In about two weeks, on Tuesday, May 9, The Passionate Foodie blog will have its 10th Anniversary! I've been spending time surveying the over 4100 posts I've written, contemplating all the myriad subjects I've covered. As I look back across those ten years, I've decided to repost my first article, a blog that remains as relevant now as it did way back then. And look for more of my memories during the next couple weeks.
(The follow article was originally posted on May 9, 2007).
You walk into the local wine store and are confronted with walls upon walls of bottles. Which wine should you buy?
You go to a fine restaurant and are confronted with a multi-page wine list. Which wine should you buy?
The popularity of wine continues to soar. There are literally thousands of different wines, from many different countries, available to the consumer. We are deluged with options. A typical liquor store stocks hundreds of different wines and a specialty wine shop might stock 1000 wines or more. Restaurant wine lists might contain as many as a few hundred selections. So, with these often bewildering choices, which wines should you drink?
There are numerous sources containing recommendations and ratings for many wines. Wine magazines such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Decanter. There are other magazines as well, not devoted solely to wine, that contain columns and articles on wine such as Gourmet and Esquire. Each year, several books are released with their annual wine recommendations. Many newspapers now contain weekly articles on wine. You can easily consult any of these reference works and choose an award-winning or highly rated wine. But, if you did so, you might take it home, drink a glass and find that you dislike the wine. Where did you go wrong? Why doesn’t the wine seem as good as the critics say it is supposed to be?
The answer is simple. Enjoying wine is very much a subjective activity. Sure, the critics can judge a wine by certain objective criteria. They can rate a wine in comparison to others. But, at its core, it is all about one’s own individual preferences, one’s own taste. You should drink wines that you enjoy drinking, whether they cost $5 or $500 a bottle. Red, white, sweet, dry, oaky, tannic, grassy, fruity. Drink what you like. Your tastes may vary drastically from the critics, but they are your tastes and they are not wrong. They are merely different. And they are what please you. And don’t we drink wine because it pleases us?
So, how do you know what type of wines you like? The primary method to determine your likes and dislikes is to taste different wines. Taste as many as you can. There are a plethora of diverse tastes in wines and you never know what might appeal to you. So, trying new wines might lead to a new favorite. Tastes can change over time so you might want to try wines again that you once did not like. You might be surprised with the results. Taste wines with and without food as food too can alter the taste and experience of a wine. Taste will also vary with your mood.
One of the best and often risk-free ways to taste a lot of different wines is to attend wine tastings at local liquor/wine stores. Because of the popularity of wine, many of these stores now hold wine tastings, often weekly, and they usually are free. On average, you can usually try 4-6 wines at these tastings, sometimes including some expensive ones. There are even tastings where you can try over 100 wines, all for free. There are some tastings that charge a fee but the fee is commonly low and you usually get to try numerous different wines. To find out about local tastings, simply ask at the liquor/wine stores you frequent or do an online search. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn about different wines, to see which ones you might enjoy. You have nothing to lose.
There are other ways to taste different wines as well. If you go to a restaurant, you can order a meal with wine pairings, where the restaurant matches different glasses of wine to different food courses. You thus get to taste about 3-7 different wines. Some places also have wine flights on their menu, where you get to try three different wines for the price of a single glass of wine. Obviously, the sample sizes are small, but combined they equal one glass of wine. If you go to a party, with various wines available, you should take a chance and try something different.
The hardest part sometimes is remembering what wines you like and do not like. Thus, it can be helpful to take notes, writing down wines you enjoy. That will make it easier if you go to a wine store and want to buy something you like. You can also ask the staff at the wine store for recommendations on wines that are similar to the ones you enjoy. In addition, it can help if you go to a restaurant. Even if they do not carry the particular wine you want, they might be able to recommend a wine that is very similar to the one you wanted.
So, should you just ignore all recommendations and ratings? No, as they can still be beneficial though the foundation remains individual taste. If you know what you like, recommendations and ratings can point you to similar wines of which you might not be aware. Or to avoid certain wines because they contain elements you dislike. For example, if you dislike oaky chardonnay, then a wine review that mentions a particular chardonnay is very oaky would be something to avoid. In addition, if you are adventurous, they might direct you to wines that you are willing to take a risk on and buy. You might also find that your tastes are similar to a particular reviewer or critic, and thus you might feel more comfortable with their recommendations.
In the end, taste some wine. Then taste some more.