I love wine! I love everything about it. I love the colors ~ the luxurious violet of Merlot to the brilliant sunshine of Pinot Gris and the vivid cobalt of a Riesling bottle. I love the feel of a goblet stem in my fingers and the first scent as I raise the glass to take a sip. Most of all, I love the many facets of flavor within each bottle. Wine snobs wax poetic about notes of honeysuckle and vanilla, smoke and pepper while creating a wall built on pretentious condensation bullying newcomers with talk of terroir and specific vintages. As a wine lover, I hope everyone can appreciate what I consider to be the nectar of the gods and enjoy the process of learning. So, here are my 5 tips to begin tearing down that wall!
1. Forget the technical jargon. At this stage in your journey, you can ignore worrying about the appellation the wine comes from or if it underwent malolactic fermentation. You don’t need to know the differences between French and American oak. Don’t let a wine snob ruin your tasting because you were confused about tannins or what exactly are those “legs” everyone talks about.
2. Don’t apologize for what you like. Full disclosure ~ I, too, started off drinking White Zinfandel from a box. It doesn’t matter how many points a wine has or how many medals it’s earned. If you don’t like it, it’s not for you. Want an ice cube in your Cabernet Sauvignon? Have at it. Want to drink a sweet white with steak? Enjoy. Remember, whether it’s a $4 bottle or a $400 bottle, if you like it, it’s good wine.
3. Ask questions / Find a class. Many wine shops have classes on wine tasting basics. If the winery’s tasting notes confuse you, ask the pourer. Going to a winery during slower times (especially week days) will allow more time and focus to be devoted to you and your party. You may even have an opportunity to meet the winemaker. (If you plan to visit a winery with more than 8 people, it is recommended to make a reservation.) I like to buy wine from smaller specialty shops that have staff able to work with you and often have a couple bottles available to taste.
4. Food changes everything. A Cabernet Franc with a strong peppery bite may seem overwhelming on its own but mellow perfectly with a grilled steak. A Riesling may seem too sweet but is a lovely counter point for a spicy Thai curry. This builds on Tip #3. ASK! I often go to my favorite wine shop and have some version of this conversation, “I’m planning to fix a pork loin with Caribbean Jerk seasoning. I want to spend about $15. What do you recommend?” Feel free to follow up with the question, “Why?”
5. DRINK IT! Be willing to try new things. Don’t approach wines with an attitude of “I hate all Chardonnay.” Or Reds. Or Sweet Wines. Different places and winemakers can make totally different flavors from the same grapes. All of our palates change over time. As you begin to drink more wine, you may be surprised with what you like. The tart acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc that once make you pucker up like you had just bitten a lemon now seems light and refreshing for sipping on a summer night. The bold tannins of Zinfandel that made you cringe now feel as warm and comforting as a down comforter.
Finally, my best advice is to just have fun. Welcome to my world!