I am constantly asked to tell people what my favorite wine is, or more to the point, what do I know as a wine insider that they need to know to best spend their money. They think that the wine-educated are part of a secret “in the know” club where we know which wines to buy and they don’t. While there is a thread of truth to that, I am always uncomfortable recommending wines to the novice drinkers for a number of reasons, and because I believe that this simply makes me an enabler to the wine-dysfunctional.
First, I loathe recommending specific wines to the neophytes because I never feel like I have a firm grasp of where their tastes lie. The uninitiated seem to have a real problem articulating what they like without using the ultimate enigma of wine descriptors: dry. I’ll write a much more tangential rant about dry somewhere down the line, but for the sake of brevity, please refrain from using this term unless you are 100% sure of what it means (i.e. The opposite of sweet, ergo, almost all wine). I only blame people like me for rating wine, and making wine declarations. Second, I always feel like I need to give them a list of detailed instructions about what to look for, and the historical significance of the vineyard, etc… for a specific wine. Third, there are certain sophistication signposts along the road of wine education that are like tax brackets. The wine drinker doesn’t know they’ve passed them until they are told they’ve passed them. For example, Americans don’t immediately understand Red wines with acidity. When a consumer understands, say, a good Cotes du Rhone, or any myriad of central and northern Italian reds, that is step one. I don’t know how many steps there are, but I would be hesitant to offer a Gruner Veltliner to just anyone on the street, even though the wines are fabulous, 98% of the people that drink wine wouldn’t appreciate it.
I know that I could solve all of the above issues by recommending a nice, well made, middle of the road $15 Aussie Shiraz, but that’s not what I want to do. Instead, I recommend wine books, wine tasting events, tasting groups. There is a reason why people become obsessed with wine, and it’s impossible to show someone without experience, the next great wine. It’s sort of like the difference in looking at the vast countryside from a hill or from space. The only way to truly take it all in is to start experiencing as much as possible.
For me, the most amazing thing is palate memory. You can just immerse yourself in all of the wine available, and one day it will all just click, you aren’t required to study, or take notes, just simply pay attention to places, vintages and names, and it will all begin to make sense without any effort. Our palates will do all of the work for you. Of course, it’s always better to explore in a tasting group, and spend some time working on your vocabulary.
So ask me what wine I recommend, I’ll simply reply “give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”