What makes wine continually fascinating is that, apart from the pleasure it provides, it appeals to the intellect in a way that, say, root beer or vodka do not.
And because wine entices the mind, wine lovers are always beset by questions: Should you let a wine breathe? How long does wine need to age? Even simple issues like choosing good wine glasses or knowing the right temperatures at which different wines should be served present questions.
I hope this section will provide you with the answers. I will begin with what ought to be the simplest issue of all: feeling comfortable in a wine shop. Is there anyone for whom that is not true? Let’s tackle it first.
How to buy wine comfortably
In so complex a world, buying a bottle of wine for dinner should be one of life’s easier (and happier) tasks. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t seem that way. When I first started buying wine, I was so over-whelmed by the sheer number of bottles in a local wine shop that for a good six months, I simply chose from a cache of assorted wines a sale, all sitting in a bin positioned near the cash register (allowing, at the very least, for a quick getaway should embarrassment sets in). I was about twenty-one and, as I recall, I wound up drinking a lot of cheap wine. The fact is navigating a wine shop is not easy. Even a medium-size wine shop might have 700 or so different wines. So how do you make buying wine a comfortable experience? Here comes an insider’s advice.
1. Choose the right wine shop
Forget those stuffy places that make you feel like a dunce. At the same time, don’t necessarily opt for a big impersonal discount store. It is true that discount stores are less likely to be staffed by clerks with nose-in-the-air attitudes, but it is also true that some discount stores employ people who know next to nothing about wine. You want a store that lets you browse, ask questions (and get answers); a store where, over time, you can get to know one or two of the clerks well enough to trust them to point out exciting wines. In my experience, the best wine shops are those with sale list, so that you may have a good idea which wine to take at what cost.
Liqourama and TOPS, which are Spars Supermarket’s wine and liquor departments, are good recommendations.
2. Do not be intimidated.
Intimidation is external; somebody acts in a way that makes you feel inadequate. But a lot of wine intimidation is internal. A little voice in your head says, “You will never understand this.” You learnt about food, didn’t you? Do not forget that there was a time when you didn’t know what avocados, sushi, or peach ice cream tasted like either. But you decided to give each of them a try anyway, and in so doing, you expanded your knowledge about different foods and their flavours. Trying a wine you do not yet know is really the same thing.
3. Make a plan
Corny as it might seem, one way to go about conquering intimidation is to make a six-month plan: three months devoted to white wine, three months to red. Over the course of the white wine months, plan to try four different white varietals, sampling three examples of each.
For instance, say you start with chardonnay. The first three times you go to the wine shop, buy a different chardonnay each time. The next three times, try different sauvignon blancs. The three times after, bring home maybe a pinot. After you have experienced four white varietals, move on to red wines. Remember, it doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it is different each time. The goal here is to get your feet wet and to build up reservoir of wine experiences so that you begin to know the flavours you love, the flavors you would just as soon refer to somebody else to have.
4. Realize that no price is too little.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to drink good wine. If you are going to a friend’s house for lasagna, P60 bottle of wine is not only unnecessary; one could argue it is out of place. One of the discoveries I made during the early part of the wine tasting is too often buy very reasonably priced wines. Some people care about what is inside the bottle and the cheaper the price, the better. It’s often people who don’t know a lot about wine who pay enormous amounts for it, hoping that price will be some sort of assurance .It doesn’t really work that way. Unlike cars and stereo systems, there are very good wines at all prices.
5. That said; don’t be afraid to treat yourself
There are extraordinary wine experiences to be had and many of these wines are expensive. While you do not have to spend a lot on wine on a regular basis, occasionally springing for a special bottle enriches your wine knowledge and can be very satisfying.
6. Be endlessly curious.
Remember, you are not the only one who doesn’t know what is inside all those bottles. Most people do not. The wine drinkers who have the most fun and learn the most are those who have the courage to be curious. And being curious means being willing to ask questions. ‘What does this wine taste like?’ is the most natural and reasonable question you can ask.
7. Finally, use food as language
If you are trying to describe to the clerk the kinds of wines you like and you are at a loss for words, think about foods. Wines can be big and juicy like a steak: fresh and light like salad, or spicy and bold like Mexican sauce. It is not necessary to use technical wine terms; in fact, they can get in the way.
Next week: What Makes Great Wine Great?