In my travels through our sales region, I answer a plethora of questions that often lead to one basic topic—coming to grips with the world of wine. So this seems like an ideal forum in which I can share what I feel are the most important things to know to achieve this. . Many of you may find these musings obvious, but I hope that they will serve as food for thought no matter how many years you have been into wine. Ideas that wines should be good, balanced, and expressive of their growing region are hardly new, but fleshing out some of my perspectives on these notions will, I hope, engender a discussion with your colleagues and customers, as well as below in the comments section.
The first duty of a wine is to be good. This is, I realize, rife with subjective notions that we all define differently. A wine should be met on its own terms and not boxed in by your own previous preferences for any particular attribute. If a wine has fruit references of cherry and all of the other elements that come along with it are in balance (an idea I’ll return to in a moment), then we should be approaching a likable wine even though you’ve only preferred wines with blackberry fruit references in the past. The same is true of sweet wines: nowadays it is ridiculous to conclude that sweet wine is inherently inferior—there are just far too many spectacular off-dry to super-sweet wines available in the market. Besides, there is an even larger ocean of marginal dry wines, so where’s the logic in hating sweet wines simply because of the existence of the likes of White Zinfandel or Liebfraumilch?
Balance of all elements in a wine, is of primary importance. This is the main area where an almost-great wine stumbles. Wines can be broken down into many elements of aroma and flavor, but I’ll oversimplify for the sake of brevity: there is its primary fruit and other botanical references, flowers, spices, herbs and such; a grape’s chemical elements, especially tannins and acidity dance in tandem and help shape the fruit elements; the soil-born flavors of earth or minerals; and finally the cellar-born additions to flavor like oak contact with grape skins, and sugar which may or may not remain in the finished wine. Every one of these components exists in infinite combinations and intensities. The closer these wine flavor elements show with equal levels of intensity, the better balanced and harmonious I believe a wine to be. This should be valid for wine at any stage in its evolution.
All things being equal, a wine should make a statement of its origins apart and before its grape-borne aspects. Terroir is not the be-all and end-all of wine, but it’s close. There are those among us that do feel that terroir is a wines sole purpose: they feel that wine, being a natural product, needs to express the special attributes particular to that one place where the vines grew. Behind this is the idea that a wine has something special to say about the earth at that particular place and time. When a winemaker blends wine from assorted areas or regions terroir gets thrown out the window. Blending has its place too, since a world in which all wines are the product of a single vineyard would be unmanageable, not to mention prohibitively expensive. There needs to be some compromise on both sides, and considering the prevailing economic forces at play in the world today, less-than-“good” wine can’t and won’t go away, so it makes no sense to expect that a “somewhereness” or a sense of place in a wine should be of paramount importance. Some would say that a wine of a particular place needs to exhibit flavors and attributes to be agreed upon by those in the know. Yet a “bad” wine (i.e., a wine whose elements are out of balance), that is true to its terroir should still be looked upon as inferior to a “good” (in balance) wine that has characteristics that are atypical for its given locale.
So what does all this meandering really mean? Well, I think that experiencing wine in its most primal form should involve meandering. Letting you get lost in the scope of it all. Try all kinds of wine, try wines that exhibit all the different attributes that a grape can offer. Most American Chardonnay is loaded up with oak. Why not try an unoaked Chardonnay? Or a fresh, luscious, off-dry Riesling? Or a spicy yet light red Zinfandel as opposed to the deep dark ones laden with hyper tannins and alcohol? Remember that often more makes for less in a wine. And above all, drink good wine of all types. The more people open their minds to wine the better the world will be. This is one instance where more is better. Let a wine come to you and you learn its language and what it has to say about its moments in the sun. A wine really can’t be expected to learn about you. Don’t force the experience. Then you’ll become more adept at applying this openness to other areas of experience and in the process become a better person. Mo better people, mo better world. Didn’t think wine had it in it did ya?
- Tim Kinstler