro featuring a winery you've never heard of. As long as the price is in your feel-good range, go for it. Chances are, if a restaurant loves wines and spends hours pairing them with special fare, they're not going to serve slop. Besides, eating and drinking with a bunch of happy drunks is an entertaining way to spend an otherwise dull, TV-imbibing evening (side note: when choosing tablemates, go for those who already have drink in hand -- a recipe for amusement).

Wine dinners range from around $45 to $200 per head, depending on the number of dishes, their ingredients and the cost of wine. Be aware some restaurants don't count tax and gratuity in the listed price, which can sometimes tack on more than $20 per dinner.

Ninety percent of the time, there's an educator who talks about the wine and pairings. Engage these people in conversation -- sit at their table if you can elbow out the No. 2s and No. 3s. One other note -- I always hold onto wines from each course so I can try all of them with each dish. I learn more this way, like what wines don't go with which dishes. That's half the battle.

Creative Loafing lists wine dinners every week, so you can scope them out. Or check out to see various wine-dinner opportunities.

Wine Recommendations

Ca' del Solo 2006 Albariño Monterey (California) This tart grape from Spain has transplanted quite well in the Cali soil. The New World version sports crisp, bracing lime and grapefruit, followed up by earthy, fresh-cut green grass. Perfectly delicious summer wine. Sw = 1. $18. ****

Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star (*) rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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