It's flowering in Napa vineyards.

It's flowering in Napa vineyards.

Monday, April 11, 2016

On becoming an informed wine buyer.

“You bought a bottle of that yesterday and another six today.  You must like it."

"What is this stuff?" said the clerk at the supermarket checkout counter as she scanned the bottle of white wine.

“My wife and I had it with dinner last night and we really liked it.  It’s a Sauvignon Blanc.”
“How do you know that?  It doesn’t say that on the bottle. It only says Sancerre.”

Sancerre is the region in France where it’s from. White wines from there are made with Sauvignon Blanc.”

She inspected another bottle, a bit more carefully, and said, “I love Sauvignon Blanc!” I’m gonna buy myself a bottle.”

I just “scored a steal” with an excellent 2013 Sancerre (Domaine Vincent Delaporte) that had been marked down several times and given solitary confinement on the “final markdown” rack in a lonely and remote corner of the supermarket.  It normally retails for $25+, and I snatched it for $9, and most likely for less than the store itself paid for it.

Our informal dinner time taste test concluded that the Delaporte was more refined and fleshy than the few Sancerres with which we are familiar—most likely because of the sur lie aging that it received.  And overall, we found it be delicately perfumed and most delicious.

So, here comes the point of all this boasting.  For years I have lectured herein to “Learn the grape. When you know the grape, you know the wine.” That is, by paying attention to how a wine looks, smells and tastes, you will not only come to recognize its inherent characteristics, you will also, thereby, understand how it differentiates itself from other wines.  Each wine is different, and when you learn one at a time, in short order you will be master of your palate preference.

However, there is an important corollary implicit to the above axiom, and it could be stated as “Be apt with appellations.”  Especially, if you care enough to broaden your horizons and learn something about Old World wines—the original homes of many, if not most, of the numerous varietal wines that you routinely enjoy now.  

Students of wine, those dedicated enthusiasts who avidly explore the numerous aspects of wine appreciation, know that appellations deal with a wine’s provenance—its origins, where it is from. The purpose of the appellation system is to give wine buyers a guarantee of origin and authenticity, but by virtue of that it also implies a strong assurance of quality.

If the labels read “Chianti” or “Rioja” or “Bordeaux,” you can be sure that’s where they were proudly made. In other words, the appellation system assures that you are getting the Real Thing, not a lookalike impostor.  (Varietal wines only tell what kind of wine it is, and a bit more scrutiny is needed to determine from who and where it originated.)

Without delving into the particulars, the appellation controls some extremely important aspects: permitted grapes, geographical boundaries, vineyard yields, alcohol levels, and certain vineyard and wine making practices.  If you read that last sentence carefully you likely noticed the phrase “permitted grapes.”  If not, here it is stated differently: each appellation specifies the grapes from which the wines must be made.

Had I been unaware of what Sancerre wines were all about, I would have missed out on a great buy, much like those uninformed shoppers before me who passed by and disregarded the wines on the markdown rack.  (The rack also contained a few other wines that deserved to be marked down!)

Of course, and more importantly, if you “know the grape” and are “apt with appellations,” then you are not only armed to score similar buys, but you also are empowered to browse the “imported wine” sections and look for savory and economical alternatives to what you normally purchase.

Other than Newbies, most wine enthusiasts are, or should be, familiar with the major New World varietals and where they originated.  For those who need a little nudge to learn which grapes originated where, please click here to learn more about the birthplace of your favorite white and/or red wine.  Armed with that information and your awareness of how your favorite wine looks, smells and tastes, you will be armed to fully enjoy the wide, wide world of wine appreciation.

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