15 February 2009

15Feb - random thoughts on learning about wine
A question that gets asked of me a lot is how did I learn so much about wine.
I'll be the first person to admit that I still have volumes upon volumes to learn about wine but that which I do know is enough to make me seem knowledgeable and experienced and terribly sexy. (That last one is just something I tell myself.)

The most important things in learning wine, in my belief, is time, exposure, and attention. Money, of course, is pretty important, but not necessarily in extravagant amounts. I happen to be in a fortunate position in that people bring me wine to try. In this way I've experienced a good deal without having to spend out of pocket but I've taken it upon myself, with my own time and meager capital, to seek out different and interesting things.

I've found the Wine Bible by Katherine MacNeil to be an invaluable resource. It's broad in its scope, written very clearly with an eye towards the layman, and not terribly expensive.

Additionally, all the things one must remember when approaching many an endeavor apply: Always be learning. Read articles. Read the backs of wine labels. Read about wines that may not interest you at that moment for you might find your tastes changing.
Pay attention. Try to remember not just what wines you like but what was it about them that you liked. It's all well and good to remember that you liked a Bordeaux you might have had in a restaurant but with as many that are produced, walking into a store with a general flavor profile may lead you to other, similarly interesting wines.
Be open. If I'm in the mood for a Bordeaux I know that I can't be stubborn about it having to be from Bordeaux. Some of the Bordeaux blends I've enjoyed most have been from regions like South Africa, Washington State, Australia, and California. If I'm in the mood for a Burgundy, I've found similar effects of earth and rose and elegance and silkiness in aged Barbaresco and some dry Portuguese reds. I would've missed out on some wonderful experiences if I'd insisted on walking out of the store with specifically what I went in for.
Be Patient. There's a huge amount to learn. Just crazy, silly, vast amounts to learn and rushing through information is never a good idea. If you want to learn about the major grapes learn about each grape individually. Have four or five different cabs then have four or five different syrahs. Then maybe compare and contrast a cab and a syrah. But you aren't doing yourself any favors by drinking a dozen different wines in a day; the tongue can only take so much.
Don't jump to conclusions. Two grapes that seem to get maligned unreasonably are riesling and chenin blanc. The general assumption is that these produce sweet wines. Both wines are capable of producing bone dry wines as well as semi-sweet and dessert sweet wines. Similarly, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir both cover a lot of ground. Chardonnays can be dry, steely, citrusy and clean as well as buttery, oaky, and full of tropical fruits. You can find a Pinot Noir that is practically transparent with light, red fruit flavors and a silky finish as well as deep, rich ones with black fruit flavors and a clear tannic structure. There is a tremendous amount of variation, even within the expression of a single grape.
Be Humble. This, above all, will be good for you across the board. Always remember that no matter how much you learn there will always, always be somebody who knows more than you. And if you're lucky, when you meet them, they will also be humble and not delight in showcasing the gaps in your education.

I'm tired now, so I'll stop there.
But, you know. Think about that.

1 comment:

Natalie MacLean said...

Great blog! I’d love to hear your suggestions for wine and Thai dish pairings for my online matching tool about half way down on my homepage:




Nat Decants Wine Newsletter

Author of Red, White and Drunk All Over