Sorry to be so frank.
Maybe it was after our trip to Italy, but at some point recently I vowed to stop drinking crappy wine.
And by “crappy,” (excuse my third grade verbiage) I mean wine that I’m just kind of meh about.
Problem is, when it comes to purchasing wine, I have no idea what I’m doing, or how to escape meh. For years I’ve simply wandered the aisles of stores, picking anything that catches my eye with a cutesy label or a funny name, praying to the wine gods my $6.99 bottle tastes close to decent.
Life is too short to waste it on bad wine.
In search of help, I sought out an expert friend of mine to shed some light on what I consider a delicious yet overwhelming topic. My friend and Zumba buddy Tracey LaPierre is an enologist and owner of Seattle Wine Lab, a quality control consulting firm for winemakers. With over 16 years in the wine biz, who knew my key to drinking better wine has been two-stepping next to me this entire time in Zumba class?
So, let’s get drinking!
Get to know your local wine shop.
“A good wine shop owner will immediately try to find your likes and dislikes,” Tracey told me right off the bat. Even some grocery store chains like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods have a knowledgable wine buyer on staff. However, while a wine shop wants to help, they aren’t mind readers. “It’s up to you as a consumer to know a handful of the wine you’ve tried so you can get the best advice he or she has to offer.”
To figure out what you like and don’t like, Tracey suggests creating a pocket wine guide.
“Jot down what you have purchased in the past. I keep a running collection of notebooks.” I figure I can easily do this on my iPhone notepad, so it’s always with me, even when I’m out and about. Her system for ratings is super simple as well: LIKE, MEH and DISLIKE. Easy enough.
Don’t be embarrassed about wine you’ve tried in the past.
“Those flavors and palate sensations have built your current palate,” Tracey says. “Even the most experienced palates have to know all of the “brown bag” wine to stay abreast in our ever-changing industry.” This part was really eye opening. It’s like realizing what life lessons you’ve learned from a bad relationship.
Ask questions and if you don’t know what to ask, ask what you should be asking.
Got that? Tracey gave me a list of some great questions to start:
- Why is he/she recommending this wine?
- What wine styles fit my preferences?
- What does tannic, dry, fruity or sweet really mean?
Get to know varietals, not just cab and chardonnay.
“There are fantastic values from countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Austria and Georgia,” Tracey says. “These countries make beautiful wine for a fraction of the cost and flavors to suit everyone.”
Don’t count out wine with screw caps.
“They used to have a bad reputation, but today the closure is used on 1/3 of the wine being produced,” Tracey mentioned. Thank goodness, because I love screw caps. They’re super convenient, especially if you aren’t drinking an entire bottle in one sitting.
If you don’t like the wine on its own, try pairing it with a meal.
I love this idea as a way to salvage a wine you’re not crazy about, but you’ve already spent your hard earned money on. “You wouldn’t drink orange juice with spaghetti right? I pair my wine to the best of my ability to compliment or contrast with the meal,” Tracey suggests. Give this a try next time, instead of dumping it down the drain, which is something I’m guilty of doing.
Finally, it’s about the wine journey, not the destination.
As with all good things in life, Tracey says the key is to keep an open mind. “I’ve only fallen in love with 20 or so wines in this world,” she says. “The search for the next great wine is the fun in drinking it.”
Bottom line: a little planning and mindfulness can cut down significantly on the possibility of ending up with another “meh” wine experience. We don’t have time for that. Life is too short.
I would love to hear about your own wine journey in the comments. What are your favorites? What are you drinking right now?