Saturday, January 27, 2007

On Approaching Wine

Often, when I go out to dinner with my friends, they will ask me to pick out a bottle of wine for us. I actually enjoy picking out wine, so I don’t mind doing this. However, it is not that my friends don’t enjoy picking out wine, but that usually, the lists and the language are simply too cumbersome and often times the ratings are far too subjective to be of any use.

I had a similar conversation today with my local wine retailer. I’ve tried most of the 15 and under bottles of wine and I’ve had a few in the 15-20 range of the domestics, as well as most of the South Americans, Australasia, and a couple Italians. Today, I simply walked in and asked for a recommendation – something I rarely do. By now he, Michael Lovice of the White Horse in Red Hook, NY, should be somewhat familiar with my tastes. He asked me if there was anything I’m in the mood for and I told him I wasn’t. He asked if I had this new Marietta Cellars blend and before he finished I told him I usually didn’t drink from display case wine. I’ve found at most stores display case wine tends to be overpriced and at times the quality is lacking. He explained that his display case wines were simply new wines or wine he ordered a lot of, furthermore he said he uses the display case wine barrels to break up some empty floor space.

I told him how I came to the conclusion that all display case wine is to be avoided, and I went off on some tangent about Robert Parker. This lead to another tangent about rating systems in general and why he doesn’t use them. I agree with him, personally. Stores that use a rating system are selling their customers short; even if the customers don’t realize it, they tend to gravitate towards a very subjective rating system.

Most people don’t drink as much variety of wine as I do. They either find a couple they like and stick to them, or they drink other things in between bottles of wine, which is fine. Personally, I like the adventure of it all. It’s like a small mystery. Even if I find a wine that simply blows me away for twelve dollars, I might only buy it once or twice more and then only to entertain. The ratings systems hurts this sense of adventure and it does not mean you will never buy a bad bottle of wine. More then once have I bought a Wine Spectator 88 or 90 and it had aromas reminiscent of turpentine, texture that of sandpaper and a flavor which can only be described as a subtle mixture of cow urine, stale beer and slight overtones of motor oil.

When I first started to drink wine it was more of an academic exercise. I wanted to know how I should appreciate wine and not the why. It took me several years to realize that the why is far more important the how. I can summarize how to appreciate good wine in these few points:

-Drink wine – make a rule to only buy wine over twenty dollars a bottle once a month.
-Drink one bottle per week
-Eat a large variety of good food. Not expensive food. Just good food. To appreciate good wine you need a large variety of what I call “palate flavors”, that is, how many flavors your tongue (and nose) can tell the difference of.
-If you are in a bad mood do not open the cork. Seriously. This will highly affect how you experience the wine and probably for the worse. Save it for another day. Besides, you should never be drinking to make yourself feel better.

By the bye, I bought that display case wine and I am not regretting my decision.