Ten Things I'd Like To Tell People Who Don't Read Wine Stories

Categories: Wine

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Grez Neuville/Trip Advisor
​I was tasting wine at my desk at 11 a.m. when a coworker asked why. Because I hadn't had time earlier, I said; it's best to taste early in the day when your palate is fresh.

That wasn't what he was getting at. He drinks wine, but never considered tasting as a separate event from drinking. That's because he doesn't read stories about wine.

Joe and folks like him buy the majority of the world's wine: they drink it, they like it or don't, but they don't obsess on it.

I'm not trying to convert anyone into wine geekery. But if I could get your attention for just three minutes, here are 10 things about wine I'd like to tell you. If you read only one wine story this year, please make it this one.

1) The package doesn't matter as much as the product
Don't avoid bottles with screwcaps or bag-in-box wines, and don't assume big heavy bottles are better, because those are just marketing.

2) You can spend too little, as well as too much
The jump to a $10 bottle from a $7 bottle is huge. The jump from a $35 bottle to a $350 bottle is often not as large. You'll drink better if you spend a little more every day, taking the money away from occasional big-money splurges.

3) Cheap wines from famous regions are not good value
If you're not spending at least $35, you're better off not buying from Napa Valley, Bordeaux (reds) or Champagne.

4) Supermarkets are the worst place to buy wine
Nobody knows anything about the wines, and the selection is usually more about the labels than the wine itself.

5) Try all your local wine shops
A good wine shop is the best place to buy wine because you can have a conversation and they'll help you find wines you like in your price range; you're not blindly grabbing bottles that look good. Go in and tell them you're having stir-fried tofu and mustard greens over brown rice for dinner, or whatever, and ask what they recommend. You might pay $1 more than you might have at Costco, but the consultation is worth it.

6) Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay aren't great with dinner
If you're having wine as a cocktail, they're fine. But in a restaurant you'll overpay for either, when the wines in the other sections of the wine list will be better and cheaper.

7) Drink more sparkling wine
Drink it when you get home from work, before dinner, with dinner, after dinner, in the bathtub, whatever. Don't wait for New Year's Eve. It's always appropriate. But don't expect anything good under about $15.

8) If you don't like a wine, it's not you, it's the wine
Just because a wine is expensive or highly rated doesn't make it enjoyable. I taste $100 wines fairly often that I just can't drink, and sometimes they have 98 point ratings from somebody whose taste differs from mine. Don't feel compelled to like a wine just because somebody else does.

9) Wine is food. Think of it that way.
Do you eat the same food every day? Do you expect every meal you eat to be great? Sometimes wine is brilliant, and sometimes it's meh. You don't give up on trying different hamburger joints after you visit a weak one. Go for variety in your wine just as much as you would in your dinner.

10) Drink wine made by a person
This one takes a little bit of work, but it's probably the most important. The world is awash in commodity wines bottled under private labels that have no identity. They're like buying a generic jar labeled "Fruit." Put the winery name into your smartphone and see what comes up. There are some very good wine brands owned by big companies, but every one of them has a real person in charge. If you can't find that kind of information in 30 seconds, buy something else.

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19 comments
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Jason Smith
Jason Smith

But I would agree that steak will go good with many other reds with nice tannin structure.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith

# 10 is the most important.  I have to disagree with # 6 as the others have pointed out.. If I'm having a fat steak I want a nice Cab. Sauv. to wash it down. 

doday
doday

Can' beleive you made the statement that wines under $35 from Napa aren't worth drinking!  I've had some GREAT wines from Napa that are well below that price point.. Firmly agree with #10 you can taste the love when a person has a passion for what they are doing.. #'s 4 and 5 are spot on too.

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

"Not good value." Not the same as not worth drinking. In Napa, a $25 wine is considered cheap.

uuallan
uuallan

A couple of points of disagreement:3. Most Bordeaux wines are under $35, so it is easy to find very good Bordeaux under $35. The Enjoy Bordeaux website lists a large number of wines under $25.

6. Cabernet Sauvignon is great with dinner!

8. If you don't like a wine, it could be you. For example, I don't like Ports, they all taste like Nyquil to me. Given that Port has been made for hundreds of years and people all over the world love it, if I don't like it, it is most likely me :)

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

A large number of wines does not equal a large number of good wines or a large number of good wines in your local wine shop. I don't disagree that good $25 red Bordeaux exists. But for $25, your chances -- in this country -- are better from other regions.

(Let me add that white Bordeaux is often great value.)

If you like Cab with dinner, keep enjoying it. However, I would ask you to name even one single dish that Cab is better with than other wines. Even steak is better with Pinot Noir or Merlot. And Cab with spicy food, green vegetable dishes, fish, shellfish? Like I said, you keep enjoying it.

Re Port: both tawnies and vintage Ports? You shouldn't be drinking Port with dinner, but I'm sure you know that. I love sipping a 20-year tawny. But you don't have to like it; more for me. Try Madeira; more acidity.

uuallan
uuallan

I would argue that this is where #5 comes in; if you tell your local wine shop owner that you love Bordeaux, he or she will probably have good recommendations for you. And, if they are like the local wine shop owners I frequent, they will even stock some of the best fr you.

We'll have to agree to disagree on this. To me nothing pairs better with a really well-prepared steak than a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Cabernet Sauvingom based blend. I am not the only one who thinks this way. If you go to any steakhouse in Chicago, where they know their steaks, and look at wine lists, cab is king.

Another amazing pairing is dark chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon. Give it a try and try the same pairing with Merlot and Pinot Noir, the chocolate overwhelms any other wine - except maybe Zinfandel.

Same results with Tawny and Madeira. My point is simply that I know this is a flaw in my pallate not a flaw with the wines.

rick gregory
rick gregory

Blake,

Re #8, I'd add that people should try to understand WHY they don't like a wine when it's highly touted. I still shudder when I was drinking some Merlot and someone offered me a taste of this tannic, high acid thing. I mean.... Gaja? from 1985? Is that good? Sigh... 

It's fine that I didn't like it, but understanding why it was supposed to be good would have educated me a bit.

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

Rick: Next time tell me when and where you're opening the '85 Gaja, and I'll try to be there for educational purposes.

Leemarkham87
Leemarkham87

This is good, very true and very honest, especially point 3! I've been trying to tell my friends that for years! Cheers!

David Boyer
David Boyer

Dear WBG,

I consider myself pretty much a wine snob. I blind tasted and rated about 2000 wines for an iPhone app named Better Wine Guide, whose focus is strictly on grocery store types of wine, all under $25. I thought writing readable tasting notes without dumbing down would be a struggle but I got through it okay. 

I have to say that I was surprised at the quality of wine in this price range on many occasions, and I'm glad I tasted blind because I would not have believed it otherwise - my biases would have gotten in the way. Incidentally, the under $25 wine represents more than 90% of the 310 million cases of wine sold in the US last year. That's clearly an enormous market segment that wine critics have largely ignored but I can find information on Lafite and Mouton all day long.

The other thing is that retailers are not always as helpful as you make them out to be. Many sales people get SPIFF money for selling junk wine to unsuspecting consumers and may not all that knowledgeable; it's just a job. Selling wine at retail ethically actually requires the development of a relationship so please don't say carte blanche that sales people are the key to finding good wine.

The wine wall is huge and everyone needs help to navigate it, whether they're buying a $7 bottle or a $700 bottle. By the way - great photo!

Best Regards,

David Boyerclassof1855.com

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

David: Perhaps I should have specified that, as you say, not all wine shops or wine shop employees are helpful. The key is to find the ones who are and keep patronizing them. San Francisco is blessed with many great wine shops, from the passionate Arlequin to the warehousey Wine Club, and I'd have a hard time naming my faves. Not every city is so blessed, but most cities have at least one or two places where you can have a real conversation with somebody who has tasted the wines, and that's really valuable.

Jab Art
Jab Art

Bottom line: Art is like Wine. Only you have to like it. Nobody else can define for you what is good or what is bad. So your advice is pretty simple information which is very good information for those new to wine or art. Stay true to yourself and your own taste. But when you say "sparkiing wine not good under $15" or "Cheap wines from famous regions are not good value", you seem to be stepping on the feet of this simple and general advice. I have had many a bottle of Spanish Cava under $10 that were very good and have purchased nice cheaper bordeaux's from Bordeaux and big reds from Napa under $35. Never EVER let money dictate bad wine or great art.

Jack Everitt
Jack Everitt

Excellent, Blake.

"Cheap wines from famous regions are not good value" - so true! You're basically paying a markup for that word Napa, Bordeaux, Barolo, Champagne or Burgundy on the label. 

Argyle Wolf-Knapp
Argyle Wolf-Knapp

Actually, that depends on where you're buying. One of the nicest wines I had in Asti (2 years ago) was a Roero Arneis which I picked up in the local farmers' market; cost me all of 5 euros. On the other hand, being a wine geek, I tend to look for that sort of thing.

Kris D.
Kris D.

Don't agree with how much you need to spend on famous region or sparkling wine; it just is not true and is rather snobbish.

rick gregory
rick gregory

I dont think it's snobbish, just incomplete. You're not going to get anything decent from Champagne for under $35...so look at cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy or heck, Gruet from, yes, New Mexico. Same for Napa Cab... you're unlikely to get anything good that's also inexpensive, but so what? Look at other regions. (And there are decent Napa cabs under $35, but... the point's not bad).

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

Rick: Yeah, I expect my friends at Napa Valley Vintners will be in touch to suggest a column on good Napa wines under $35, and I'm sure I could find 10 without too much struggle. There are always exceptions. But Napa's not really trying for the $20 market, and why should it? If you can sell the exact same product for $100 or $20, and people will actually buy it, which would you choose?

Real estate prices prevent most of Napa from being able to compete in the affordable market. Champagne probably could, purely on production cost, because it's a big region and the growers aren't paid well. But Champagne is smart: why not make people spend more? The wine sells well all over the world.

Bordeaux has a two-tier system on the Left Bank: The super-rich and the little guys. The Right Bank has more variety and if you're in France, there are plenty of good wines under 20 Euros. But the export system is complicated and doesn't really favor the consumer, and I don't like your chances of getting a good one at random. Also something wine geeks like that average consumers won't: Unlike Napa and Champagne, vintage variation is extremely important in Bordeaux. This column is intended for folks who don't carry vintage charts in their wallet.

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