Improve your learning curve — and fun factor — with these pointers from our expert.
As you might imagine, I enjoy talking about wine. Sometimes, to my never-ending surprise, other people actually want to hear me yak away on the topic.
During the course of several such public discourses, it becomes easy to pick up on what resonates with an audience, beyond my advice that the best way to learn about wine is to pop a lot of corks.
Here are a few tips and topics that generally garner a good reaction from folks interested in wine:
Identifying aromas is more parlor game than useful exercise: Sniffing a wine generally is enjoyable and can be useful if you’re looking for freshness, clarity, harmony (alcohol fumes = bad) and focus, but not if you’re debating whether you’re getting Key lime or kaffir lime.
And those tasting notes that list a litany of fruits and other elements should be pretty much ignored, certainly not emulated. The wonderful wine importer Kermit Lynch explains: “I might smell violets on a wine out of the barrel, but by the time it’s bottled, there are no violets there. And a year later, it will have none of the same aromas as before. Or you can get an aroma at one temperature, but you heat the wine up five degrees and that aroma’s gone.”
What we “know” can hurt us: The wine world is no place for assumptions and conventional wisdom. At a recent tasting before a wine dinner, I hit upon a theme of counterintuitive bottles: a complex Beaujolais worlds apart from the candyish Nouveau that most folks associate with the region (Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent); a dry moscato (see Wine of the Week) and a malbec not from Argentina but its homeland, the French region of Cahors (Chateau Eugenie). People love surprises, or at least the open-minded sorts who most enjoy wine.
Understanding texture is actually pretty simple: Talking about weight/body/texture/mouthfeel can elicit befuddled looks — until I trot out a “lactic” analogy from writer Karen MacNeil that unerringly provides context. Light-bodied wine = skim milk; medium-bodied wine = whole milk; full-bodied wine = cream. That prompted one wag at our recent gathering to quip as we sipped the Beaujolais, “I think this one is 2 percent milk.”
Minnesota wines really are getting better: We are justifiably proud of where we live (endless winters notwithstanding), and ardent about local products that make us proud.
So people always ask about the state of Minnesota wines, and I am always pleased to say that they are getting better, that vintners are quickly learning where to grow and how to get the best out of cold-hardy grapes, that the Marquette grape is particularly promising.
And that most of the wines, for valid business reasons, are sold primarily at the wineries, which are well worth a visit. Even (perhaps especially) in the bleak midwinter.
Cook with what you drink: And this is not just about how my better half and I call “cooking wine” the stuff we quaff while we’re actually prepping a meal. Wine should be viewed just like other ingredients in a dish: A good cook wouldn’t use 5-year-old dried herbs, and a $20 cut of meat deserves a better flavor enhancer than most any $6 wine.
And I unfailingly quote my friend, Duxoup winemaker Andy Cutter, who grew up in Anoka and knows a thing or three about food (he took cooking classes from local legend Verna Meyer before embarking for Sonoma):
“Never use crummy wine while cooking, because all it does is cook off the alcohol — and the only thing good about crummy wine is the alcohol.”
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4