A lonely scorched survivor

A lonely scorched survivor

Friday, December 9, 2011

Being Senstive to a Wine's Basic Structure

The other day I was in a local wine shop, browsing around, scavenging through bins and racks, “doing my wine thing,” when I noticed a man to my right looking rather helpless and bewildered.

“Gee . . . so many to choose from,” he said, his voice wavering with woeful uncertainty.

“Yes,” I answered. “They have quite a varied selection here.” He then uttered the inevitable—the shy, painful utterance that springs from every overwhelmed neophyte’s lips, “But how do you know what to buy?”

“Learn the grape. Once you know the grape, you know the wine,” I said in my most authoritative sounding tones, assuming that once he heard that dusty wine axiom, that those clouds of ignorance and indecision hovering over him would suddenly dissipate; that his vinous compass would thereafter point him in the correct direction; and from that day forward he would always make self-confident and well-informed wine choices.

“Oh . . .” he said, (which said it all) and then slinked away to another part of the store and returned to staring blankly at all the pretty labels. Unfortunately, rather than assist him, I inadvertently may have pushed him deeper into wine’s black hole of fear and intimidation.

Forgive me, if I’m unduly repetitive about the importance of a key ingredient in the pursuit of wine enlightenment, but when it comes to being sensitive to wine’s basic structure, to being aware of what makes a particular vino tick, to recognizing the differences between—and similarities to—various wines, it all comes down to those color-laden clusters clinging to that gnarled, perfectly pruned grape vine.

More specifically, the single most important item that determines the way a wine looks, smells, feels and tastes is, (drum roll, please!) the underlying grape(s) from which the wine is made.

“Duh,” you say? I say reread that previous sentence and commit it to memory. (You’ll dazzle ’em at cocktail parties.)

Moreover, and quite importantly, when you’re exploring a particular wine, trying to understand its underlying character, as well as deciding whether it appeals to you or not, please don’t fault or reject it for what it is not. Don’t dismiss Beaujolais, for example, for being light bodied and breezy and unlike a richer, riper California Merlot.

Similarly, you shouldn’t avoid a Zinfandel for being large scaled and brambly and so unlike, say, a smooth and fruity Pinot Noir. And, likewise, don’t deride a crisp, herbal Sauvignon Blanc for being so unlike your “go to” buttery Chardonnay.

Each of them—and countless other wines—has its own, distinctive personality derived from its underlying grape(s), and each should be celebrated for what it is—as well as for what it is not. That is, I believe, the essence of wine appreciation.

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