Talking the talk, simply and directly

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2009 - 2:39 PM

It’s better to be aggressive than passive when approaching a store merchant or a pourer at a tasting event.

Let's talk about wine. Actually, let's talk about talking about wine, which all too many folks find difficult to do. Even the most confident sorts can become flummoxed when approaching a store merchant or a pourer at a tasting event such as the upcoming WineFest.

This is one area in which it's better to be aggressive than passive. Just stick with the facts, ma'am (or man), and, of course, your opinions. Our palates, after all, vary wildly; only you know what you like.

"Information is key," said Mitch Spencer, wine director for the Haskell's chain. "If someone says, 'I am having this with dinner and I want to spend $6 and here's the flavor profile I like,' our job is easy."

Even if you don't have all those details, it's important to just delineate what you like -- and what you don't. "If [customers] tell us what they don't like, we know not to go there," Spencer said. "If they say 'I don't like the viognier style or I don't like New Zealand sauvignon blanc because it's so grassy and grapefruity,' that helps a lot."

It's just as helpful to avoid "vague-eries." Saying you like "dry" wines doesn't help much. Most wines are dry, and while you might love the lusher California pinot noirs, some of those leathery Spanish tempranillos might be too astringent for you.

A local merchant recently had a customer come in and request "a case of Burgundy." It took several minutes of subtle questioning to learn whether the patron wanted red or white, high-end or cheap (or even Gallo "Hearty Burgundy"). Don't make a retailer work that hard. It's almost impossible to "overshare" in this area.

Another must to avoid: "wine-speak." Unlike food, wine doesn't have an inherent language, so reviewers have glommed onto (alas) food terms as descriptors -- and way too many of them. Robert Parker (whom I respect a lot) actually uses the likes of "burnt licorice" in his tasting notes -- as if anyone knows what that smells or tastes like.

Here's the problem: A wine that has a green apple or bacon fat or lychee element upon release might taste altogether different six months later; it even can change during an evening, as it opens up or warms up. Better to use broader food terms (citrusy, smoky) or real-world expressions (tart, robust, soft) when seeking out a wine.

An even better approach is to stick with descriptors that address other aspects of wine such as body, balance and acidity -- the topic of next week's Liquid Assets.

Bill Ward • bill.ward@startribune.com Read Ward on Wine at www.startribune.com/blogs/wine.

  • WINE OF THE WEEK

    PASO A PASO VERDEJO 2007

    The experience: Bright and lively, crisp and clean, this is a spring/summer delight. It has a wee bit more heft than most wines that are this citrusy. The 2008 will be on the market soon, and given the consistent growing conditions in the La Mancha region, it should be just as swell a choice.

    The setting: The great outdoors, or as a "cooking wine" (in the sense of a drinkable offering for the chef at work).

    The back story: Verdejo is a rapidly rising star in the wine firmament. The '07 was the first one made at Bodegas Volver.

    The tab: $10, available at Thomas Liquors, Ken & Norm's, Kowalski's (Eagan) and the Heartland Wine Bar.

    BILL WARD

    WINEFEST

    When, where: 6:30 p.m. May 8, The Depot, 225 3rd Av. S., Mpls.

    How much: $85 ($55 tax-deductible), call 612-626-5470.

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