Introducing Newbies To Vino
Wednesday - March 10, 2006
I am always interested in how people are introduced to the world of wine - especially here in Hawaii, since we do not have the same longstanding culture of wine as Europeans do.
There are very few people who grow up in Hawaii drinking wine (the legal drinking age is still 21) or who are raised by a family that consumes wine as a regular beverage. Usually people see wine as something saved for special occasions, or people get hooked on wine during their travels and vacations. But I always get to thinking, what is the best way for people to be introduced to wine?
In the wine industry, most people are introduced to new wines on their own, without food. More often a single wine is tasted in a lineup of many from two or three to more than 100 wines at a time, especially in big, I mean huge tastings. I have to admit I once tasted 132 wines in a span of four hours! Even we wine writers have to go through these types of tastings to see what is new and exciting. And most often the wines that are big and loud are the ones that people remember.
But in the “real world,” how many people actually drink wines on their own, without any food? Not many. It amazes me as to how wine writers can give a million points to a Cabernet Sauvignon, yet if that wine is paired with spicy curry or a nice salad, I don’t care how many points it got, it will taste bitter and stringent. Now is that their idea of a “perfect wine”? Not to mention ... OK, I won’t get started on points. Suffice to say that I don’t depend on ratings to find the wines that I truly love.
What I’m trying to get at is that the first introduction to wine is different for everyone. I have a friend who was in the Army in the 442nd and was introduced to wine during World War II. As they liberated many of the towns, the townspeople came running to greet them and served them some of their best wines. That hooked him.
On the other hand, I was introduced to it in a wine class. You may have had wine for the first time at someone’s wedding or your trip to Paris. The possibilities are endless. But what draws people to wine is that it is such a unique beverage.
Fine wine is made only from grapes and yet has so many complexities that you don’t get in any other beverage. It expresses its place of origin better than any other food product. It’s also a legacy of the culture it comes from and the cuisine that evolved with it. I think that’s one of the major reasons why people often say that the wines they taste when they are in the area of production taste so different from the ones they taste when they get home. Chianti tastes better in Tuscany than it does in a mom and pop diner on the corner.
But if you’re going to introduce someone else to wine, especially for the neophytes and uninitiated, it should be a very friendly wine. A wine that isn’t too acidic, sweet, heavy, tannic or earthy. To people who haven’t tried many wines, a wine that is smooth, ripe, with plenty of intensity usually gets them interested. Powerful wines can sometimes turn people off. It raids their senses with oak and alcohol, to which their palates are unaccustomed, and it can really put a bitter taste in their mouths, pun intended.
It’s kind of like weight training. You don’t start off with a 55-pound dumbbell curl. And wines that are too soft or light may not do the trick either. Make sure the wine is not bland and ordinary. It has to have interest for people to have another taste. Also, having a few things to munch on is always a good idea.
In whatever manner you are introduced to wine, here are a few very friendly wines that I’d like to introduce to you which the beginner can easily cuddle up to:
2003 Farnese Montepulciano d’Abruzzo $9. The only thing tough about this wine is pronouncing it. Wave your hands with each syllable and pretend you’re in Italy. Smooth, flavorful, an exceptional value. It washes down the palate so easily, like velvet. It washes down pasta with tomato sauce even easier.
2001 Luna Vineyards Merlot, Napa Valley $26. How often do you see me recommending a merlot? Rich, complex and silky. I love the way the wine finishes with fruit instead of tannin. Garlic pepper steak, anyone?
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