Good Wine, Bad Movies, and the Feeling that You Can’t Go Back

February 15, 2011

Disappointment. Get used to it if you’re a fan of grape juice, because loving the vino is a one way street. Once you’ve had a glass of elixir that truly moves you, it’s hard to go back to the same old vanilla mediocrity you got yourself used to. You want more. You want to be moved again. But how does one go back to the farm after experiencing a few nights of the MC Hammer lifestyle in the big city? How does one go back to watching WNBA reruns after seeing the Celtics play the Lakers? Sure, I could walk into the nearest reputable wine shop and purchase a bottle with a price tag equal to the GDP of a third world country, but that’s no guarantee drinking it will make me see God. The trick is—no, the fun is—no, the joy is finding that little unknown gem that is way under priced and treating it like your favorite little indie band whose every song is just so good but nobody has yet heard of them.  

The first thing you have to do is find a good store. Good wine shops have good people. Basically two types of people work in wine stores: the ones who love wine and want to share that love, and the ones with the “I’m here because I messed up at White Castle” expression on their face. Good wine stores have an abundance of the former. Next, ask them questions. Build a relationship. There is no wine equivalent of the “when’s the baby due?” question that caused so much trouble with your sister’s friend. Try to find a person with your taste. Think of it like finding a movie critic with your tastes because with wine, one man’s Gone with the Wind is another mans Gigli.  Will this guarantee a hit every time? No, but at least he/she can eliminate wine’s version of the Leprechaun series. It skews the odds in your favor. It sets yourself up to win more than you lose.

Finally, and I’ve preached this before, try everything. Don’t let odd grape varietals, different regions, or new blends scare you away. This week’s recommendation is a rock star!  

Arizona Stronghold, Nachise Blend ($19.99): Nachise reminds me of my cousin who returned from Europe sporting an accent, drinking tiny, strong coffees, and wearing a beret. It’s completely American, yes, but it mimics the Rhone style perfectly.

Tasting Wine Smackdown Style

March 10, 2010

When I took the Pepsi challenge I discovered one cola, Pepsi, tasted bigger and fresher than the others. By comparison, Coke seemed weak and thin. I needed to experience both of them right next to each other to really taste the difference. It was the same with Hostess Ho Hos and their leading competitor, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. When comparing them at the same table, in the name of science, I discovered Ho Hos to be moist, rich, and aromatic. By comparison, the Swiss Rolls, tasted like waxy sawdust, only not as delicious. The point is, I drank Coke and ate Swiss Rolls for years without knowing they weren’t my first choice. It required a side-by-side, head-to-head smackdown to really learn how one compared to the other. It went on from there. I began testing other things next to each other and can now tell you exactly why I prefer Vietnamese cinnamon to Ceylon cinnamon, Columbian coffee over Ethiopian, and don’t even get me started on why I prefer the AMC Gremlin to the Dodge Aspen.

Tasting two wines next to each other in the same way is a great way to learn what you like in a wine and why. Pop the cork on two different bottles and pour a glass of each. Start with two different grape varietals. Notice the differences in their aromas. Do they feel different on your tongue? Do the flavors of one wine stay with you longer than the flavors of the other? Push the cork back in and try them again the following day. They’ll last for a day or two. Have they changed after breathing for a day? For a tighter competition, try two wines of the same grape varietal next to each other.

Performing tests like this accelerates your wine knowledge quickly. Below are two good side by side tests to give you an idea of where your tastes lie with both reds and whites.

Oyster Bay 2008, Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99) vs. J. Lohr 2008, Chardonnay ($12.99): One of these is fresh, crisp, and loaded with citrus, while the other is rich, creamy, and loaded with butter.

Mark West 2008, Pinot Noir (13.49) vs. Ave 2007, Malbec ($12.99): Again, these wines stand on opposite sides of the isle when it comes to flavor profiles and body weight. One is driven by fruit and has a lighter body while the other sports bigger flavors of oak, cedar, and tobacco.   

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