Man-oh-man, wine is clouded with so many opinions of what is right, wrong, good, or bad. Navigating all these opinions is almost as difficult as running a bill through the House and Senate in a week. A hug or handshake with Dr. Fauci seems as likely as a room full of wine critics giving the same wine the same score or tasting notes. What we can take to the bank is there are a lot of opinions when it comes to wine and very little likelihood of a true consensus. What we can count on are a lot of opinions…
What is it about this beverage that inspires so many opinions, laws, and reams of tasting notes? The dialogue is often fanciful, imaginative, sometimes boring and controversial. Every one of the 50 states has its own complex set of laws on how to buy and sell wine. It is just a beverage, ladies and gentlemen. It was banned for years in a social experiment called Prohibition, and we all know how well that worked out. I’m thinking of machine guns and speakeasies.
The only other beverage in contention for so much attention might be water. But remember, someone claimed to turn water into wine. That was a long time ago and they are still talking about it–more controversy and water was clearly not the beverage of preference. Ever read about someone turning wine into water? Now that would be a miracle, or a crime, or both. Historians do agree that Caesar would have not conquered the world if he stuck to water. Wine kept the troops healthy and on the road. No debate.
Wine is uncomplicated. It can even make itself if left alone. The complications are all ours; we invent them to place wine on a pedestal above all other natural beverages. Some writers embrace these complications or differences of opinion. And, like religions there can be divisiveness and occasionally war.
Because of all this I like to questions over 43 years as a winemaker. The mantra is keep it simple, to the point, easy to digest so we can all move on to opening the next cork, or unscrewing the next cap.
What makes a good wine (or great) wine?
Great grapes, and someone who has the smarts to stay out of the way, yet knows when the time is right to interrupt the dance, or change the music. Experience is helpful. All this is good verbage for the website, but the ultimate judge is you. Greatness rides the coattails of perception. It’s personal.
When should I drink this wine?
Now, or anytime afterwards up to a point. Getting to know “your point” is the secret. No two people have the same “point” when a wine is best. Most wine drunk in America is aged on a car seat between the supermarket or 7-Eleven and home. Some like them old and build cellars, and some like them young and are ok with the car seat. Picking the right time to drink a wine is like sex in some ways, there are a lot of ways to approach this subject, but try and make it personal. Go searching for your own drinking window. Getting there is more than half the fun.
What did Robert Parker give this wine?
Google it. Remember a score on a wine, is an one opinion on one wine at one moment in time. I wouldn’t overthink that opinion. That said, I think of Bob Parker as a friend, and miss sitting down with him and tasting through a set of wines. There are a lot of excellent critics today. I have my favorites. Find those who reflect your tastes, and follow them. Walk away from those who do not, or are inconsistent.
What is this wine’s PH, TA, and alcohol?
Really? Don’t get lost in numbers. Do get lost in the smells, aromas, tastes, and flavors of the wine.
Can I christen my ship with this wine?
Of course, but you might need a case. All depends on the size of your ship and how long you’re out to sea…. I really don’t get this question often.
Will I get lucky tonight if I open this wine?
What temperature should I drink this wine?
If you’re going to drink it over an hour – room temperature – because after 20 minutes it will probably be at room temperature. That said, whites are generally served too cold and reds too warm – see, I really do have some hard opinions.
Should I decant this wine?
A little air should help all well made wines, red and white. The big question to ask yourself – do you like cleaning decanters? Or more importantly, how much air does a wine need? Every wine will be different. Experiment on how you give it air. Decanters are optional, a good wine glass less so. You can decant your wine directly into your glass, swirl, wait and sip. I like some young wines better the next day. Experiment. Air can be your friend, too much your enemy.
More answers to your questions in later entries to these SIP diaries, but first I’d like to leave you with a story about wine writing. My wife shortly after our marriage decided to join a wine tasting group of women for fun and knowledge. Several of the women in the group were very prominent women winemakers in the Napa Valley. One decided for chuckles to select several wines to be tasted blind for the group. She also decided to add a little spice to the game.
For each wine in the blind tasting she selected a famous wine writer’s description of the winet, copied it, and dropped it in a hat. As the group tasted the wines, she passed the hat, and each taster read the description they had selected, then the group was asked to match the description to the wine. No one, not the pros, or the amatures like my wife, got it right.
The lesson here simply is one man’s cassis might be another man’s blackberry. We all interpret flavors a little differently. Wine descriptors reflect us more than the wines we taste.