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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What wine should I like?

  This is something most newer wine drinkers ask others they deem to be experts. There are so many wines out there so where do you start?

  The first place to look is at the price range. If you can't see spending more than $20 a bottle that's fine. Just know that will leave out a huge range of premium wines from Napa Cabernet to French Burgundy. On the other end of the scale don't assume you have to spend over $50 to get a good bottle of wine. Even if that were true, every meal and every circumstance probably doesn't call for anything that pricey. Does it make sense to pop open a $75 Cabernet when you're grilling burgers? (Okay, it might to some of us).
Which one of these is best?
First, define "best"
Image from winejudging.com

  There are sweet and dry wines, then there are sweet tasting wines. A dry wine that actually tastes sweet may be a fruit-forward wine--one where the fruit flavors and sometimes the alcohol (alcohol can taste sweet) overwhelm other characteristics. Some wines taste drier, some acidic, some taste more of the soil, some more of an oak barrel, etc.The trick here is: Sweeter tasting wines can seem quite pleasant on the first sip. That dry, maybe somewhat acidic wine may not be as appealing at first, but will be better with food. 

 Think of it as cocktail wines vs. dinner wines. The fruit-forward, higher alcohol wines do best in the "cocktail before dinner" situation. Usually something lower in alcohol and showing some acid backbone goes best with food. So decide how you're going to use the wine.

  I haven't mentioned what variety of wine you should try to zero in on because there is no right answer. Just know it would be a mistake to decide that you only like Pinot Gris or Merlot or whatever. There are many varieties of wine out there to explore from Chenin Blanc to Carignane.

  For red wines, in general, Grenache and Zinfandel will be more fruity wines, Pinot Noir more earthy (though some are very fruity), Cabernet is heavier. In the whites Chardonnay is softer (lower acid), Sauvignon Blanc has thirst-quenching acidity.

  You will no doubt find producers you prefer. You may find appellations you prefer for certain varieties such as, "I really like Russian River Pinot Noir, Dry Creek Zinfandel, and Carneros Chardonnay."
Look for common characteristics in wines you enjoy, such as where it's grown, or certain traits like fruity, oaky, full-bodied, etc.

  The next step is understand how you will use the wine--as a stand-alone drink (a cocktail), with a heavy, meaty dinner, during a warm afternoon chicken BBQ, etc. The circumstance and even the season (a hot day vs. a cold, winter day) makes a difference! 

  If you can't taste before buying then be able to describe what you want in a wine to a knowledgeable wine shop owner.

  As you can see "the wine you should like" can depend on how/where/when you will be drinking it.

  Should you like wines that get high point scores, win gold medals, or otherwise get lots of press? Yes, because some "experts" like these the best. No, because what they want in a wine and what you want are often different. That's important to understand.  I'm often asked by visitors, "What wine do you like?" or "What is your best-selling wine?"  You know what, that doesn't matter. It's like buying a Toyota Camry because it's the best-selling car in the U.S.  Okay, I suppose some people might actually do it for that reason, but you should be smarter with your money then just following the crowd.

  So the wine you should like is the one that fits with your life. Have fun exploring!