Friday, August 22, 2014

How Not To Learn Anything About Wine

Read junk like "How To Not Embarrass Yourself While Talking About Wine." Wine is simpler than most people believe and more nuanced than a lot of writers want to admit. You don't have to be able to score the third movement of any of Beethoven's symphonies but you should be informed that his music genre (classical) also includes the vastly different styles of Mozart and Wagner.
I am going to pick on the article linked above but have no agenda against the author, Jonathan Cristaldi. He "is the deputy editor of The SOMM Journal," and may know what he's talking about but this type of wine writing is a huge disservice to the consuming public. It seems to offer absolutes but these are few and far between in the world of wine. It is, unfortunately, becoming the norm in this short attention span world.

Let's take a look at the nine points in the article:
First, ignore the clickbait in the introductory paragraph, they lead to articles only vaguely about their link words - "wine philistine" takes us to a guide to making prison wine, for example.

1)  Don't say you'll just drink anything
Agreed. However, the simplistic notion of 'because I like this, I'll like that' will help almost no one. Black coffee drinkers won't necessarily enjoy pinot poir. A better piece of advice here would be to pay attention when you drink some wine and make a few mental notes to describe those you enjoy. "I like wines that are lighter and crisper, like New Zealand sauvignon blanc."
Also, don't hesitate to ask for a taste, whether you're at a restaurant or a party.

2) Don't guess on the grapes
The example given is of a tasting room employee trying to stump a guest. I have never seen this happen except with wine professionals where this is a fairly classic game I have always called "Stump the Chump." Mr. Cristaldi is correct that if you are confronted with this in a challenging manner you should not support the winery.
You also should not be afraid to state an opinion. This is a critical element of developing the confidence to describe what you want.

3) Don't be a grape racist
Remove the word 'grape' and I fully support this point!
"This is an immediate tip of the hat to any discerning wino who is looking to sniff out the defensive novice. Declaring war on a wine because of its color will warrant a barrage of questions and humorous jabs at your expense from any wine aficionado within earshot." 
Unfortunately, a-holes like this exist. Mr. Cristaldi paints a picture of pretentious wine nerds like sharks sniffing for blood or lions looking for a weak antelope. If you are surrounded by these people you shouldn't make up stories to cover your dislike of red or white wine you should hang out with a different crowd.
I always encourage trying new wines but at some point you can certainly surrender to liking red or white exclusively if that's what your palate wants. Pushing people into lying about why is disingenuous and also exactly the kind of bullying Jonathan decries at the end of the quote above.

4) Remember that Bordeaux is not a grape
An oddly specific reference that should also include any number of other old world locations where the place name is featured on the label, not the grapes. Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Brunello, Chianti, Rioja, etc. should also be mentioned. Or, if he wished to avoid a laundry list he should at least say that Bordeaux is not the only wine with this potential confusion.

5) Don't say you prefer 'dry' reds
"Eyes will roll immediately because all wine pros know that most red wine is dry." 
Yes, most red wine is dry. Yes, you should also refine your explanation since some wines are more fruity than others, giving the impression of sweetness, even though they are fermented to dryness. This is good. However, Jonathan completely ignores the growing segment of wines that are being made to be sweet, or at least off-dry. This is bad. The category is bigger than ever and I would much rather say I like dry wine and take my changes than say I like a more fruit-forward style and risk getting something sweet.

6) Know your Champagnes vs. sparkling wines
Again, he uses an implied threat, this time in the form of "an age-old lecture"and then uses "Champers" to describe champagne. No one serious enough to lecture you about describing sparkling wine as champagne would then use the word "Champers."
I will now pick on him for a pet peeve of mine, admittedly very nerdy. Champagne, the place, should be capitalized while champagne, the actual wine, should not. (Sorry about that one...I'm in therapy to let it go)
The final recommendation, to be safe and "talk about the bubbly" is good advice.

7) Don't announce an arbitrary price limit
He does admit you should "[t]alk about your ideal budget...at a bar or restaurant" so I have no quibbles with this section.

8) Don't fear the wine list
This is brilliant and the explanation that follows is perfection!

9) Quit hating on Merlot and sniffing corks
It's still okay to hate merlot (yes, small 'm' is correct). It's safer in most cases. There are still lots of merlots being made that lack any sort of character or complexity. For my palate, I need to pay a lot more to find a merlot that tastes good than I do for any other grape. Merlot is welcome in blends but not so much on it's own.
The whole cork sniffing thing ignited some controversy in the comments section - go ahead, read it, I'll wait. Mr. Cristaldi's analogy to sniffing a dog's butt to see if it's male or female is amusing but off base. We don't sniff something else on a dog to determine that either. We do use our noses to find a corked wine and I find that sniffing a cork can help remind me to pay close attention.
A cork can smell of TCA (tri-chloro-anisole, the bacteria that leads to corked wines) and still be fine. However, in most cases if the cork smells like wet cardboard you will have a problem and I routinely smell them because the amount present in the wine can be much more subtle...and therefore harder to detect.

My biggest gripe with the article is not the opinions expressed. My issues stem from these opinions being expressed as facts with no room for interpretation or presentation of other ideas. Make it an op-ed piece and it can stand alone...or post my responses as the con side.









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