As my close friends know painfully well, I'm not exactly good at making decisions. At the wine store, I'm the customer who gets asked "Can I help you?" twice by the same salesperson because I've meandered between shelves for so long that they have forgotten our first encounter.
Then I usually say something brilliant like, "Can you help me find a red wine that tastes...you know, tasty...um, like the one I bought a few weeks ago...I think it was French...?"
It's not that I'm a complete oeno-idiot. I know most of the major regions and varietals, and my palate can be downright picky (especially at parties, when it's easy to surreptitiously abandon one's glass after an unpleasant sip or two). But there seems to be a sensory-linguistic connection missing in my brain when it comes to describing delicious wine.
Fortunately, I just stumbled across a cool tool called the Vinogram (thanks to the Vinography wine blog's links list). In the build-your-own version, it asks a series of questions about your taste in other areas, then uses those concrete examples to predict which wine characteristics (i.e. aged, floral, fruity, mineral) you will probably like more than others.
For example, do you prefer mild or strong cheese? (Strong.) White or dark chocolate? (Dark.) Would you rather smell "wood pitch and gasoline," "honey and hay," "nutty and dry apricot," or "citrus and white flower"? (Anything but the first, please!) And so on. In most cases, it seems obvious where your answers will lead you,* but it's still fun to see the results in graphic form.
Armed with this knowledge on my next shopping endeavor, I will seek out a "powerful, persistent, toasty" red with moderately floral, fruity and spicy notes and just a hint of sweetness. The Vinogram thinks I might like to try a Vin de Pays ("country wine") from Languedoc, or a Merlot from Saint Emilion, among others. Of course, I'll read the label carefully.
Between that and the helpful "Wine and Food Matcher" I found over at Natalie MacLean's blog, I may never befuddle a wine salesperson again.
*Except for this question: When shopping for Christmas presents, do you tend to buy far in advance or wait until the last minute? Unless "procrastination" is actually a wine characteristic, this is probably a marketing question that snuck in there.