Our goal, here at GrapeSmart, has always been to guide value-minded consumers through th
e somewhat treacherous labyrinth of cheap stuff to find the best wines out there under $25.
As a guide, I feel I’ve been a little remiss lately. Not that I don’t think it’s good to find value in the world’s most storied wine regions, but I think maybe some readers would benefit from going back to basics, the most basic basics, to make value Bordeaux – or any other wine, for that matter – maybe make a little more sense.
So let’s bring it all back to Square One:
1. Unless you’re drinking a “specialty” fruit wine, it’s just grapes in there. When people talk about tasting strawberries, blueberries, cat pee or saddle leather, none of those things are actually in the wine. The various scents/tastes come from the grapes, the place the grapes were grown/the way the grapes were grown (terroir) and the way the grapes were fermented. Some bouquet and taste elements such as wood, vanilla, coconut, etc come from the wooden barrels where some wines are aged. That’s basically it.
It’s the ju-ju of the wine making process that turns grapes on a vine into what winds up in the glass – in all its flavored glory. That alchemy of sunlight, water, grapes, growing conditions, craftsmanship and fermentation. It’s a natural wonder. And even though your wine might taste like grapefruit, there really isn’t any grapefruit in there – really.
2. Give it a swirl. No matter what you might be afraid of, it won’t make you French. What it will do is “wake up” the wine and allow the juice to release molecules to help you better smell and taste the wine, providing a more layered, richer overall experience. Go on – try it. If you feel self-conscious, we won’t watch.
3. Find some body to love. When we talk about “body,” we mean the structure of the wine and how it feels in your mouth. The combination of acid and sugar/alcohol. The tannins (that “puckery,” dry-mouth feeling you get with some red wines). The way it all comes together on your palate when you take a sip. Sometimes this is also referred to as the spine or the backbone but – like the aroma/bouquet/flavors I mentioned before – there are no actual bones in your juice. It’s just an expression.
4. Enjoying a good screw [top] doesn’t make you cheap. There are a whole host of reasons why producers across the planet are choosing not to put a cork in it. It’s no longer just the bottom-dollar liquor store libations that are easy to open these days – even a couple of the nicer Napa Cabernets have screw tops now. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Some of the world’s finest Champagnes are fermented with the type of crown caps found on bottles of beer. Cork no longer equals class. So feel free to screw off with impunity.
5. When it comes to wine, location is everything. Except when it isn’t. Generally speaking, certain types of grapes have been grown in certain places [Europe] for a really, really, really long time. Sometimes these grapes are mixed (blended) with other grapes from the same vineyard or region, sometimes there is only a single type of grape (varietal) in the bottle, but – especially in places like France and Italy – the resulting wine is named for the place from which the wine comes. This is why you’re likely to run into a bunch of French Burgundy (and white French Burgundy, as well), but very few bottles labeled French Pinot Noir. In the Americas, Australia and other “New World” regions, wines tend to be labeled by what’s in the bottle. For example, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is wine that can come from anywhere in New Zealand, fermented from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
6. Spitting or swallowing is a personal choice. Although it’s sort of strange to find so
much expectorating in an environment as typically rarefied as the wine world, there’s a very simple reason why people do it: To avoid getting drunk. If you choose to spit – baby, it’s all good. Or if you’d rather swallow, we won’t judge; just know that you won’t be able to taste for very long stretches – and you’ll probably want to make sure you have someone to drive you home.
Certainly I didn’t even scratch the surface of what there is to learn. And beware even the wine “expert” who claims to know it all. But everyone has to start somewhere, and these few intro bits should set you up to start you on your way – especially if you’d like to try attending a wine tasting.
Have a question? ASK! Always ask! Whether it’s at your local wine shop (Lord knows I’m forever bugging the guys near me), or by writing to Jess or me here at GrapeSmart. It’s easy to be intimidated, but – instead – just try to have fun. Salut!