In Sonoma: Kevin Rose and my attempt at an artsy wine photo.
Thick legs, full body, good structure. Sounds to me like a bad Match.com description. But no, it’s a cabernet sauvignon. Huh?
Alas, maybe wine just isn’t for a lad who grew up on Long Island with a rat tail.
Then again, as the soon-to-be wine demigod Gary Vaynerchuk sayeth: “Most people in the wine business are douche bags.”
Sad but true. So how do you appreciate wine without turning up your polo collar and becoming someone worthy of a slap in the face? I just came back from a weekend in Sonoma, and here are 7 tips I learned to follow after bumbling through wine for a few years in Nor-Cal…
1. Don’t get depressed if you’re not a “super taster.”
Don’t get depressed if you don’t taste hints of coriander, cauliflower, and cat fur in wine. If you can drink black coffee, you’ll never be a super taster, though you have a better chance if you’re an Asian woman. Consider examining four characteristics of wine to begin with: tannins, alcohol, acidity, and fruit. To get a feel for the astringent effect of high tannin content, similar to “cotton mouth,” chew on some grape skins.
2. To swirl wine like a pro, try moving from the elbow instead of the wrist.
I’ve always had trouble swirling wine without putting the base of the glass on a tabletop. Jean Charles, owner of Deloach winery, made a simple suggestion that works like a charm with a few minutes of practice: trace small circles in the air with your elbow instead of moving at the wrist. This will open the “bouquet” of the wine for smelling.
3. Tasting is smell-dependent, so prep your nose and use it properly.
Even if you don’t have a cold or congestion, doing a quick nasal irrigation the morning before tasting wine (or food, for that matter) will do wonders for enhancing taste sensitivity. After swirling, insert your nose in the glass and tilt your head to either side to test both nostrils. There has been some evidence to show that the nostrils alternate in workload (“shifts” of 4-6 hours), and you’ll almost always find one has significantly more airflow than the other.
4. Consider using a wine aerator if you don’t have a decanter to enhance flavor and finish.
Decanters are generally glass containers with wide bases used to expose wine to air. Gary decants not just reds but whites. For an alternative to this sometimes time-consuming and often expensive process, consider one of the newer wine aerators, such as this pocket-sized option from Vinturi with instant clean-up:
5. Test wines at various temperatures and don’t drink whites too cold.
I have been told that most people drink red wines too warm and white wines too cold. Gary drinks his whites at room temperature, as he believes that the colder the liquid, the less you taste. I store whites at 55 degrees and allow them to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. For reds, I often stick them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving. Experiment with different temperatures to gauge how it affects your taste and personal preferences.
6. When in doubt, go for the varietals (grapes) or regions that are out of style.
Before the movie Sideways, merlot was popular and thus overplanted to meet demand. This resulted in a ton of me-too merlot, which flooded the market with bad wine, making selection harder for the consumer. Pinot Noir is now en vogue and the current fashion, producing the same problem. Consider wine from up-and-coming regions like Canada and Portugal, or my personal favorites, Chile and Argentina. It’s quite hard to go wrong with Malbec and Tempranillo from the Mendoza and Jujuy regions of the latter.
7. Your palate is the ultimate critic.
Would you stop eating one of your favorite foods because someone else disliked it? Of course not. Wine is no different. Ultimately, the question is: do I like this? The arbiters of taste at Wine Spectator might think their palettes refined and worship-worthy, but it’s as ridiculous as a writer at Rolling Stone insisting that you should stop eating spaghetti because they give it a 74 out of 100. One of my favorite white wines costs less than $5 per bottle, and there is no shame in it. Drink what you like and enjoy it unapologetically. It’s the epicurean pleasure, not the price, that makes wine worth the time.
My second pick from the latest Sonoma trip: Rochiolo’s 1997 Estate-Grown Chardonnay