Tag Archives: palate

TEN GUIDELINES FOR WINE ENJOYMENT

  1. REFUSE TO BE INTIMIDATED. The world of wine is populated with a few, well, snobs. There are people whose income depends on you, the consumer, feeling like you don’t know enough to order a wine you will like. There are some whose income depends on getting you to buy a wine whether you like it or not. There are also few who want to make you feel uncomfortable just for their own ego gratification.

That said, there are also lots of folks who can and will help you feel more comfortable. These can include wine stewards or waiters in restaurants, employees in wine shops and at large retailers like Costco, tasting room employees, and, yes, wine bloggers like me. Take advantage of their knowledge and willingness to help. Even with the first group, you will usually find if you ask a couple of clear questions and let them know what you like and what you are willing to pay, you will get what you desire.

         Wine - Critic Cartoon2.  BE AN EXPLORER. Try some unfamiliar wines. Even if after doing so, you become a drinker of one kind of wine, you will at least know that you aren’t missing something better for you. Again, wine retailers and restaurant employees can be helpful. Like Malbec? Try something close, like a Barbera or a Tempranillo. Traveling? Try the local wines. (LINK to my post WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?)

3.  AVOID REALLY CHEAP WINES. The issue here is not so much about price or quality as it is about additives. Most new world (that’s everyplace but Europe) wines under $10 to $15 are laced with additives of various kinds. There are no labeling requirements, so you don’t know which ones or how much of them are in your wine. Some additives are benign, some are not. Many people who eat only organic food buy cheap wines filled with chemical additives – unknowingly, of course. (LINK to my post on ADDITIVES)

There are three main reasons that cheaper wines have more additives than more expensive wines: One, consumers of cheaper wines tend to want their wine to taste the same every time. They are not interested in seasonal variation – the kind based on weather which affect wine grapes from just about everywhere. So, additives can mask changes – and in cheap wines, the issue is not seasonal variations; most are bulk wines, made from whatever grapes or juice are available at that moment from any location. Second – additives can make a rough product taste smoother, smell better, look better. In other words, mask problems. Third – there are economic reasons to use additives in some products, and your health is not one of them.

4. NEW TO WINE? TRY A STARTER CASE. I blogged about this a while back. If you are new to wine or have someone, like in my case, my daughter, who is new to wine, consider a starter case. This is a mixed case of wines for them to try to learn about. Then, when returning to the wine retailer, you or they can say what you liked and would like to get more of, or maybe explore a bit with something like what you enjoyed previously, but different. (LINK to my post on STARTER CASE)

5.  LEARN HOW TO SHOP FOR WINE. I often go into wine shops without intending to make a purchase – just to look around, familiarize myself with the kinds of wines available, the labels, the price points. I may engage someone in the shop in a conversation about a specific wine, or a wine region that they feature. And, truth be told, much more often than not, I walk out with a bottle or three.

Many reputable wine writers and bloggers will tell you to ask questions when shopping for wine. Wine shop employees will generally enjoy helping you (with the possible exception of the Holiday rush). For example, you might ask for a wine in the $20 range to go with a lamb roast, or something to take as a special gift to a lover of Argentinian Malbec. (LINK to my post on SHOPPING FOR WINE)

6.  LEARN HOW RESTAURANT WINE WORKS. There are a few things to be aware of when ordering wine in a restaurant. One is the pricing structure. The norm is to mark up a bottle two to two-and-a-half times retail cost. Many restaurants are offering wines at a lower mark-up (in Europe it is often the same as in a wine shop). Wine is a significant part of the profit structure at many restaurants. For others, it is an afterthought; the wines may not even go with the food offered.

There are myths about ordering wine in restaurants. Most are false or only partly true. The reality is that if wine is a serious consideration in a restaurant, the wine list will have been chosen with care based on what is important to that restaurant’s management. It might be by region – focusing on Italian wines in an Italian restaurant; or by type of food served – an emphasis on white and rosé wines in a seafood restaurant; or it may be wines selected for the specific items on the menu. Some say that the best buy is the 2nd cheapest wine on the list. This is almost never true. If it is good value you are seeking, a good choice is to order a bottle of one of the wines they are selling by the glass. These wines are usually a good value and they are sold by the glass because they are well-received.

Again, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter, wine steward, or sommelier for guidance – and DON’T forget to give him or her your budget! I have never had a negative experience with wine in a restaurant when I have been given guidance (I don’t always ask for it). (LINK to my post on ORDERING WINE IN A RESTAURANT)

Waiter in tuxedo holding a bottle of red wine
Restaurants Want You To Be Satisfied.

7.  REMEMBER CORKAGE. In many places, you can bring your own wine to a restaurant. Normally, a corkage fee will be charged, to cover the cost of using the glasses and having the wine open and served by the restaurant staff. This is a good option if you have a special bottle to share with family or friends that will go well with the restaurant meal. Some etiquette – if you don’t know, check in advance on the corkage policy of the restaurant; don’t bring a wine the restaurant has on its wine list; don’t pay $20 corkage on an $8 bottle of Yellow Tail to save money. And, if the wine is corked or otherwise bad, don’t try to send it back for another bottle! (LINK to my post about corkage)

8.  LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DRINK BAD WINE. I know you have a budget, which, like mine, is limited. And maybe you don’t have an educated palate to justify really expensive wine. However, as I noted above, just about all of the really cheap wines are filled with additives and are bad for you. So, think about how much wine you drink and what it would take to get the average cost per bottle up to $15 or more. At that price point, generally speaking you are drinking wine, not just a mixture of random grapes made in bulk. You will notice qualities like minerality, or terroir – the effect of the soil on the wine. You will begin to tell varietals apart ($7 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes surprisingly like $7 Merlot). And you will be drinking a more healthful beverage.

Also, if you buy a decent bottle and it’s bad (corked or chemical tasting for example), don’t drink it! Pour it down the sink, or if it’s not too bad, save it for cooking. If you get a bad bottle (meaning there is a flaw of some kind) at a restaurant, let the staff know. They should replace it. If they disagree with you, let them know that you may not be an expert, but you find the wine undrinkable. They should replace it with another bottle. If the first one was bad, you will taste the difference in the new bottle. It is bad form to ask for a different wine in this situation. Maybe you will get lucky and that will have been their last bottle of that kind in stock! (LINK to my post on EXPENSIVE WINES)

9.  WINE ENJOYMENT IS SUBJECTIVE. No matter what the experts tell you, for 95% of wine consumers – the ones who haven’t trained their palates for years and taken rigorous certification classes – wine enjoyment is subjective. You either like a wine, have a “meh” reaction, or don’t like it at all. Robert Parker can’t tell you if you will like a wine. I try to look at tasting notes only after I have tasted a wine, to see if they got it right for me. There are things to know about specific wines, but, let’s be realistic, most who drink wine will never invest the time and energy to learn more than a few of them.

Wes Hagen, currently of Central California’s J. Wilkes Wines (LINK), shares his way to taste wine for most consumers:

Swirl the wine in the glass and look at the color; put your nose to the glass and sniff the bouquet; if it smells like something you want to put into your mouth, take a sip; if it tastes like something you want to swallow, swallow it; notice the finish.

If you begin from there and add some knowledge as you go, you will never get to a point where Wes’s advice doesn’t hold true.

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With Wes Hagen AFTER a Tasting.

10. HAVE FUN WITH WINE. Wine is both a beverage and, for some, a lifestyle. I love sharing a good bottle with friends and family, and almost never have an expensive (say over $30) bottle when alone. Dorianne and I used to have wine dinners, where we would ask our guests to bring a special bottle, like the one they’ve been saving for a special occasion for ten years, and a dish to accompany it. At the dinner, each guest will tell the story of their wine as everyone shares it. Or bring a bottle from a trip and share the story of the trip.

Go wine tasting when you travel near wine country – there are hundreds of “wine countries” these days. We have tasted in Mexico, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, England, and in Michigan, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Texas, to name a few outside of the normal wine destinations. You will meet some great people in the local wine industry, and fellow tasters are often interesting as well.

I am sure that there are other guidelines for enjoying wine. These are my top ten and I hope you find them of value!

Your comments are always welcomed.

Wine - Rose Wine Collage - France
A collage of French Rosé Wines

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

 

NO MORE WINE GURUS?

This article from the amazing Jancis Robinson, English wine expert and author/editor of  The Oxford Companion to Wine, is worth re-posting here.

Jancis Robinson – What Future for Expertise (LINK)

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From her article:

“But now that wine drinking has become so very much more commonplace than it used to be, wine has definitively lost its elitist veneer. For heaven’s sake, it has long been the drink of choice not just for The Archers but on Coronation Street.”

“I would honestly be delighted if every wine drinker felt confident enough to make their own choices dependent on their own individual responses to wines previously tasted. But I do recognise that for many people it will always be simpler to be told what to like.”

I am re-posting and quoting this because the idea of taking responsibility for your own wine drinking decisions, of reading the “experts” but finding your own way and developing your palate in a personal sense – is for me the best way forward in today’s wine world. But as Ms. Robinson says above, there will always be people who want to be told what to drink – but there are now many more people willing to tell them, myself included. So there will always be experts, but few, if any, will rise to the stature achieved by my fellow Baltimorean, Robert M. Parker, Jr. in today’s crowded field of bloggers and other influencers.

On the other hand, there are simply too many wine regions, varietals, producers, and labels for anyone to be a true expert in the generalist sense any more. Those who specialize in a single region or varietal may be exceptions, but even there, it is becoming more difficult (Bordeaux has 8500 producers and counting).

I am heartened by the prospect of a reduction in the influence of the 100 point scale to govern so wide a swath of wine consumption – even if you don’t adhere to it, your favorite restaurant or wine shop likely does. Variety is the spice of life, and making a choice of an unknown wine that you end up not particularly liking can actually increase your ability to judge wines for yourself. The experts of the past had to drink a lot of bad wine to become decent judges of quality. There is still some truth to that idea.

Wine - Cave Chromatique

There is a little wine cave near where I live in Lyon called Cave Chromatique (LINK), where the owner takes great care in selecting his wines. When I shop there, I don’t get directed toward a particular style. When I inquire about a wine, I get a description of the wine, the wine producer, the terroir, the process, and maybe the vineyard. I make my purchase and try it. Now, I am an Explorer (LINK to What Kind of Wine Drinker Are You?), so I like to try different wines – and some end up set aside for cooking or even go down the drain. But I also get some amazing experiences with wines that I would not have otherwise tried.

So, I appreciate the post by Jancis Robinson. And I will continue to read her and others who are knowledgeable about wine – but I will be making my own choices including exploring things outside of my own experience recommended by good wine retailers, wine stewards, and friends.

And if you want a treat, there are a number of videos of her wine lessons from 1995 on YouTube.com (LINK) that still stand up well and are very informative and entertaining.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans”

~ Ernest Hemingway

There are a lot of ways to categorize oneself (or, for more fun, someone else) as a wine drinker. Let’s look at a few . I will provide some recommendations for those in each category to enhance the wine experience based on personal habits and preferences. It is important to have some balance, I think. I realize that all of us may cross categories from time to time, or as part of our evolution as wine drinkers. But, just for fun, let’s explore this idea a bit.

“All generalizations are false, including this one.”

~ Mark Twain

So as a caveat to any categorization scheme, I will acknowledge that this is in no way representative of anything approaching ultimate truth. It’s just for fun, and it may contain just enough truth to make it humorous.

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1. THE CREATURE OF HABIT DRINKER

This kind of wine drinker is predictable to a fault. She may always drink the same varietal, even label, just about every time she has wine. She always drinks at the same time of day, for example, only with dinner. She may be a bit expansive and drink the same varietal from more than one region, but probably not. The wine shop employee knows just what to have on the counter when she comes in to purchase.

RECOMMENDATION: Break out of the box, at least a little. Add a varietal to your routine, such as Merlot if you drink only Cabernet Sauvignon. Or, create a day of the week or of the month when you explore other wines.

“his lips drink water but his heart drinks wine”

~ e.e. cummings

 

Travel - Suitcase

2. THE EXPLORER

This kind of wine drinker seeks variety in all ways. He may drink a different wine every time, exploring different varietals, regions, decanting techniques, glasses, etc. While he may have a few favorites, he returns to from time to time, he is on the prowl for something new and interesting. He badgers the wine shop employees to get in some more interesting wines, and likely explores the shelves of every wine shop in town.

RECOMMENDATION: Find a couple of favorite wines or, better yet, varietals. Then explore them in greater depth to get a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the variety within them. You might try Sauvignon Blancs from a number of producers, regions, and countries to get a sense of how that varietal differs across the range of viticulture and wine making techniques.

“I rather like bad wine. One gets so bored with good wine.”

~ Benjamin Disraeli

Wine - Old Bottles in Storage

3. THE COLLECTOR

This wine drinker is primarily focused on developing a wine cellar that will be the envy of some target audience, or that will appreciate as an investment. He drinks around the edges of his collection, waiting until wines are “ready to drink,” or are on the downside of their life-cycle and no longer as valuable. He is driven more by the labels and the calendar than by his palate. The wine store employee never sees this wine drinker, as he purchases mainly via auction and directly from high-end wineries.

RECOMMENDATION: Have a little fun. Set your concerns for increasing the value of your cellar aside for a bit, let the urge to wheel and deal go and settle in with a couple of bottles that you really enjoy and have some friends over. Wine is a social lubricant and good wine is best enjoyed with friends. Do this occasionally and see how it feels.

“I drink Champagne when I am happy and when I am sad.  Sometimes I drink it when alone.  In company I find it compulsory.  I sip a little if I’m hungry.  Otherwise I don’t touch it — unless I’m thirsty of course.”

~ Lily Bollinger

wine-drink-up

4. THE WINE SLUT

This wine drinker will drink whatever wine is being offered. He has no sense of appreciation of wine. His desire is to be sociable and get buzzed. If his host is serving Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw or Screaming Eagle, he will drink it all the same. The wine store employee points him to the sale bin and the bulk wine shelf in the wine shop.

RECOMMENDATION: Take a course on wine. Your wine shop or store may offer one, or the local community college. Increase your knowledge and learn to cultivate a better palate. Realize that a lot of the cheap wine you guzzle is full of additives (LINK) that you may not want in your system.

“As you get older, you shouldn’t waste time drinking bad wine.”

~ Julia Child

wine-critic-cartoon

5. THE WINE SNOB

This drinker is all about image – being seen as an authority on fine wines. She may also be a collector, but that is not the driver of her wine consumption. The Wine Snob is about seeming to be the authority in the room. She will spout grandiose tasting notes (including characteristics that no one else seems to taste or smell), turn up her nose at “everyday wines,” and let others know when their wine choices or opinions don’t make the grade (her grade, of course). See will name-drop wine makers, labels, authorities, and distant vineyards that she has experienced. The wine store employee has a happy/sad relationship – she will be a pain to wait on, but will buy expensive wine.

RECOMMENDATION: It may be hopeless. But if you can, try saying NOTHING about wine in a social setting. No, really. A winemaker friend of mine once attended a dinner at one of the premier Burgundy wine estates. Wines worth thousands of dollars a bottle as old as 100 years were served. He said that the amazing thing was not there was no mention of the wine at all during the dinner. The conversation was about other things. Try that sometime.

“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”

~ Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises  

 

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6. THE SOCCER MOM/DAD

This drinker is looking for a reliable wine that meets three criteria: consistent, inexpensive, and gives a buzz with minimal hangover. The primary reason that this person drinks wine is as a reminder that there is more to living than the stresses and routines of everyday life. Wine is to relax and forget. The wine store employee sends cases of the same everyday wine home with this drinker a few times a month.

RECOMMENDATION: Learn to manage your life without self-medicating. You may be using wine in a non-beneficial manner. And you are missing most of the joy of the beverage. Read a self-help book, maybe see a therapist. Then, drink wine for enjoyment.

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

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7. THE YOUNG MILLENNIAL

Think Yellow TailBarefoot, and box wines. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

RECOMMENDATION: You will likely grow up anyway, but you can hasten the process. See the recommendation for The Wine Slut above.

“I went to the hospital for a blood transfusion and they gave me a wine list.”

~ Dean Martin

 

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8. THE OLDER MILLENNIAL

On the path of The Explorer, but not in a traditional sense – seeks out wines from obscure or emerging regions as long as they are organic or biodynamic. A wine gets extra credit if it comes from a third-world country. Enjoys paring wines with trendy and ethnic foods. Talks more about the “vibrations” of the wine than fruit vs. minerality. The wine shop employee needs to be up on the ecology of the wines in the shop.

RECOMMENDATION: You are driving the wine market. Keep seeking out wines produced sustainably with little or no additives. Keep expanding your pairings and urging winemakers and restaurateurs to be more creative. If anything, take yourself a little less seriously, but you are on the right track. Oh, and find ways to honor the great traditions of wine making while you create a new future.

“We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.”

~ Eduardo Galeano  

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Wherever you fall in or beyond any of these categories, may your wine drinking bring you great pleasure and add to the overall quality of your life. That, after all, is what it’s all about.

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

~ Ernest Hemingway

 Your comments are welcomed!

wine-cartoon-cowboy

 

Text Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard;  some images are re-posted. If your image is here and you do not want it here, please let me know and I will remove it.

EXPENSIVE WINE IS NOT A RIP OFF

I was going to let 2016 end without a new post, but then I came across and excellent article at VinePair.com (LINK to Article).

The article by Keith Beavers, is entitled “The People Calling Expensive Wine a Rip-Off Are Lying to You.” It is a thoughtful look at a recent trend in the wine media world – the trend of attacking wine experts, the folks who are highly trained in all aspects of wine  and who often recommend expensive wines to their readers. This would include people such as Robert ParkerJanis Robinson, and Eric Asimov.

Here is a sample from the article (I highly recommend that you read the entire article via the link above):

“The pleasure of “taking down” the wine industry is certainly understandable. There’s something devastating about knowing that other people are able to appreciate something that we can’t. It’s especially unsettling to know this about something we imbibe regularly, yet know we are not fully experiencing. There’s something mystical about wine – all those mouthfeels and blueberries and leather. What could be more delicious than to find out that those shamans, those mavens with their alienating knowledge, were nothing but charlatans, snake-oil peddlers whose knowledge was all a hoax?”

Now this blog is, if anything, a voice urging greater appreciation of wine without all the pretense. I have tried to simplify purchasing and enjoying wine, and generally removing the intimidation factor that many feel when confronted with a complex wine, a point system they do not understand, ridiculously mellifluous tasting notes, or a price tag in the hundreds of dollars.

But I have never said not to read the experts. I am self-taught in all things wine (meaning that I have never taken a wine course for certification; I have taken a few seminars) as is Keith Beavers, the author of the VinePair article. Like him, I learned, in part, by reading the experts. Unlike the experts, I am not doing regular tastings of dozens of Bordeaux or Burgundy wines. I have not tasted wines from dozens of other vintages to compare with what I am tasting now (although that is changing over time). So I count on the experts to be guides, although I am not a slave to their guidance.

A good point in the article is the difference between the typical European and American wine consumer:

“Then there’s the fact that there is just so much wine out there. It makes choosing and understanding each bottle that much more difficult. This is especially true here in the United States, because we are not a culture that grew up with wine. Wine in the U.S. is a relatively young culture, and though we want to understand wine, we’re very new at it.

“Compare us to Europe, where drinking wine is such an integral part of the lifestyle,  a part of the attitude. In the rural wine regions of Europe, you don’t go to a wine store and choose a bottle from a selection of 10,000. You live in a specific region that grows one kind of grape best, and the wine that comes from that grape is what you drink, probably every night with dinner. The soil itself determines what wine people drink, and they grow up with a specific varietal like mother’s milk.”

Americans face a huge variety of regions, varietals, wine growing techniques, wine making styles, terroirs, additives, and more when deciding which wines to purchase. The advice of experts is one pathway to take toward greater understanding, but they are never a substitute for trying things yourself and discovering what you like and enjoying yourself along the way.

 

As to expensive versus inexpensive wines, there are reasons why some wines cost more. And there are reasons why many people prefer cheaper wines, even in taste tests with more expensive wines. Again from the article:

“. . . people with less experience drinking wine tend to enjoy cheaper wines. It’s not because wine is one big hoax. It’s rather because their first experiences with wine were probably with cheaper wines, and cheap wine is manipulated to taste the same every year. There’s no inconsistency, no terroir. It’s homogenized, for a very simple reason: We are a culture that likes sweet things. When you’re drinking a really cheap wine like Yellowtail or Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck, you’re drinking a wine that has added sugars and added coloring so it tastes the same every time you buy it. And it’s wine experts who teach us how to move past these wines, and how to enjoy the more expensive stuff.”

In my experience with expensive wines, which is somewhat limited I admit, once you get to about $50 per bottle, you can expect an excellent wine and will often get it. I have drunk and tasted wines that cost $250, $500, even $1000 or more. At those price points, if the wine is old, every bottle is unique, and the more refined your palate (LINK), the greater your experience. There is also a certain mystique in knowing that you are drinking say, a 1982 Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild, which I have had the pleasure of drinking. What is that mystique like? Think of driving a Rolls Royce versus a Nissan – both will get you there, but the experience of the Rolls will be different. In fact, just knowing it’s a Rolls makes a difference.

For me, wine appreciation has been a slow but certain road toward wines that are well-crafted and which have different characteristics from year-to-year. I drink or taste from at least 500 bottles per year (considering that a day of wine tasting can mean 20 or so different wines). Maybe 40% of those are wines I have had before – at least the label is the same, although the vintage may not be. I would say that the average price per bottle of the wines I drink has gone from $10-$12 a dozen years ago to $25-$28 now. Over that time, my tastes have changed, my palate has improved (intentionally), I have read and learned more about wine in general and have experienced a greater variety of wines.

So I recommend that you read Eric Asimov’s Wine Columns in the New York Times (LINK), especially his wine school columns. Get yourself a copy of Janis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (LINK) or borrow it from the library. Read Hugh Johnson’s A Life Uncorked (LINK) or A Pocket Guide to Wine (LINK). Or, go through the Amazon listings of wine books (LINK) and find something that appeals to you. Read Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast Magazines. And, this blog!

If you are a wine lover, or aspire to be, my suggestion would be to enter 2017 with the intention of deepening your knowledge and expanding your experience with wine. Your life will be richer for it.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard