By Derek Lavallee - 01/18/07 12:00 AM EST
I’m often asked, “What is the best way to learn about wine?” The simple answer is to drink it more frequently and thoughtfully. Here are some easy things to try if increasing your wine IQ is on your list of New Year’s resolutions.
Use a decanter. I know you’re thinking, “Decanters are for people in mansions with butlers.” Consider this: Your nose can distinguish 10,000 different scents and is responsible for 80 percent of what you taste. Oxygen releases unique aromas and appreciating them is the key to truly experiencing wine. Simply popping a cork and “letting it breathe” doesn’t accomplish anything because the surface area at the top of a bottle, where liquid and air meet, is about the size of a nickel. Decanting is not difficult; dumping out a bottle requires very little time, skill or energy. And the decanter doesn’t have to be fancy — a coffee pot, an old vase, anything is better than pouring directly from the bottle into your glass. Once you’ve transferred the wine, swirl it around, mix it up. You’ll be amazed at what you smell and taste.
Find at least one wine you like and buy a case. You’re going to drink it sooner or later, and you’ll save both money and time. Wine shops will give you a 10 to 15 percent discount when ordering a case or more, and you’ll eliminate the hassle of having to stop somewhere after a long day to pick up a bottle for dinner.
Try new wines routinely. Recently my wife was driving us home from the park when she made an unexpected left turn. When I inquired about the diversion she explained she was tired of driving home the same way every day, stopping at the same lights and gazing upon the same houses. I was quietly reminded that we all fall into ruts. With hundreds of thousands of wines from all over the world on the market, there is no excuse for drinking the same few California Chardonnays and Merlots just because they are familiar. Resolve to try something new at least once a month.
Start with Don Miguel Gascon’s Malbec, Argentina ($10.99). Malbec is a grape that was traditionally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make the great wines of Bordeaux. It is now thriving high in the Andes. This bold bottle boasts loads of blackberry, chocolate and spice. It is widely available in corner stores and supermarkets on the Hill, so buy it before its price catches up to its quality.
Drink wine blindly. A scientist named Frederic Brochet once served one wine to a focus group in two separate bottles, one labeled as cheap table wine, the other with a higher pedigree. Predictably, the group rated the seemingly expensive wine more favorably. There is no better way to learn how to appreciate wine than by tasting it without the influence of expectation. Invite some friends over and ask each of them to bring a bottle. Agree on a common denominator such as “Sauvignon Blancs under $20” or “Zinfandels from Napa Valley.” Bag the wines and taste them without knowing which bottle you are drinking. Freed from preconceived notions, you’ll be forced to evaluate honestly each wine based solely on your individual experience. Remember that wine tasting is entirely subjective, and the real definition of a “good wine” is any one that tastes good to you.