A guide to appreciating wine without annoying the hell out of people
So, you're out at a casual restaurant or low-key bar with some friends. There's a new guy – a friend of a friend – who's sitting at the end of the table. You can faintly hear him rambling some nonsense about politics or art but you can't bring yourself to pay attention. He's deliberately styled, wearing thin little glasses despite his 20/20 vision and sporting a t-shirt/leisure suit/jacket combo and sipping some dark, burgundy-colored wine.
Then it happens.
Someone who is drinking that same wine says, "This is good." He retorts with a parking lot full of garbage about its flat bouquet, its poor year and the uninspiring aromas. He might say that it's "flabby" or unrefined. Then he starts talking about the most amazing cabernet he had while studying in Paris. And you're like, "This guy sucks."
If I seem as though I'm drawing this scenario from a specific personal experience, I'm not. But, you get the point.
If you've never seen the movie "Sideways," first of all, you should, and second of all, most people's appreciation for wine can be summed up by one phrase uttered by Thomas Hayden Church's character Jack: "I don't know, tastes pretty good to me."
The fact is, while the process of making wine is highly scientific and infinitely nuanced, we drinkers of it do not necessarily need to know all that much about it in order to say, "Dang, that's some good wine."
Given the life cycle of wine and the natural, un-manufactured way in which it comes to fruition, it is quite fun to talk about it. But, in doing so, it's beneficial to know a couple of things and to not try and impress anyone because, odds are, they probably won't much care.
Step No. 1: Decide what you like and don't apologize for it. I'm not talking about grapes or regions or years. Just as simple as red, white, rose, sweet, bitter, fruity, dry. Focusing on a couple of these categories will help you to discover, in time, what really pleases your palate. It'll probably change several times as you try different things.
I used to only drink white wine. I hated reds. I thought they were too dry, too heavy and too bitter. Now, I've really shifted toward them. The worst thing you can do is carry on with some dry cabernet or sickly sweet riesling that you hate just because you're in the company of wine bon vivants and you feel like you're supposed to think it's great. If you don't like it, by all means, speak up.
Step No. 2: Many wine aficionados will often talk about the importance of reading labels. This doesn't do much if you have no idea what you're reading. If aging makes a difference to you and you happen to know that 2006 was a good year for pinot noir in California then, by all means, search out those wines. But, most people that read wine labels in the store look like they're broke down on the side of the highway staring under the hood of their car.
I know a lot of people (who wouldn't want me to reveal them) who buy wine based on how cool the label looks. As far as I'm concerned, this is a perfectly acceptable strategy. Another friend has stated that she avoids wines with pictures of animals on the label. Whatever works. After all, this method categorically validates or rebukes the efforts of a vineyard's marketing team.
Whatever you glean from a wine label will depend on Step One. What do you want? What are you looking for? One of the first things I look for is alcohol content. "How impaired will I be after consuming this wine?" You shouldn't be ashamed to admit this either. If you want some guidance in pedantic label reading in the effort to ascertain nifty information to later dispense upon friends, you've come to the wrong place.
Having said that, if you've become a fan of a grape, regions do become important. Obviously certain areas are known for certain grapes. For your information, here's a nuts-and-bolts crash course on wine regions.
The best pinot noir is going to come from the Burgundy region of France or from California. Chardonnay is a neutral and resilient grape that grows everywhere; however, it originated also in the Burgundy region. In recent years, however, it has become more identified with California. Even the most novice wine drinker knows that riesling is German – specifically, from the Rhine. Merlot, another flourisher like chardonnay, will be at its best from Napa or Sonoma, the Bordeaux region, Chile, or Australia. Cabernet sauvignon is another Bordeaux grape that grows well in California, Tuscany and Australia. Finally, to round out the big six, sauvignon blanc is best associated with New Zealand but can also be grown in California, Bordeaux or the Loire Valley.
This is not the "end all," but it may help you to decide when choosing between a handful of wines. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
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