Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Ten Rules of Learning to Love Wine

1. Wine is Fun
Afterall, wine is booze, so it can easily fill in where in social situations where other types of alcohol are more frequently consumed. It also possesses, in the words of the immortal Hugh Johnson, "the power to banish care". Indeed. It is also an essential part of the good life, or "joie de vivre". Most importantly, it's tasty.

2. Wine is not anywhere near as inaccessible as it seems.
Walking into a wine shop, or the experience of buying wine should be pleasurable. You should not feel like the poor sap who wanders into John Cusak's music store in High Fidelity. For the most part, those of us who work in the trade are really happy to tell you everything you want to know, and a whole lot you don't, about any wine on our shelves; and if we occasionaly speak over your head, it's not because we're trying to show off, it's because we don't live in the real world. Most of us are so used to speaking to others of our strange breed that we are nearly always out of touch with what normal, well adjusted people consider to be important.
Most importantly, if you're not dealing directly with a person, remember that everything on the label on the back of the bottle is there for a reason, and there are probably many people who lost sleep at night trying to write it up for you in a way that's accessible, so read it; and if you want to know more, you can find out.

3. Price is not an indication of whether or not you will like it.
The biggest piece of wine news last month was that Robert Parker (one of the truly serious heavies of the wine trade - careers are made or broken by his palate) who tastes wines that range from 150 to 400 dollars per bottle on a daily basis, also enjoyes wines that are more in the price range of us mere 9-5 mortals.
The most expensive wine in the world (Chateau Petrus, which is mostly Merlot) is really unpleasant without ten years of being left on its own in the bottle... What I mean is, once you start to stray into the upper end of your price range, make sure that the wine you're buying is "ready to drink" (more on this later). Ask your local wine shop staff about it.
Most importantly, see rule number 1.

4. There is such a thing as good and bad wine.
Sure, wine is fun, and enjoying that must be just that, enjoyable. But a steady diet of [yellowtail] is up there with a steady diet of fast food, and we all remember Supersize Me. Now I'm not asking you to go out and buy mature Burgundy, neither would I expect you to immediately give up fast food and switch to an all raw vegetable diet. One of the cool things about wine is that it can make you... stretch... it can challenge you in a way that most foods can't. It basically boils down to how well the wine is made, just like a properly grown organic tomatoe from your backyard tastes better than anything you buy "hot house grown" from the store, the same holds true for wine. Properly made wines from carefully tended farms (vineyards) are better than wines that are manufactured from farms that are overproducing. More on all this later.
Most importantly, see rule number 1.

5. Not all wine improves with age
See? Told you we'd get here. In reality only about 5% of all wines produced around the world are meant to be aged. That being said, 95% of wines are meant to be drunk like so much water. A nice rule of wrist is if you buy a wine in a bottle, it can probably benifit from at least a few months resting. If you want to buy a couple of wines to keep for the long term, maybe wines that mark an occasion (anniversary, birthdays etc.) ask the staff at your local wine shop, they'd be delighted to assist you. Most importantly, see rule number 1.

6. Ask questions.
Pretty basic, but very improtant if you want to learn. Once again, the staff at your local wine shop should help you a lot. In addition, The Wine Warriors would love to help you out, and wikipedia is a great source. In the book department, I recommend Jancis Robinsons Vines, Grapes and Wines.

7. Matching food and wine doesn't need to be hard
See rule number 1. You can experiment very easily with food and wine pairings at home. A nice way to go is: match the weight (texture) of the wine to the weight (texture) of the food. Have a food and wine pairing party. Get your friends to bring a bottle of wine within given parameters (price, region, colour, grape etc.) as well as some finger foods (oysters, smarties, cocktail weinies, etc). And then try different combinations of enjoying the food and the wines together; see if you can agree on a group as to what the foods do to the wines and vice versa. Most importantly, see rule number 1.

8. Wine tasting is not subjective...
Okay, maybe it is, but really... bear with me here, it's kinda sciency. So when you are smelling or tasting something, really what you're smelling or tasting are little particles or molecules (or combinations of), so therefore everyone, physically is smelling the same thing. A wine from the same bottle, poured at the same time, at the same temperature and into the same type of glasses will release the same particles into the air and into your mouth. When we all inhale (smell) we inhale the same thing, unless you happen to be Bill Clinton, in which case... never mind. Where disagreements arise, or where different people smell different things, is when different people have different sensitivities to a given particle or, how good a person is at identifying a smell. Try this: pick one of your favourite aromas, and then try and describe it to your friends without saying: smells like... etc. Can't be done. So really when we say "aromas of dark cherries, old saddle and mint" what we really mean is "gee, this wine kinda smells like...".
I've gotten side tracked. Let's say that rule number eight should be:
The wine itself, from a chemicle perspective is objective, but how we judge the wine when we taste it is completely subjective. Does that work? Remember rule number 1.

9. Neither red nor white is "better".
See rule number 1.
Okay, so red wine - unless it comes out of a box - is better for you than white. But that doesn't mean that you should be drinking more red even if you don't like it. Red is not what "real wine lovers" drink. And it's okay to like one more than the other, I myself am pretty much colour blind when it comes to wine. It all depends on where I am, who I'm with, what I'm eating and what I'm listening to. I think all red drinkers owe it to themselves to try Gozales' Vino Verdhe (Portugal) on a patio on a hot afternoon, and all white drinkers owe it to themselves to have some DeBeouf Beaujolais Nouveau with Thanksgiving dinner. But that's just my opinion. See rule number 1.

10. Every wine tells a story.
Even box wine tells a story, not a very good story, but it can still tell you something. All you have to do is see rule number 6. Above all, however, remember rule number 1.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Hey Nathan!

Long time no see. I've been enjoying your Wine Warriors posts, as I love wine also. I used to work in a liquor store for 3 summers so I got to know a little, and the background and science of wine was always interesting.

I'm enjoying some cheap cab sav right now...see rule #1 - lol

take care,
Chris