Don’t be intimidated by wine – it’s only fermented grape juice

June 16th, 2017

JS Morin - PEI Liquor - Wine Category ManagerWine is wonderful! Enjoyed responsibly, it can be so many different things: a beverage to quench our thirst; a companion that will enhance our enjoyment of food; an intellectual exploration of history, geography and culture and, in some sublime instances, a near spiritual experience with the ability to suspend time.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important factor to enjoying wine is not the ability to memorize the 5,000 grape varieties from which wine is made or the thousands of regions where it is produced. The key is knowing what you like. This may sound obvious, but when it comes to wine, it can be a challenge.

Most people will know instinctively that they love this or that food. However, when it comes to wine, many aren’t quite sure what they like or why or, if they do know, they have trouble putting it into words.

Do you tend to enjoy wine with food or on its own? Are you interested in wines that are ready to drink now or are you looking to experience the joys and rewards of cellaring wine? Are you most thrilled by finding an affordable hidden gem or a highly-awarded cult wine? Being more aware of what makes you tick as you explore the world of wine can be helpful as it can provide a bit of focus without spoiling the fun.

Similarly, becoming familiar with what is in your wine wheelhouse (and what isn’t) can be quite useful to maximizing your enjoyment, especially when discovering wine. Do you tend to enjoy crisp whites with refreshing acidity like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy or rich, buttery Chardonnays from California?

If reds are more your thing, do you tend to reach for big bold reds like Malbec from Argentina or do you favour elegant Pinot Noir from Burgundy?

This is not to say that preferences don’t evolve over time but from a practical point of view, knowing what wine you might enjoy in a given situation is quite useful — from ordering in restaurants to choosing wines for a celebration.

The preface of one of the first wine books I ever purchased included the saying: “pleasure is increased tenfold by knowledge”. I always liked that statement because it puts wine knowledge squarely at the service of enjoyment. Knowing what you like, trusting your palate is 98 per cent of the enjoyment wine. The other two per cent, the wine knowledge part, is about understanding why you like what you like and being able to choose wines that you are likely to enjoy and avoid wines that probably won’t do it for you based on your preferences.

In and of itself, knowing that many of the white wines of the region of Bordeaux in France are made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes is not that useful. On the other hand, being able to recommend such a wine to a friend that enjoys New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but who is looking for something a little different yet in the same crisp refreshing style, now that is interesting.

Don’t be intimated by wine. In the end, it’s only fermented grape juice.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is absolutely nothing wrong about admitting to not knowing much about wine – that is usually how the learning process starts. Conversely there is nothing intrinsically special about knowing about wine. It is an area of expertise like any other that needs to be demystified. Wine and hospitality industry professionals such as sommeliers, servers and salespersons are there to help you find the wines that will best suit your preferences and occasions. It’s about you and your enjoyment.

The aim of this new, monthly wine column will be to provide information, tips and tools to help readers enjoy, explore and get the most out of wine on their own terms. It will endeavour to provide suggestions of interesting wine styles, regions and grape varieties to explore.

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