Sunday, February 26, 2006

How To Drink Wine

A few days ago, PDS suggested that as an accompaniment to my Thursday Night Wine Blogging series I also do a post on the "abc's of how to enjoy wine". My initial reaction was, "oh God, now I'm about to be revealed as a fraud" since my knowledge of wine and wine drinking is extremely limited and I'm sure there are those who have more formal training than me. To be completely honest the whole Thursday Night Wine Blog was born during my "blog ennui" period when I was desperate for a subject and buzzed enough to try the wine blog!

This would be an excellent point for me to exhibit my everyman credentials and say something trite such as, "but this is just the point, wine is for enjoying, and no matter how you approach it, if it's right for you then it's right period". Such sentiments, while safe and unthreatening, are 100% crap. While it is true that there is no right way to drink wine, it is important treat wine with respect and look for it's beauty. I wrote not so long ago about the Frenchman I met that said, he felt that when we say wine must open, what we are really experiencing is our need to adjust to the wine and meet it halfway, accepting it on it's terms, and appreciating it's individual beauty. I don't fully agree with his point, there is in fact solid science behind what happens to change wine when it is exposed to air, but he was correct in that wine drinking is a relationship and not something easily done in a room of distractions, or at a party.

This is not to say one shouldn't enjoy wine out with friends or at parties. Any such suggestion would be ridiculous. What I am going to talk about though is different. I am going to discuss what those of us who taste "nutmeg and spice, earth and tannin" in our wines are experiencing and how we get there. I want to relate to you what it means to experience these flavors, and the nuanced difference between the same wines of varying vintages.

To a certain extent then I guess I will talk to you about being what some call a snob. I've proudly proclaimed my snob status before, and I view it as an honor to be a snob, because to me it is the indication that one has standards in their life and appreciates that form and beauty have as much meaning as function. As a caveat I would note that I never hold my snobbishness over others who do not share my pursuits; it is not the elitism which is important but rather the appreciation. Nor would I hold my snobbishness over those who don't share my standards or interests; we're all different and as long as you care, then I'm your brother.

No, I hold my snobbishness over those who simply can't be bothered. Such people are lost on me and they probably shouldn't go further on this venture with me, because I may offend.

Lesson one then is that to properly enjoy wine, you must care. Like my Frenchman above you must be willing to open yourself to the wine as much as you expect it to open to you. You must give it time and attention. For some folks such a suggestion is simply beyond their grasp. Fraught either with an overwhelming sense of self consciousness or the fear of not getting what others get, they withdraw and don't open to the wine. Self limiting behavior such as this holds people back in every walk of life and it will do so here as well. Open yourself to the experience though and you'll be taking the first step on a rewarding journey.

The discoveries you will make will be thrilling. Some wines will reveal themselves to you to be unworthy of your time. Hopefully, you won't have paid too much or saved them for a special moment. Others will surprise, and these will be the times that you will remember the most.

I remember the first time this happened for me. I've always been blessed with a fairly strong taste memory, so once I discovered that the world of wine was full of flavor I began to take some time to experience the differences. It must have been in 1986, I was shopping in my local store and came upon a Chateau Margaux 1982 that was priced at somewhere around $20. I knew nothing at the time, but in retrospect this bottle was clearly priced incorrectly. A 1982 Margaux is one of the all time great wines.

Anyhow, I took this bottle home, and opened it for a Bears game of all things. I have no idea what the Bears did that day, but I can tell you about that wine. Man, it had strong tannins that supported a solid fruit and to a lesser degree earth taste. The tannins receded over the time the bottle was open, but it was clearly still young. What amazed me the most though was how long after a sip was gone, I could breathe in through my mouth and still taste the wine. Not only taste it, but taste the different tastes almost as if they were levels of flavor on top of one another. I was thrilled! I sat there sipping and breathing for the longest time.

I was hooked from that moment on. Since then I've had many great wines and loved each one to one degree or another. Still, that first experience will always stand out.

So enough for today. I thought this was going to be my only post on this subject, but obviously there is much more to say. One more point. I clearly do not have the key to the kingdom and still consider myself a neophyte in the wine world. For those of you who disagree with me on this or future posts, please comment. I want to learn from this experience as well. For those of you with stories to share, feel free.

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