As I was checking out the shelves at my local liquor store, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation in the next aisle.
“So do you think this will go with pepper steak?”
“Oh, for sure. It’s got the body to hold up well under an assault by strong spices. Plus it will open up if you decant it to help offset some of those tannins. You may even notice a hint of asparagus and cassis on the finish.”
Whenever I hear people speak like this, I think of my good friends, Darrell and Frank. We’ve been drinking Finger Lakes wines for 20 years now and have indulged in our share of verbal sparring when it comes to the merits of wine. But after all the highfalutin jabber winds down, wine tasting comes down to just one thing: You like what you like.
Eau de Tire
One of my favorite stories is of an evening I missed. But my husband has repeated the tale so many times that it’s become a legend.
We weren’t rich then (still aren’t), so Darrell commonly sought out “distressed” wines. (Translation: Wines sold cheaply that may or may not have been harmed in shipping or storage, aka fire wines.) For the most part, he’d struck gold, finding tremendous wines at rock-bottom prices. At least that’s what we recalled in those memorable but somewhat hazy days of wine experimentation.
One bottle deserved special note: Au Bon Climat, an ’86 Chardonnay. Darrell raved about its fine character as he poured samples.
“This is great stuff. Powerful! Just full of grapefruit and oak. Tastes like sunshine in California. You’re going to love it!”
Silence. Much raising of glasses, sniffing, swirling, a bit of quiet gargling.
Frank was the first to speak. “This is marvelous. Divine. Superlative. Ripe. Luscious. Ambrosial.” (He writes ad copy. Can’t you tell?)
Darrell was looking at his glass, frowning.
“I think there’s something wrong with this. I’ve had other bottles and they were fine, but this one’s way off. It tastes like … burnt rubber!”
Embarrassed, Darrell took the bottle into the kitchen and unceremoniously poured the remainder down the drain. Frank continued to wax poetic about the wine’s virtues.
Before long, Frank needed a refill. “But I dumped it,” Darrell said .
“You what?! But that was fantastic! One of the best I’ve tasted! How could you?”
Among friends, this evening is fondly remembered as Soir de Goodyear—and to this day, these two still argue the point. It just confirms the old adage that one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain.
We’re Not All Alike
The good folks at Constellation Wines have long understood that it’s impossible to classify wine drinkers into a single category. So they decided to find out just what people drink and why by commissioning Project Genome. (To see the full results, go to www.cwinesus.com/latestnews.html/.)
The goal of the project was simple: to develop profiles of typical wine drinkers. The results were announced last fall. People fell into six different categories:
Enthusiasts: Passionate about wines; love to research and share them with friends and family.
Image Seekers: Want to feel trendy and knowledgeable and will often buy expensive wines to make an impression.
Savvy Shoppers: Like a bargain; get excited over case discounts.
Traditionalists: Buy from well-known wineries for the comfort factor of the familiar.
Satisfied Sippers: Don’t know a lot about wine and buy what they like. Feel fine serving white zinfandel at parties.
Overwhelmed: Read labels to select wines. Good luck!
This is interesting, but I suspect most people who make, serve and sell wines already know this. I can almost picture the scene at any local winery.
Image Seeker walks in first, adjusts his leather jacket and heads straight to the tasting bar for a sip of anything labeled “vintners choice” or “barrel select.”
Enthusiast is wandering the vineyard, looking at the grapes, the sun and trying to distinguish a Cabernet Franc grape from a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Savvy Shopper meanders among the discount bins and asks the rest of the tasting party if they will split a case.
Traditionalist checks off only the tried and true on her tasting notes. She may even eschew Rieslings (her loss).
Satisfied Sipper is already on his third wine and will move progressively through each tasting offered, claiming it to be “the best!”
And Overwhelmed is stuck in the gift shop, perusing the language on the back of each bottle and hoping for some illumination.
A Discriminating Palette
I’m always amazed to hear people claim that they can actually tell if a wine has been aged in French or American oak. I can’t. But I do know what tastes good, and when I taste a wine I like, I invariably think about how it will be served with food. I believe that wines are best enjoyed with a meal rather than facing the taste buds all alone.
So bottoms up—and keep experimenting. Just don’t forget to rinse between the whites and reds!
by Joy Underhill
Joy Underhill is a freelance writer who lives in Farmington. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.