Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting to Know Wine and Not Having to Be Snobby About It

First, I must apologize that my food blog has been so silent for the past few weeks. We've been doing some major home renovations. Not only has that taken-up a good chunk of my time but the kitchen has been quite out of commission, so I haven't been doing much cooking. We're not done yet, but during some downtime, I ran across something I'd like to share...

This evening, I watched John Cleese's Wine For the Confused and was pleasantly surprised at John's simple, approachable introduction to wine for the average person. For those of you who have Netflix, this is one of the free downloadable movies. You can watch it on the computer or on your TV if you have a Netflix-capable set-top-box.

Also, for those of you who aren't aware, John Cleese is a famous British comedian, most known for his roles in the "Monty Python" comedies as well as bringing the character of "Nearly Headless Nick" from the Harry Potter novels to life. This video is by no means an in-depth discussion of wine, nor is it overly corny being presented by a known comedian. It's very well done and targeted at those who know they like wine but feel out of place with the terminology, the types, how to choose a good wine, and how to behave at a wine tasting or a vineyard's tasting room. In short, it's a "how-to" for the everyday casual wine drinker.

I honestly learned more from this video than I did on my wine tour of the Napa Valley and, had I been armed with the info in this video, I think I would have enjoyed wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma much more (not that it wasn't fun--it was). He starts off with the simple statement that you shouldn't let anyone tell you which wine you "should" like. Like anything else, we all have different tastes and there's no shame in liking what you like and not liking what someone else likes. For years, I thought lobster was just "eh" and not worth the hefty price tag. I never thought anything was wrong with that--it was just the way my palate worked. Everyone should treat wine the same way. If an inexpensive bottle of blush like a white zinfandel is your favorite, there's nothing wrong with that. Drink-up! (Remind me to tell you sometime about my brief love affair with a gallon jug of ready-made sangria...lots of laughs).

After making that bold statement, John goes through what he calls "the three great whites and the three great reds," visiting several Napa Valley vineyards and talking to the owners about these grapes, what they bring to a bottle of wine, and what people typically like and dislike about wines made with those grapes. The grapes, by the way, are: riesling, chardonnay, (forget the third white), merlot, cabernet, and pinot noir. He talks to the vinters about what makes some wines sweet while others are dry, what makes them acidic versus those that aren't, and how different flavors like fruits and spices can be tasted in the wines.

He also takes time out for tastings with his friends to talk about how you can learn to describe the types of wines you like and don't like so someone can help you order or buy a new one. He does a blind test with his friends to see if people can identify reds from whites without looking (it was 50/50), and he proves that some person's $5 bottle is another's $200 bottle with yet another blind tasting.

The video finishes-off with ordering and serving tips given by good sommeliers (wine experts who work in retail establishments or restaurants).

Overall, the video was very informative and very well presented. It wasn't filled with jargon and too much food science...just enough to give the average Joe (or Jane) an appreciation and the confidence to walk into their local wine shop or liquor store and pick-out a bottle or two to take home and try and the confidence to order what they like without feeling out of place. I highly recommed it, especially if you plan to be going to a wine tasting or visiting some local wineries in the near future.

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