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Can I Recommend a Good Wine?

I get the above question very often, and 99% of the time the question of from people with very little exposure to wine.  There is no real answer to this question.  I don’t like to think of wines and “good” and “bad” but more a matter of taste.  I know what I like;  big new-world Cabs and Syrah/Shiraz, but I don’t have your taste buds so can’t possibly assume to know what you would like and by extension recommend a good wine for you.

05_egme_200x200The problem with wine, or rather the remarkable thing about wine, is there is so much difference from one to the next.  I really believe anyone can find “their” wine.  Everyone likes their own “thing” from big reds, to sweet ice wine and oaky white.  So when faced with the above question I can make recommendations as to what I like but really, my best advice is to try some wines and determine what tastes you like, don’t listen to me, don’t listen to wine reviewers until you know what characteristics of wine you like.  This isn’t about recommending a wine per se, but tastes and finding wines to match those tastes.

The best way to hone in on your wine palate is to taste, taste, taste.  The single best advice I can give anyone is to try as much wine as you can possible get into your mouth, doesn’t matter if it’s white, red, pink, purple or black, just drink it.   We learn from experience.

Take notes about what you’re drinking, identify the regions and varietals that make you say “Hey! I like that.”  Take pictures of the bottles if you can, a picture speaks 1000 words as they say, and with the proliferation of camera phones and Blackberry you can easily take a picture and upload a mini review to Flickr or Facebook to catalog your tastes.  I started to catalog all my wine on Facebook and recently moved to Flickr so I could include more notes with each picture.  You can see some of the wines I’ve tried in the last 2 years in my Flickr wine set here.

Drink with a friend, this is how I first started getting into wine.  Comparing notes with someone, describing what you are tasting can be very enlightening for both, or all, of you.  You might not even have the same tastes, but just talking about the wine helps immensely.  

To someone new to wine the whole process seems quite overwhelming, so many countries, so many different varietals (grapes), different regions in each country, white, red; the list goes on and on.  Here are some tips on making sense of it all:

Red and white tend to have very different favours and you’ll quickly identify if you like both, or favour either white or red in particular.  Word to the wise, don’t write anything off completely, always go back to what you don’t like.  Take Merlot, I’ve never been a Merlot fan, something about the taste of every Merlot I’ve tried, I’ve tried dozens, never really meshed well with my palate.  My world changed one faithful day in 2007 while at the Duckhorn winery in Napa, California.  Duckhorn is known for their Merlot, and like I said previously, you’ve got to go back to what you don’t like to see if your tastes are changing, because change they do.  The Duckhorn Merlot was wonderful, I can’t say for sure if it was the wine or the atmosphere, regardless I found a Merlot I like and that’s what this is all about, experimentation.

New Word vs Old World.  To a non-wine drinker this isn’t something that makes a ton of sense, but I’ll give you the “Coles Notes” version. When one says “old world” when referring to wine they are typically making reference to wine make in Europe and quite typically the wine powerhouses of France and Italy.  When one says “new world” they’re typically talking the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile and a few other nations.  Every region that grows wine tends to favour a particular varietal (grape) or style.   You can get a Cabernet from a winery in Napa, California and one from France but the two can and typically do taste two worlds apart.  You’ll hear words like “elegant” used to describe old-world style wines and “big” or “fat” to describe new-world wines.  It is with tasting you’ll soon realize what this means, but don’t get too caught up in the words.

Read read read.  Until you’ve developed a little of sense of what you like try and stay away from wine reviews, read about wine itself.  If you do read wine reviews don’t pay much attention to the score, like I said before, no one can tell you what you like until you know what you like.  Eventually you’ll find a wine reviewer that shares your taste.  Be weary though as sometimes the reviewer doesn’t know themselves what a “good” wine is.  Read about the different types of grapes, regions, and wine makers.  The more you read the more you’ll pick up on the lingo.

All this said we’re not trying to make you the next writer for Wine Spectator, simply trying to expose your palate to what you like and the rest will fall into place.  After you’ve tried some wine and can better articulate what you like, feel free to ask me to recommend something specific, perhaps a New World Syrah from Washington State or spicy Shiraz from McLaren Vale, Australia?

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  1. August 31, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    This is great advice, Paul! I am looking forward to getting to the point in which I can say I like X kind of grape from region Y. Luckily, it’ll be an enjoyable (and delicious!) journey.

  2. September 1, 2009 at 1:05 am

    That’s just it, the journey of learning wine means you get to taste more wine! What could be better?

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