By Frank Cipparone
If you drink wine long enough and keep an open mind your opinions and understanding of it will change. Mine certainly have, and I’d like to share some thoughts that poured from decades of uncorked bottles.
1. Don’t limit your options like people who only drink Cabernet or who wouldn’t be caught dead with Merlot. Be open to trying something new. Wine from Majorca or Slovenia? How about Bulgaria or Texas? Instead of why, ask why not. That also goes for grapes you’ve never heard of, even those with unusual names. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky observed, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
2. There are reasons why some wines carry astronomical price tags — low supply and high demand; prestige of the estate; snob appeal; cult status. I’ve always wondered about the correlation between quality, price and satisfaction. Maybe it’s a matter of having greater expectations because of the price, of wanting to make more of a wine than it deserves. No one wants to admit that a wine they dropped $400 on isn’t inherently better than one costing a tenth of that.
3. There’s no one region that makes the “best” wine. Burgundy, Piedmont, Rioja, wherever, it comes down to personal choice. Different latitudes produce wines with different attitudes, and some may not appeal to you no matter how highly others praise them.
4. Drink whatever you like, but like whatever you drink. Think about why that bargain basement Zinfandel or expensive Barolo does it for you. Be honest, never pretend to like a wine because you think you should, or throw around words like “robe,” “bouquet” and other fancy terms to impress. The only thing that should leave an impression is the wine and how you feel about it.
5. Wine is an agricultural product, so it’s reasonable to suggest that farmers are the best winemakers. They understand and respect nature, seeing themselves more as caretakers than winemakers. They cultivate their vineyards and are involved in every step throughout the seasonal cycles that turn grapes into wine. Their reputation and livelihood are staked on the words “grown and produced by.” No less an authority than the late Luigi Veronelli stated, “The worst wine made by a farmer is always better than the best industrial wine.”
6. There’s no need to be intimidated by wine or made to feel unsophisticated by self-appointed know -it-alls who flaunt their imagined wine cred at the drop of a cork. They brush over the fact that wine is basically fermented grape juice. Long ago, I read a spot on, self-effacing perspective from an older gentleman who owned a well-regarded historical property in Bordeaux. He mused that he had been drinking his estate’s wine for almost sixty years and was just then understanding what the grapes were telling him.
7. I’ve never embraced the idea that there is such a thing as a wine epiphany, some life-altering OMG experience that indelibly stamps you with the mark of the vine. You never hear the same sentiment about beer or bourbon. Appreciating and loving wine at any level from beginner to seasoned aficionado isn’t based on a defining moment where you “get” it. It’s a linear process that can last a lifetime, from your first glass to the last.
8. Wine scores are a great tool for marketing, sales, and glossy wine magazines. Who doesn’t know that 95 is better than 88? But unless you understand what criteria were used for evaluation, or know and trust the reliability of the person rating the wines, take them with a grain of salt if not the whole shaker. I’ve had as many clunkers ranked in the 90s as hidden gems rated 85-88. Simply put, buyer beware the numbers.
9. Wine shouldn’t be analyzed like a theoretical physics solution. Overthinking what’s in the glass and breaking down all its sensory components may fire up sommeliers but tends to be a buzz kill for the average drinker. Don’t feel left out if you’re not smelling or tasting the elderberries, bergamot, Fuji apples and crushed stones that reviewers claim to. Follow the K.I.S.S. principle — keep it short and simple. Just think about how it feels in your mouth and if the flavors and sensations are pleasurable.
10. Older isn’t necessarily better for wine or people, some age gracefully while others have an earlier expiration date. The good news is that most wine isn’t meant to age ten years or more, the average being three to five. Drink up and don’t worry about the wine’s vintage, or yours. But …
11. Savor every bottle as if it’s the last you’ll have. That may sound fatalistic but echoes the saying “Tutto finische a pane e vino.” Everything ends with bread and wine — even the Last Supper. IAH