I secured a copy of Eric Asimov’s memoir and “manifesto” How to Love Wine when it first came out (which was, I realize, back in 2012), because I’m a fan of his columns for the NY Times. I didn’t love the book, frankly, but Asimov does raise a number of interesting points about tasting notes, wine snobbery and such. And, considering that it is more than a year later and I am still thinking about it, perhaps it made more of an impression than I originally gave it credit for.
In particular, what stuck with me is the most common thing people say to Asimov, according to him: that they are intimidated by wine and wish they knew more about it. I think about this when I have conversations about wine with people who find out I write about wine. Are they intrigued, or intimidated? Does it make them want to drink wine with me more, or less? (I’m quite sure I’ve experienced both sides of the spectrum.)
I also think about my version of how to love wine. Or, in my more curmudgeonly way, how NOT to love wine. This is inspired by the things I hear and see when discussing wine with family, friends & acquaintances. And, perhaps, the things I want to say, but don’t, when among friends and foes.
Without further ado, a list:
Only like red wine
Red wine is great, sure. If I had to pick a color, I’d say I rely more on red than white or pink. But only drinking red wine closes you off to the unlimited diversity of wine when it comes to food pairings, time of year, etc. If you automatically dismiss the chance to enjoy a balanced Rose on the patio with burgers, an off-dry Riesling with spicy Asian fare, or a crisp Sancerre with fresh seafood, you’re not really experiencing all that wine has to offer. (Of course this applies to those who only drink white wine as well!)
Only buy grapes you know
Everybody has their go-to grapes, regions, etc. And there are times when you just want the comfort of something you know. But don’t be afraid to go outside the comfort zone. You just might find something you love! And what’s the worst thing that’ll happen if you miss? Oh no, a bad bottle. How’s this for a rule of thumb: every time you go into the store to buy wine, pick out at least one bottle that comes from a grape or a region you aren’t familiar with. In no time, you’ll start to know more about what else is out there, and may have a few new favorites. (Just don’t judge a region or grape by one bad bottle, ok?)
Think that “bigger is always better”
There’s a time and a place for strong, bold, jammy wines. Those wines can be great. But judging wines to be inferior because they aren’t as aggressive on the palate is plain silly. A wine can be just as alive, and often even more so, when it shows restraint, or features brisk acidity and savory flavors. You might have to pay closer attention, but that’s part of the fun. And, actually, “smaller” wines tend to work much better with food. Speaking of which…
Don’t (try to) pair wines with foods
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying wine on its own – for many people this is the norm. But food and wine are made to be together, especially in the oldest cultures of winemaking in Europe. Take the Italian Chianti – often too acidic and rustic when imbibed alone, it transforms into something ethereal when paired with a pork ragu. Notice also that I wrote “try to”. You might miss when you go for a pairing, but you’ll learn, and do better the next time. All I’m asking is that you think about it and make an educated guess about the pairing, instead of just opening a Cali Cab with everything because that’s what you know.
Take scores literally
Professional wine critics have great palates, and have tasted many more wines than most of us. But their score is still generated at a moment in time, tasting probably 1-2 oz of a wine and then spitting it out. They rarely taste the wine with food, nor do they allow it to evolve over several hours, like many of us do when we actually drink the wines. (Note that we here at PAVC do both for most of the wines we review.) So while it’s certainly fine to use scores as a guide, especially if you find that a particular reviewer’s scores tend to lead you in the right direction, don’t take them too seriously. You’re better off finding regions, winemakers, and grapes made in a style that suits your palate, and/or reading wine writers who tell you the stories behind the wine.
Focus on collecting prestige wines
Having first-growth Bordeaux and cultish Cali Cabs in your basement does not mean you love wine. All it really means is that you buy into the marketing hype. These wines are neither good values, nor do they offer something that you can’t find anywhere else. If you like them, and you have the disposable cash to buy them, I certainly don’t begrudge you (I’m envious of the cashflow, to be honest), but that doesn’t make you any more of a wine lover than the guy who can seek out a good value for $15 or $20.
This is a living breathing list. What did I miss? What should I add? Comment below.