level up your wine jedi skills
By David Brookes
Despite all its good intentions, wine can be hard. It’s wines own fault of course. It tends to throw up barriers and make itself seem more complicated than it should be. All snooty and poncy looking with strange language, implied required knowledge and weird rituals. It is after all a beverage, one that should be a social lubricant. One whose raison d’être is solely to be delicious. That’s it. We humans tend to make things more complicated than they really need to be.
But in saying that, wine, just like food, art, literature, curling and interpretive dance, can be as simple or as geeky as you wish to make it. Knowledge is power after all. And if you dream of increasing your wine knowledge to Jedi-like levels, perhaps to the point where you can impress your friends and confound your enemies with crowds of envious shoppers parting for you as you walk down the aisle of your local like some badass samurai from an Akira Kurosawa movie, then you are in luck. We have some things we’d like you to consider.
Taste, taste, taste
Go forth and taste widely. At in-store tastings and wine events. Try new wine styles, organise a dinner party with friends and everyone has to bring a wine style they haven’t tried before. Trust your brethren and sistren at Vinomofo to steer you towards interesting wines that are delicious. Have fun with it. Ask questions, make mistakes and don’t sweat the poncy stuff. And of course, trust your palate. You know what you like.
Build Your Wine Vocabulary
I am a constant source of embarrassment for my partner when we go shopping. I sniff everything. It is essential to build the vocabulary of ones schnozz and be able to describe what you are smelling. If that cheeky little triptych white blend from Alsace reminds you of sniffing your Gran’s sweater and has a fleeting hint of rutting sea otters, you go there. I won’t judge you. In fact I’ll probably give you a hug and a high five.
Pronunciation of grape varieties and wine regions is an area where it is worth worth taking some time getting things right. If you are going to try an unfamiliar grape…. You know, say you were interested in the 500+ indigenous varieties around the Caucasus and had your heart set on finding a bottle of mtsvane (Matz-Varn-Ay) to have with dinner or fancied the refreshing, effervescent lift of a bottle of txakoli (Cha-Koh-Lee) from the Basque country to cool yourself down on a warm day. You are going to have to do some research to make sure you can pronounce those bad boys before you make yourself look like a weirdo.
The internet makes things easy. Plug a name into your favourite flavour of search engine and bingo, instant gratification. Great success! Practise in front of the mirror like Travis Bickle from ‘Taxi Driver’ before you ask for your wine and you will be good-to-go. But be careful. Not all search results are equal and there are nefarious people that aim to trip you up. For instance, this is certainly not the correct way to pronounce Châteauneuf-du-Pape!
Don’t Sweat the Technical and Geeky Stuff
A lot of stuff about wine you just don’t need to know. Sure, terroir, that lovely French expression for a wines sense of place is cool and if you feel like going down a particular rabbit hole further down the track, that’s great, but as long as it tastes good and you enjoy it, don’t sweat it. Of course blurting out “this sauvignon blanc has an impressive level of 2-Methoxy-3-isobutyl pyrazine” at a dinner party can, and will impress some people but it can also lead to you being ostracized from your social group, so use such knowledge sparingly.
It’s handy to know a little about wine faults. Thankfully, in this part of the world, the majority of producers have made the move to screw-cap closures so cork taint is increasingly rare. But still, those Northern Hemisphere luddites cling to tradition and if you drink European wines, you may come across the dreaded TCA or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole. It’s a damp, cardboardy smell and it’s one that is worth being able to recognise. Next time you are at a restaurant, ask your friendly sommelier if they have had any wines that have been rejected by customers because of cork taint and ask if you can have a sniff so you can recognise the smell. I’m sure they will more more than happy to help. It’s an important one to file away in the old noggin. Same goes for prematurely oxidised wines. They tend to smell like bruised apples.
I guess that advice can be deployed across all of your life’s endeavours, we are only on this planet for a fleeting moment so we might as well make the most of it. But yeah, be curious. Push yourself out the the comfort zone and try new things. Overcome your innate fear of teutonic wine terms and try wines with names like Kabinett, Prädikat and Trockenbeerenauslese on the label. Read wine books, take a wine course, visit wine regions and not just cellar doors, actually ring the winemaker and make an appointment and ask questions and soak it all in, for they are the special visits, the ones where you taste from the barrel and life is good.
Start a wine cellar, be it in a cupboard or in a special wine fridge. Put stuff away for special moments, drink stuff that you like, open bottles that you like for other people and most of all, never make fun of someone else’s level of wine knowledge or taste in wine. One thing that becomes clear when you begin to journey down the road of wine knowledge, you never know it all. You always learn something new every time you crack open a bottle and it is a subject filled with wonder and surprises. And that is what makes wine such a beautiful thing. And if you see me sitting on a stool at a wine bar, tap me on the shoulder and say hi. I’ll pour you a glass.