Understanding wine is not limited to being able to provide a description of it. Understanding a wine also means knowing how to drink it. And no, knowing how to put the glass to your lips is not enough.
In my previous post I talked about trade tastings, where a taster can try many different wines; today, I'd like to focus specifically on studying a single bottle. It's very important, I believe, to continue learning about the things you care for. With wine, going deeper and learning more means profoundly understanding a particular juice, which requires a lot of time, drinking many different bottles of the same stuff. Now, let's say you're getting a bottle (probably from your trusted store!) that you've never had before, and you walk out without any instruction on how to drink it. What would happen? Often, people don't know what to do - sometimes even I don't know, if it's a bottle I've never had before. That is when I sit back and I let the wine talk to me; I literally let it "open up" to me.
For example: there is a winery in California called Coturri. They are certified organic, and their wines have the lowest allowable concentration of sulfates. Every time you open a bottle of theirs, it's a journey, and I love to try them time and again. After several different tastes, I have come to believe that the Coturris work with oxidation: sulfates are antioxidants, so a low sulfate content will not protect a wine from oxidizing. That said, a winemaker might as well use that process in his or her favor. This can have some interesting results. When you open a bottle, sometimes it will smell... you might even think it's bad. Obviously, I had this very experience. So the first thing I did was try to understand if the wine was dead or alive - I poured half a finger in a crystal glass and smelled it, set a benchmark and waited few minutes. Then, I smelled it again and noticed that the wine was losing its initial, unpleasant funk and was coming together. It was alive!!!
I purposely didn't mention which of the Coturri wines was the star of that story. Here's why: I have found that a winery's style is reflected in different degrees, depending on the bottle. To some extent, all of the Coturri wines will act like the one I had (I confirmed that intuition later, by opening all of their wines). But some may not take so long - others may take even longer. I don't want to tell you that you'll have the exact same experience that I had, because you may not; the specifics vary from bottle to bottle. The goal in fact is not just to detect and expose flavors to your friends, or to know a wine dead-on before you open it. The goal is to develop the ability to choose the right wine for the right occasion and to know what to do with it. That skill will dramatically change the emotions you'll feel and improve the overall experience of your meals, or whatever situation in which you've chosen to enjoy your wine. Then, you can transfer your knowledge to your wine friends, and they can do the same for you. You'll save time and money in the process of becoming informed winos.
One bottle is never enough. If you find a wine you love, you should try it over and over, especially at the beginning of the journey. After years of experience, you'll have enough know-how to understand or at least have an idea of what to do even before opening a bottle. Your brain will be trained to remember better and to categorize the wine so that you'll be able to choose more deftly. Knowing more also make you more confident. You'll believe in your intuitions and surprise your friends and yourself by choosing wines you've never had before, but already having an idea of what they will be like. In this process, learning one bottle of wine will provide you with a knowledge base for countless other bottles - an invaluable category of information.
I'll finish today with a short anecdote about wine confidence, and how it can truly guide you to new and exciting choices. I trust my wine intuitions often when I'm out with my girlfriend Susan; she is very passionate about food and wine, her palate is refined and challenging and even though she could easily pick a wine, she often asks me to do it. She made me think about being more specific in the way I choose wine from a list in a restaurant; several times after I'd made my selection, she would ask if I knew the wine. If I answered "no," she would ask what made me choose that particular bottle. I've always had to think about the answer, and at least at the beginning I wasn't able to put it into words... I was following a system but I didn't really know I had one. Having been coerced to think about it, I was inspired to write this post, through which I am finally able to provide an answer. I look at the list with confidence: if I see the selection is well thought-out, then I trust the palate behind the list, and my confidence increases. Then, if I know the wines from that region are good, and I am curious to try a new producer who I know to be very capable, again, my level of confidence rises, and ultimately, using my own intuition and shared information, I choose a wine I've never had before, and am often pleased with the results, and the subsequent journey.
I hope that in the future, sharing this kind of information will be the main focus of wine publication as well. I also think it would be very useful if wineries themselves wrote suggestions for how to enjoy their wines on their back labels. Until that happens, the helm of the ship on your wine journey belongs solely to you - navigate well, and the journey will be unforgettable.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti