The most fun I have selling wine is when a customer asks me to put together a mixed case. It’s an expression of trust and respect, which ignites and satisfies my ego, but more importantly it’s a sign of the client’s curiosity and desire to learn. (The lure of a 10 percent discount and no prospect of being without wine when dinner rolls around are additional benefits.)

Since my take on wine is just that it’s a useful tool for learning more about the world and yourself in it, your curiosity is key.

You decide on an average price per bottle, multiply by 12, and go see your favorite retailer. Together, you discuss your tastes and what you’re looking for: maybe it’s a focus on South America; or wines for grilling; or alternatives to Sauvignon Blanc because you like Sauvignon Blanc but are getting bored of it; rustic reds; whatever.

Here’s what your retailer should then do:

Resist the urge to choose her own favorite 12 wines that add up to $144; this is about helping you, not foisting her tastes on you.

Play, within the parameters you’ve set. The retailer’s role is to extend your knowledge as much as possible, and turn you on to things you never considered.

If you recently loved a Chilean Carmen? (“the next Malbec,” everyone keeps saying) and tell your retailer you want a box of Chilean wines, she should put in a bottle of Chilean Gewurtzraminer (there is one — Cartagena, $18 from Devenish — and it’s amazing: the ocean in a bottle).

Again within your parameters, play with macro factors such as origin and varietal, and micro factors such as body, sweetness, minerality, fruit and earth. If she pays attention to your specific feedback (rather than to your claims about your tastes — a notoriously unreliable measure), your retailer will learn better how to point you to other wines that excite you.

Pay more attention to the overall case price than the average bottle price. She should provide wines for many occasions — from Tuesday night burritos to best-after-five-years of aging. Several good $9-$10 wines will help her put in a couple of extra-good $17 bottles.

Choose at least one age-worthy wine and fill the case with more than one bottle of it. This is because one of the great pleasures of drinking wine is forming relationships with particular bottles over time. There should be a bottle that is drinkable now but will reward several years spent in a cool-ish, dark-ish spot in your home.

Provide some very general notes on the wines (“hearty; try with sausage or beans”; “young and fresh, good with salads”; etc.), only as a guide to which to open when.

Here’s what you then do:

Open a bottle or two when you’re ready to pay attention. Taste when opened, without food; taste later, with food; taste again a few hours later. Try a particular food with different wines.

Be open to any changes in your impressions over the course of the evening. Have some vacuum corks on hand and seal the bottles when you’re done. Taste them again the next day, maybe even the next.

Take notes. Don’t try to sound smart, just jot impressions as they come. “Tasty” is not enough; “creamy and soooo good with Kim’s mushroom polenta” is better. Be honest, remembering that the point of this is to really learn more about your own tastes.

Come back to your retailer for a second case, this time armed with your notes and some suggestions for the next mix.

So, here are a few bottles I’d love to throw into a hypothetical mixed partial case of Old Europe wines that average $13.

These are great wines on their own, but are also excellent litmus tests, and for a number of reasons most people don’t just happen to try them. This isn’t perfect (there’s no Riesling!), but part of the fun of mixed cases is that they’re never perfect. We all just keep learning and refining.

Triade 2009, $14 (Mariner). An exciting, harmonious blend of Campania’s three main white varietals: Fiano, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo. Full in the mouth, terrific seafood-craving acidity.

Vinedos de Nieva Blanco Nieva Verdejo 2009, $15 (Mariner). One of the liveliest, most outrageously pleasing and interesting mid-priced white wines I know of. Subtle stonefruit, encapsulated in crackling lemony love. Have to stop myself from saying, “Anyone who doesn’t like this should be …”

Bisceglia Aglianico Vulture 2007, $15 (National). Raspy and textured, bold but not hefty. A grape you need to know.

Purato Nero D’Avola 2007, $10 (Pine State). All-organic grapes, a classic smoky Sicilian red at a crazy price, softer and smoother than most Nero D’Avola.

Cave St. Desirat Syrah 2007, $11 (Crush). True Northern-Rhone Syrah nose (bacon, farms), lush and totally satisfying wine.

Vignerons de Buxy Bourgogne Cote Challonaise Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, $13 (Central). A red and a white; both are low-priced and simple, but spot-on expressions of how a classic Burgundy wine should taste. You need to know what that means.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]