One of the most vexing things about wine, other than trying not to spend money on bottles you won’t enjoy, is simply understanding how it can enhance a meal by pairing the right wine with the right food. Pairing has some rules, but nowadays, is also largely subjective to the majority of people.
Like many things wine, it simply comes down to what you like. For example, I enjoy the flavors of Red Zinfandel more than just about any other wine, particularly if it has some black pepper hints to it. I will go out of my way to pair Red Zin with more dishes that most experts would recommend, but I don’t tend to take it to an extreme – like pairing it with a light fish. Some people do, though, and enjoy both the wine and the fish perfectly well. As I said before, it’s just a matter of what you like.
Wine Enthusiast pulled together a good, short article on red wine basics covering the flavor profiles and background information on the most common red wine varietals. From this, you can decide where you want to spend your money and what varietals you are most likely to enjoy. It’s a good primer and reference point. If you don’t know what to pair a dish with, at least pick a wine you will likely enjoy and you’ll probably be happy with the choice.