Wine is great. Show up to a friend’s house with a bottle of red, and you’re good. But start talking about wine, and you might feel like you’re crossing an invisible line into cartoonish snobbery.
So, let’s discuss your options for getting into wine without putting on airs. Your first stop is the dollar store, not the liquor store, to pick up some decent stemware. Decent, in this case, means the glass is clear (not coloured), has a stem (for swirling, visibility, and to avoid warming up in your paws), and has a large bowl to hold the wine. Expensive leaded-crystal glassware is nice, but not necessary for popping a few bottles.
When figuring out what to drink, the “try everything” approach is fun, but it can also be time-consuming and pricy, especially when there are thousands of varieties to try. For newbies, wine enthusiast Tom Beckett (Beckett on Wine) recommends starting with a Beaujolais.
The light red wine carries primary fruit flavours like raspberry, tart cherries, and cranberry, and it’s low in tannins, so it’s pretty agreeable to most wine drinkers. Tannins add complexity, but they also can bring a bitter, dry sensation, which some people liken to a wrung-out tea bag.
“If these [Beaujoliais] seem good to drink, then try Beaujolais Villages in a comparative tasting, and then move up to the Cru Beaujolais,” says Beckett. Head’s up from Tom: avoid the BeaujoliaisNouveau. “This is not a nice wine at most any price,” he says.
From there, you can start tasting wines from the Pinot Noir grape, working your way up the price scale. (France, New Zealand, and Oregon are heralded as Pinot noir havens).
In white wine, Tom recommends starting with Italian Pinot Grigio, which has a reputation for being simple and refreshing. “When I have exhausted the selection of Pinot Grigio, I would pair the nicest one against a Sauvignon Blanc and work my way through the selection of Sauvignon Blanc.”
If you want to go into this whole hog (and maybe get a little day-drunk), you can pick up a Taste Station card at your NLC store, and ask the NLC Product Knowledge Consultants when you have a question.
When you’ve zeroed in on a wine you like, Tom recommends that you buy a bottle along with a different one of the same grape or blend type. This is where the grown-up party games begin.
“Open both and have a person pour your two glasses, so you do not know which wine is in which glass,” says Beckett. “Look at it, smell it, feel the wine in your mouth, taste the wine, determine how long the wine flavour lasts. Do the same for the second wine. Then have a meal. Put the cork into the bottle when the wine reaches halfway and do the same again the following night with a different meal. At the end of each meal, tell whomever poured for you which wine you think is in each glass.”
Contact Tom to get added to his Beckett on Wine e-mail list (tom. firstname.lastname@example.org) Raymonds and Magnum & Stein’s also have mailing lists with info on their various wine events