Posts Filed Under wine tips
I’m a dog guy.
While I don’t hate cats, I don’t love cats, either. Mostly, I get along best with the cats that think they’re dogs anyway. Since this post is going to be about my schooling of wine appreciation literally going to the dogs, my apologies in advance to those who are cat lovers. I’ve never been taught anything about wine appreciation from a cat (more on learning wine stuff from domesticated house pets in a minute) – though they have taught me the art of totally ignoring people.
Dude here has been given primary Dog Duty at the House of Dude. I’m the one who now has to feed and walk our Weimaraner, Samson (see pic above).
Sammy has been a great sport throughout the whole adjusting-to-the-baby thing, and he is very, very sweet with the baby. Having to walk the dog more often than I used to has made me take more notice of Sam’s behaviors – such as licking the baby, sniffing around, licking himself, sniffing the baby, licking himself, and licking himself (did I mention licking himself?).
By observing Sam, I’ve actually learned a bit about wine appreciation. And no, it doesn’t involve drinking so much that you want to sniff someone’s butt, unless that’s your thing (licking yourself is also optional). Though it does apparently involve startling segues from dog licking to wine tasting… maybe I should have thought about that one a bit more…
Anyway, straight from the home office in suburban eastern-PA, here are 3 Things that Your Dog Can Teach You About Wine Appreciation…
- Short, concentrated sniffs work best. Dogs have some of the best senses of smell around – and Weimaraners have one of the best noses in the doggie business. When my dog smells something, he doesn’t take a long, drawn-out, overly-dramatic sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiffffff. He takes a burst of short, concentrated sniffs. Sniff… sniff-sniff… sniff-sniff-sniff-sniiiiiifff.
Turns out there is a lot of merit in that approach if you really want to smell something thoroughly – and in the case of wine, smelling is where you will get about 80% of your enjoyment and appreciation. Shorter sniffs help to focus your olfactory senses, and may also help to keep your sense of smell from fatiguing too quickly. The sharper your sense of smell, the more you can pinpoint what aspects you like (or don’t like) about the wine that your tasting.
In the case of wine, smelling is where you will get about 80% of your enjoyment and appreciation for your glass of vino.
- Focus, focus, focus. Ever try to move a dog from a spot when he is smelling it during a walk? If not, I encourage you to do this as a test of your own upper limits of frustration. My dog will frequently stop in his tracks, plant his nose into a smell, and lock all four powerful legs so tightly that it would take a tow truck, steel cables, and an act of Congress to move him from whatever he is sniffing at that moment.When a dog is really smelling something, nothing can break his concentration. At that point, there is no walk, there is no leash, there is no master – there is only the smell. If you want to experience everything that a wine has to offer, you’d do well to imitate the concentration that the average dog gives to any random oder in which s/he gets interested. With that kind of focus, you’d be on your way to wine-tasting pro status in no time.
- Don’t rush it. Once my dog stops smelling something and decides to start eating it, he is an shining example of what not to do when enjoying a wine (or any food or drink, for that matter). My dog will inhale food that he really likes. He will eat it so quickly, you would think there was a pack of angry, hungry velociraptors waiting 7 inches away from him ready to steal his morsels should he take more than 14 nanoseconds to eat them. The tastier the treat, the less he chews (or breathes) before swallowing.Which is exactly what you don’t want to do when enjoying a wine. Take your time. Savor it. That glass isn’t going anywhere, man. Relaaaax. See, isn’t that nice? Sniff. Swirl. Focus. And enjoy.Now, go walk that dog!
(images: 1WineDude.com, nytimes.com, galacticpudding, javelinaleapwinery.com)
Vintages. Can’t live with `em… pass the beer nuts!
The question of whether or not wine vintages (the year printed on the label, which is almost always the year when the wine’s grapes were harvested) matter is one that often perplexes the budding wine enthusiast.
The questions that the Dude here regularly fields regarding wine vintages generally come in this variety:
Is it a “born on” date? Or an indicator of quality? Or a deciding factor in how long (or if) a wine can be aged?
The answer is “Yes.”
In this post, I’m going to try to clear up some of this vintage mess for ya. Mostly because I genuinely want to help. And, to be totally honest, because I get asked about wine vintages a lot, so I want to have a place to send people for more info. (read: I am lazy and don’t feel like answering the question anymore… hey, so sue me, I’ve got a newborn in the house!)….
Here’s the honest truth (well, the truth according to the 1WineDude, that is) about wine vintages: For the most part, the wine vintages printed on the label don’t matter all that much.
The reason that wine vintages (mostly) don’t matter is two-fold:
- 99% of wine sold today is not meant to be aged. Most of the wine that you encounter is meant to be enjoyed within 6 to 18 months of the vintage. In this sense, the vintage year functions more like a “born on” date – if someone is trying to sell you a really inexpensive older vintage wine, it’s probably because they want to pawn off their remaining stock of that vino that’s won’t otherwise sell because it’s past its prime.
Does this mean that the wine will magically turn into vinegar at the stroke of midnight 18 months after the vintage date, Cinderella-style? No – but thanks to the miracle of chemistry, there’s a good chance that the fruit characteristics of the wine will start to dissipate after that time. For the majority of everyday drinking wine that you might buy, you can set a mental note to enjoy it before its second harvest birthday. That way, you will get a chance to sample those tasty fruit flavors before they disappear.
For the most part, the wine vintages printed on the label don’t matter all that much.
- Modern wine-making can turn even poor harvest years into decent (and sometimes great) wine. Many moons ago, before the advent of versatile solutions for modern living that we take for granted today (like refrigerated transport, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks, and best of all those nifty little laser-pointer flashlights that can fit on your keychain), winemaking techniques were not as advanced as they are today. As a result, the conditions of a particular harvest year (weather, economy, invasion by the Huns, etc.) could have a dramatic impact on a wine’s quality.
While this is still true today to some extent, the stability of most of the world’s major winemaking areas, coupled with ultra-modern winemaking techniques and technologies means that consistent producers can churn out decent everyday drinking wine even in poor harvest years. In my experience, this has even been true for some fine wine in “bad” vintage years from regions with consistent weather (like California – Opus One’s 1998 blend is a good example of this).
So when does a vintage really matter?
Vintages do matter when you’re splurging on a fine wine purchase from a region that has a variable climate year to year.
The most famous example of this being red Burgundy, the fickle Pinot Noir areas of France that can produce wine tasting like sublime berry seduction one year, and rotten cabbage the next. If you’re going to shell out the coin for something special (either for drinking now or laying down for a special occasion later), it can’t hurt to do a little vintage homework. I recommend using the mobile vintage chart from BBR.com, which you can reference right from your web-enabled cell phone while at your local wine shop. This can help you to gauge the relative quality of a vintage for a fine wine purchase.
BUT… don’t steer clear of a vintage entirely just because it’s been deemed of lesser quality than a previous year. Why? You can miss some amazing bargains that way – these vintages are like a lower stock value; it’s time to buy. In an “off-year” you might have access to quality wines that might normally be out of your comfortable price range, and it’s a chance for you to explore the winemaking styles of great producers without totally breaking the bank.
Vintages do matter when you’re splurging on a fine wine purchase from a region that has a variable climate year to year. The most famous example of this being red Burgundy, the fickle Pinot Noir from France that can taste like sublime berry seduction one year, and rotten cabbage the next.
The majority of my fine wine purchases have been in “bad” vintages – I scoop that up like a day-trading stock hunter! The bottom line is that a passionate producer with talented staff and a history of great winemaking will still make impressive wine in an off year. They may not be wines of sublime perfection, but they sure as hell won’t be bad, and they have the potential to totally knock your socks off.
(images: globalbeautes.com [modified by the 1WineDude], art.com, weimax.com)
Everyone makes mistakes. In the case of the Dude here, mistake frequency is pretty much daily. Thankfully, almost every mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Fortunately for you, the Dude here has made plenty of mistakes when it comes to drinking and appreciating wine. That means that you don’t have to make all of those same mistakes, my friend! You can thank me later (preferably with a bottle or two of `82 Mouton…).
Anyway – following are Top 5 of the most common mistakes in wine drinking and wine appreciation that I’ve come across (or made myself) during my life dabbling in the wine biz. Hopefully these help you to avoid the same…
- The Over-pour. Far and away, the most common mistake that I’ve seen is over-pouring wine into your wine glass. Believe it or not, being skimpy in this case is not being wimpy – pouring the right amount of wine is what you need to do to allow you to really enjoy the wine in your glass.
Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming. It’s a killer for wine enjoyment because a) it prevents the wine’s aromas from being concentrated towards your nose (where they belong), b) it prevents you from swirling the wine in your glass (which releases those wonderful aromas and flavors in the first place) and c) it makes you much more likely to spill your wine (and you probably paid good money for it!).
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wait a second Dude – waiters do the Over-pour all the time in restaurants. What am I supposed to do about that?” Simple: ask for a second (empty) wine glass. Now you have two glasses of wine that you can fill properly (which basically means filling to the bowl shape of the glass and not beyond). You’re welcome!
Serving wine at the wrong temperature. Wine that is too cold will taste dull, with subdued fruit characteristics. Wine that is served too hot will taste astringent and will highlight the alcohol above the other flavors in the wine.
“Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming.”
In a word – Yuck.
Now, you don’t need to be too anal about this one, but to get the most out of your wine, you do need to get the wine temperature in the right ballpark – and the right ballpark is different depending on they type of wine you’re trying to enjoy. Sweet whites and sparklers usually stand up to the coldest temperatures; hefty reds like Zinfandel and Port can withstand the highest temps. For more specific information, check out this handy chart of wine serving temps from recipetips.com.
End-Bin shopping. What does “End-Bin shopping” mean? It means shopping only at those flashy, special displays at the end of the aisles in wine stores. Why is this a mistake? Because the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die.
If you already know the wine and think it’s a good buy, then you may have found a good deal in that end-bin. While it’s certainly possible to catch a great bargain, I’ve also seen on many, many occasions wines that are woefully past their prime stuck into the end-bin at steep “discounts”. Don’t totally ignore those end-bins – but it’s a big mistake to make those the only stops on your foray through the wine store.
Ignoring the sauce. There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to wine and food matching. I only really offer people two rules: 1) Match the “weight”/body of the food with the weight/body of the wine (lighter wines with lighter fare, heftier wines with heartier fare) and b) Don’t ignore the sauce!
“…the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die…”
A thick, flavorful sauce can turn a lighter dish into a heavy monster of a meal. So, if you’re pairing a lighter wine with that heavier sauce, you might not ever get to really taste that wine, as it will get totally overpowered. Epicureans take note!
Not doing any homework. You by no means need to have fancy-schmansy wine certifications to appreciate wine. But a little knowledge about wine styles and wines from different areas of the world can arm you with a very important weapon when it comes to wine enjoyment: Context.
What do I mean by context? I mean knowing what some of those wines typically taste like, and what foods are typically enjoyed with them. This allows you to avoid a whole heap of mistakes when it comes to wine appreciation, because it means you’re more likely to taste the wine in its proper context. Someone can tell you that they hate Italian wines – and if that person tried those wines with super-spicy Thai food instead of Italian cuisine, they’re probably not giving that poor Italian wine a fighting chance to be liked!
Grab yourself a book and get in some wine learning. Take a wine class, practice your tasting, or host a wine tasting party. The important thing is to keep an open mind about wine, and be willing to learn – in terms of helping you avoid the most common wine drinking foibles, those two things will never let you down.
(images: chichesterdesign.co.uk, comparestoreprices.co.uk, oleswanson.com)