The one piece of advice I most frequently offer those wanting to learn more about wine is to find a couple of good (to them) bottles and stick with them for a while. I know this sounds counterintuitive. Logic would seem to dictate that the more wines you taste, the better context and understanding you’ll glean. However, for the casual consumer or aspiring wine enthusiast, I believe less is more.
Today’s global wine market is abundant, diverse and expanding at an almost inconceivable rate. Wines from every corner of the planet make it to the shelves of big-box chains, supermarkets and neighborhood convenience stores. While the globalization of the industry during the past 20 years has numerous benefits to producers and knowledgeable consumers, many shoppers are feeling overwhelmed and alienated.
Two refrains I hear from wine neophytes: “I don’t know where to begin” and “When I find something I like, I can never remember it — or much about it.”
Basic wine appreciation doesn’t require a lot of money. The best investment one can make is in a little bit of discipline. Without a well-trained palate, tasting a few glasses of a particular wine on just one occasion is not very enlightening. It simply takes familiarity to understand the intricacies of a wine, and with higher quality comes more complexity.
Once you find a wine that speaks to you, give it your undivided attention. Commit to it. You’ll be amazed at what you can discern after spending quality time together.
A great way to establish that rapport and hone your tasting skills is to find your own “house wine.” Buy a case of a wine you like (or take a chance on one recommended to you by a professional) and drink it a few times a week for a month or two.
I know that sounds boring. But consider that wine is alive. Bottles from the same case will never taste exactly the same. Each has evolved in its own way. Even the same bottle will taste differently depending on the exact moment you open it. And conditions — like its temperature, the time it’s had to breathe, its food companions, if any — all influence a wine’s presentation. Repeatedly drinking the same wine will give you a baseline against which to compare how wines develop and your ability to comprehend them.
One of my favorite house whites is Dry Creek’s Dry Chenin Blanc 2010 ($12). Dry Creek is considered the standard-bearer for North American Chenin Blanc, the elegant grape made famous in France’s Loire Valley. This is an expressive wine with layers of pineapple, lemon, apple, chamomile, hay and cantaloupe with an underlying frame of chalky minerality. Crisp and refreshing, it is extremely versatile and food-friendly. Each time I taste it, I discover something new.
Derek M. LaVallee, director of public relations and public affairs at Kemp Goldberg Partners and certified wine buff, can be reached at email@example.com.