By Elspeth Brown
When I was growing up, there was no wine in the house. The only time I ever saw anyone drinking wine was on Thanksgiving and, possibly, Christmas and at my mom’s book club gatherings. My mom was never very comfortable with drinking wine because she didn’t really enjoy the taste and didn’t know what to buy; it was daunting.
I wasn’t introduced to wine until I enrolled in culinary school, was required to take a class and fell in love with all of it. The reason I became so passionate about vineyards, grapes and the juice produced is because I was taught how to enjoy it. Now that I own a wine store and have been able to suggest wines that my mom will enjoy, it has opened a whole new wine world for her.
The absolute best way to learn about different wines is to taste as many as you can. A wine tasting allows the consumer to compare the differences and pick a favorite from the lineup without being overwhelmed. Grab a wine tasting notebook, take notes, star the favorites and, at the end of a month, see which style of wine you keep gravitating towards.
Most wine novices begin drinking wines that are too full-bodied or overwhelming for the untrained palate. A good rule of thumb is to begin tasting the lightest bodied wines and grow from there. A basic overview of the most common wines characterized by body are as follows: white wine (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay) and red wine (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon).
Another aspect to consider is what style of wine you enjoy. Old World wine styles typically taste drier and less fruity, and have more acidity. Old World wines are from countries such as France, Spain, Germany and Italy that have made wines for thousands of years. New World wines tend to offer ripe, bright fruit tastes and less acidity. New World wines come from the US, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. I recommend starting with wines from these countries because they are very smooth and easy, without a bite.
Even if you are not a fan of sweet wines like Riesling or Moscato, or dry wines like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s important to taste them to, at least, get a basis of body and sugar levels. This will help give a reference to sugar levels in other wines. For instance, I have had some customers ask for a red wine that is not sweet like Pinot Noir. But, compared to a Riesling, the sugar content in a Pinot Noir is much lower. They probably don’t enjoy a fruit-forward Pinot Noir, but might enjoy a French Pinot Noir that offers a light, earthy, drier red wine. So, it’s always beneficial to taste wines that might be out of your comfort level because they might just surprise you.
Here are some questions to ask when you are tasting wine: Do I like a light or full-bodied wine? Do I like acidity? Do I like wine aged in oak or in stainless steel? What don’t I like about this wine?
There are no wrong answers and no wrong wines. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t like a certain wine because it’s too sweet or doesn’t cost enough. If you enjoy it, it’s the right wine for you. Enjoy tasting and have fun!
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit maggiebswine.com or call 828.645.1111.