It's Harvest time in the Valley.

It's Harvest time in the Valley.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sharing World Class Wines With Beginners.

As a card-carrying Oenophile, my pursuit has always been driven by the need to know more about the what and why of wine, rather than by any epiphany or Aha! Moment which may have seized my attention and delivered vinous clarity.

That quest involved, among other sources, a friend who encouraged me to go beyond the “It tastes good” stage into an understanding of varietals and appellations.  After much swirling, sniffing and sipping together, one evening he said to me, “You know, Tom, I have shared Cheval Blanc with you.  Do you remember that?”

I was stunned and in shocked disbelief.  I could not recall his ever sharing such a fabulous red wine.  But he persisted and eventually convinced me.

“What a waste!” I lamented.  “I didn’t know crap about wine at that time, let alone anything about Cheval Blanc!”

Bordeaux enthusiasts know that Cheval Blanc is in the thin air hierarchy of world class Red Bordeaux.  Known for its silky and elegant texture and enticing aromatics, this Right Bank Premier Cru Classe A is routinely rated in the high 90s and, as you might guess, costs an arm and a leg.  The latest en primeur (futures) 2015 price for this (still-in-barrel) wine is $700 per bottle. 
Also, sharp-eyed marketing professionals know that Cheval Blanc was given valuable publicity as a cellared treasure of the character Miles (Paul Giamatti) in the successful 2004 movie Sideways. 
And in the now infamous scene, Miles (a very passionate Pinot Noir fan) shrieked, “I am not drinking any “effing” Merlot.”  Given that Cheval Blanc is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, many aficionados, including yours truly, scratched their heads pondering that contradiction. 

That meandering introduction brings me to today’s topic.  Several weeks ago I asked Wine Spectator Forum readers and posters their thoughts on sharing world class wines with beginners or those who otherwise might be locked in the generic Cabernet and Chardonnay syndrome.  Is it a waste of their good wine?  If not, why not?
There was one “No” and one “Yes” response, each without elaboration.   In addition to that laconic twosome, were some interesting and thoughtful answers, the (slightly edited) highlights of which are provided below:

1)     “In our cellar, we have a section we call 'Neighborhood wines.' These are wines (generally $30 or less) that typically have broad appeal (i.e., Clos du Val, Mondavi, etc.). While our neighbors enjoy wine, learning and experiencing wines isn't at the top of their list. When we first moved into the neighborhood, our neighbors had us over for a dinner to meet several of the other neighbors. We brought a Forman Cabernet and one of our neighbors dropped an ice cube in it. Thus, the 'Neighborhood' section was born.”

2)     “Baby steps. Give them better than what they've had previously; tell them/educate them a bit about what they're having, and let them know that the best is yet to come.”

3)     “Over time, we have exposed our neighbors to 'higher end' (to them) wines, as well as varietals they haven't experienced (at various price points). They've all remarked how much they've enjoyed them. But, when we go to their house, it's the same basic wines (Meomi, Apothic, etc.).”

4)     “My father spends nothing above $10 on any wine he buys. If its red, its red; if its white, its white. Other than that, he sees no difference in varietals or anything else. I've stopped wasting $$ opening expensive bottles when he is around… I know there will never be a "light bulb" moment and I'm good with that.”

5)     “For some it will be an eye opener and you may have a few converts. For a large number of them (majority) I suspect they won't see what the big deal is.”

6)     “We have friends who slam a glass of wine in a few minutes and ask for another, those are not people I would pour the good stuff to. If they take the time to enjoy their wine and are interested in learning about better wines I will pull out the better, not best, wines in my cellar.”

7)     “If someone's truly interested, there's not much in my cellar that I won't open for them. Watching the occasional "light bulb" go off is one of my great pleasures related to wine.”

8)     “I've found that wine tasting is full of "ah-hah" moments. If you don't mind sifting through the string of comments about your wine being "too dry" or "too old" or "too whatever" I think it's extremely satisfying to connect with the person whose eyes have been opened to what wine can be. If you have thick enough skin and deep enough pockets, well why not?”

Lastly,  I have experienced most of the above with friends as well as relatives, and, generally, will share with those who demonstrate some curiosity and a desire to learn. 

However, for many others, wine is nothing more than a beverage to be consumed with food.  Just as they heedlessly chew and swallow their food without the slightest interest in the recipe's ingredients or special properties, they then continue their "fuel stop" mindset with the wine.  Oh well  . . . .


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