Challenging Your Wine Palate

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Katt Williams, in one of his specials, was speaking about how different ethnicities party. As he was making an announcement for white people, he pointed out that when an African American drinks Hennessey, then that is what they drink, Hennessey. Nothing more, nothing less, but if they have to make a substitution, then they will drink Remy. To this, the audience erupted in laughter with some of them in agreement, and some of them laughing because they know people like that. Whatís most interesting to me is how some people gravitate to one particular drink, not necessarily because of the taste and their appreciation of it, but also as a result of the facts that they havenít tasted much else and/or their adoption of it is based on the status and reputation that it conveys. What I am always amazed by are the numbers of people that try to posture themselves as if they are in the know, and have settled on their love, admiration, and accompanying status of being a drinker of Johnnie Walker Black label, or regular Jack Daniels, not realizing that their tastes really show them not to be the suave and sophisticated player that they are trying to come across as.

But this article is not about that, itís about moving outside of your comfort zone. When was the last time that you tried a wine based on the fact that either you read a review about it, you heard something about the grape it was made from, or it was just something that you didnít have before, whether that was a different type of wine entirely, or just a familiar varietal, but made by a different producer. It also couldíve just been the same varietal and producer, but a different label of theirs, meaning a different grade or refinement (an example of the latter would be drinking a reserva or crianza version of a Tempranillo).

Well, letís try to address that issue and tackle it, and thatís the issue of not becoming too comfortable and complacent with oneís wine choices. And let me say right here that if some of my points from article to article seem to be repetitive, itís because I am trying to get people to break out of their small worlds and start to experience the wide world of wine.

Focusing on the issue, the first thing that you should realize about wine is that for the most part, every yearís release, or vintage, has a slightly different taste unless the wine is more mass-produced. Of course, there are several other factors that deal with wine being pretty consistent from year to year, but usually they have slightly different nuances per vintage. Non-vintage wines, those without a year printed on their labels are those that are pretty consistent based on a number of methods that the winemaker has enacted. That said, in the case of wine, youíre not always going to get the same exact taste from the same bottle of wine from the same producer time and time again [except for non-vintage releases].

There are also different grades of wine based on things such as the aging of the wine before it is released for production, or even different methods of producing the wine. Besides the basics of differentiation between oak and stainless steel processes, with wines such as ports and Madeiras, there can be employed a number of different ways to make the different styles.

So the first step would be to start experimenting with vintage wines and comparing them to non-vintage wines. The next step would be to look for wines that are ďunoakedĒ as well as those that aged in oak barrels. Following this, depending upon the grape/varietal used, the next step would be to start looking at how different styles of the wine and/or different aging yields different flavors. After this, we would then get into starting to try different labels by the same producer of the same varietal.

As someone I knew started examining my wine website, they noticed that most of my reviews were of Chardonnay wines, followed by Sauvignon Blanc. They then asked me whether or not that was my favorite type of wine. This then brought the theme of this story to my mind, as I had to realize that most average wine drinkers tend to get very complacent and not daring in their wine choices. Itís not that I havenít consumed a fair number of other types of wines, but for the most part, I do them in a place where I donít have the time to sit back and deconstruct the wineís taste and specifics like I can when I am either home or in my office.

As I look back over my trends in drinking wine over the years, I can see that at the beginning, I chose to stay safely within a certain corridor of wine choices that stayed in place for a number of years, if not at least for twelve to eighteen months. However, at times, I would see an interesting bottle, and would then give it a try. I canít remember what made me choose a Moscato Allegro by Martin and Weyrich; maybe it was the shape of the bottle, and the fact that it was on sale in the store. However, I immediately became hooked, and started exposing women to that wonderful product. Actually, looking back, the first event that made me start to see and try other wines was a wine tasting, and I hooked onto Chenin Blanc and Madeira in that instance. I believe that that event took place sometime during the mid 90ís. Soon after, I would start to search for more Chenin Blancs, as well as Rieslings and Muscats. And then there was my time of Chardonnay which transitioned into Sauvignon Blanc. Reds for the most part consumed not as a matter of course, but mostly while in attendance at wine tastings and wine festivals, but along the way, I did get captivated by a number of them, and have purchased wines that have gone for more than one hundred dollars a bottle.

For me, the journey of trying wine will always be filled with bad examples and good examples of different grapes, and there is almost no way in the world that I can ever taste all of the different types of wines that there are, let alone different winemakersí interpretations of them. I could taste one thousand different Chardonnays and in the end, have a best tasting list of less than twenty five, with a standard favorite list of another fifty or so. But there is also no way that I would just stick to Chardonnay wines.

As a wine drinker, especially not one that grew up in a culture where wine consumption was the norm, itís quite easy to become very complacent in the types of wines, if not the releases, that one is normally used to imbibing. There is also the limitation of what is normally offered where one shops. However, life is about adventure and exploration, so why shouldnít the same concepts be applied to oneís wine experiences? So, in reading this, you might start to think of not only trying different things because of several points expressed and examined, but also even traveling outside of your normal range to maybe see something that is offered elsewhere.

P.S. The same concepts can be applied to restaurants.

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Our Mission: The Black Winer strives to expose African Americans [and others] to wines, without the flair, stuffiness, and airs of elitism and snobbery that you get from sommeliers and high level wine enthusiasts. We believe in finding something that you like the taste of, outside of the basic brands that you have been force-fed over the years through a combination of ethnically targeted advertising, and what people in your family have historically been drinking.

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