As 2012 winds down to an end, we reflect back on some of the changes and shifts seen in the food and beverage industry. America has become a ‘foodie’ nation, and what once was just a passing interest in food, wine, and cocktails has become a passion for many, regardless of status or household income.
Bloggers are chasing food trucks, pop up restaurants and bars are occurring more frequently in major markets, and the topic of wine comes up in every day conversation in ways that 5 or 10 years ago, might had only happened within affluent or ‘sophisticated’ crowds.
When we sat down with Columbia Crest Winery’s newly appointed head winemaker, Juan Munoz Oca , for dinner at Prato restaurant last month, the keyword we’ve been hearing all year long came up in conversation once again: approachability.
Raised in Mendoza, Argentina, he worked with his grandfather, a cellar master for Bodegas Toso winery, from a young age. Sharing stories from his childhood, and the contrasts of parents with very different perceptions of food and wine, Munoz Oca explained that his father also made wine in Argentina, and had a deep appreciation for the characteristics and subtle nuances that a perfect vintage could display. His mother, however, was simple with her wine choices, either liking them, or not, and giving her approval based on taste and personal opinion quickly, and definitively. Food was love in their household, and wine-although perceived differently by each member, was part of the grand experience.
The point was clear: appreciating and enjoying wine does not require a degree in viticulture, and as we can appreciate the opinions of experts like Robert Parker, or the like, we should not be swayed by a price tag (there’s nothing wrong with a wine under $15), or rely solely on the minority for guidance in purchasing wine to pair with dinner, or as a gift.
Interestingly, a study earlier this year by researchers at Penn State and Brock University in Canada found that, due to biology or simply the sheer quantity of wine tasted over the years, most of us cannot detect the same things in wine that an expert can.
In a conversation at Tales of the Cocktail earlier this summer, we shared this same topic of discussion with Mitch Frank, associate editor from Wine Spectator magazine. Frank brought out that, with thousands of new wines coming on to the market each month, and only a handful of experts in the world, the likelihood of a potentially great wine being missed is high. “We can’t drink 500 wines in a month. It’s simply impossible to do.”
So how can you make your own decisions about wine, and navigate the barrage of shelf talkers, wide swaths of price points, and big brand marketing tactics being aimed squarely at your wallet on a weekly basis?
Here are 5 tips to help you in choosing wine:
- Keep it simple. Pairings aren’t difficult, but if you’re new to wine, the old adage of red wine with meat, and whites with vegetables, fish, or fowl is a safe bet. Try a variety of wines within your price range, and remember to keep notes on what you did or did not like about each wine. Cabernet, as an example, consistently has notes of menthol or eucalyptus. This appeals to some, but not all, red wine drinkers. Even the experts have preferences.
- Try new things regularly. Your mother was right-if you haven’t tried it, you don’t know if you’ll like it. Experts refine their palates by regularly tasting and trying new wines, both alone and with foods, paying attention to and concentrating on flavors, smells, and textures. Not to mention, our taste buds regenerate every few years. Just because you had one malbec that didn’t suit you, doesn’t mean you won’t like it at a later date.
- Do some digging. Start reading, and get to know your wines. Some years will be better than others, and the weather and soil conditions will highly affect the quality and characteristics of a vintage. The drier the season, the more intense the grapes, and potentially the better the wine, depending on region, age, and other factors. So read up. Worst case, you’ll have something else to talk about around the water cooler on Monday.
- Comparison shop. A noteworthy fact about Columbia Crest is their willingness to compare their brand to the competition. Munoz Oca said that every few months, their team goes shopping at a few retail locations, and buys up bottles of similarly priced wines within their varietal categories, tries them, and considers whether or not their product is meeting or exceeding expectations within the group. So host a tasting. Buy 2 or 3 moscatos under $10, and have a few friends over to discuss what you like (or don’t) about each wine. We’re generally not big fans of moscato, but when paired with the citrus sorbetto and salted caramel gelato at Prato, Columbia Crest’s recent addition to their portfolio shined like a star on the menu. It was semi-dry, with gentle notes of toast and oak, with elderflower and the slightest frizzante on the palate. For under $13 a bottle, this wine is an affordable addition to a dinner with friends or family.
- Don’t be afraid of a (low) price tag. Although we’ve had great wines at retail prices from $20 to $65, and higher, winemakers and importers are now beginning to understand that creating approachable, affordable wine is in their best interest, and yours. Some of the best wines on the market today fall under the $18 tag, and can be found everywhere from your big box wine and spirits retailer, to small wine shops, online wine discounters, and more.