Your First Impression of Wine Could Be Your Last
As I sit here in a hotel room in Ohio for business for a few days, I decided to unwind a bit after a fifteen hour day of travel and work. Luckily for me, the hotel is brand new, modern, comfortable and yes - it has a relatively-fully stocked bar. The day didn't call for two fingers of straight Kentucky bourbon as travels often do. So, against my better judgement, I decided to order the "house" Cabernet. Those of you who have followed me both with this and the Midwest Wine Guy wine blogs know that I'm a Cab snob. No, not a snob, but rather an aficionado of Cabernet and really any wine that is made well. So, I order the Cabernet, walk outside to the lounge area and make a phone call.
Wanting to unwind from the day before dinner, I thought I'd sip a bit and catch up on emails and text messages that had been given their pecking order throughout the day. And when I put the wine to my lips, I immediately shook my head. I wasn't mad at the hotel for serving the wine. I was ticked at myself for ordering it. While I'd like to believe that this mid-level hotel chain had a top sommelier picking their offerings for the national brand, I suspect instead that it was the general manager perusing the bargain aisle at the local Pick 'n Save who was eyeing the clearance section in order to save a few bucks and make the liquor budget for the month.
The wine was putrid. It was a far cry from the wines around the world that I've enjoyed for many years and not even in the same stratosphere as those that I've shared with you. It was purple. It was wet. And those were the good qualities! But for someone who has tasted hundreds - actually thousands - of wines, I can ignore the obvious crap and force a few swallows while I am enthralled in my iPhone. Maybe I'm a glutton. Maybe I just expected this experience. Maybe I didn't care.
A quick dinner at a local pub with a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (that was the star of the evening) and I was back to the hotel. I'd been up for about seventeen hours at this point and really, REALLY needed a night cap. I strolled over to the hotel bar again, nearly laughed at the thought that the "bartender" (who also served as the bellhop and night time security guard) probably didn't know how to concoct an old fashioned, so I...............opted for................another glass of wine. But this time I ordered...............wait for it............................................................a California Merlot.
I ordered the Merlot because I knew the producer and was very familiar with their work. Keep in mind, this was still the low.............VERY low.........think bottom of the barrel offering from this producer. Grocery store end cap is where you normally find this wine, but dammit I was going to have this and enjoy it, even if it gave me heart burn. It didn't, but it still wasn't good. It was almost marginal at best and I was glad I was alone and hadn't suggested this for anyone else.
What the hell is your point, you ask? About fifteen years ago I got into red wine and it was really by luck. Up until that point I was almost completely a white wine or sparkling wine drinker. One day I thought I'd broaden my horizon and expand my palate, so I ordered a case of red wine online, knowing almost nothing about the wine, the producer, the AVA - nothing. But, lady luck was on my side that day. The case of 2004 Chateau Whatever the Hell it Was arrived and within a day or two I popped open the bottle. It. Was. Beautiful. A Google search later led me to learn that this wine was a top wine under $20 from Wine Enthusiast that year and had received warm accolades my professional and amateur critics alike. Lucky me!
But what if I hadn't been so lucky? What if my first wine experience was at the hotel in Ohio, or at a Lakers game, or at a restaurant that is trying to move their Chateau Poop because it tastes like vinegar and they don't want to be stuck with it any longer? What then? Would I try wine again or would I stick with my familiar Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer and find an excuse to shy away from reds at dinner parties? I lucked out, but not everyone does.
When someone makes wine, they don't need to tell you how it tastes. They need to tell their story. They need to tell you about their land, their weather, their vineyards and their talents. By the time they taste a wine until it is actually released to the general population can be many months. Wine changes in the bottle and tastes so different as time inevitably has its way with the juice inside. I want to hear from the people who drink dozens of different bottles of wine every year or every month from different producers. I want to hear from the people who have no stake in the game and who aren't trying to sell you wine. I want to hear from the wine bloggers and the amateur wine tasters. They can really pick some wines and they won't steer you wrong.
There are bad wines in the world. Avoid the bad wines. Do yourself a favor. Find a wine blogger and connect with them. Get to know their wine tasting preferences and writing style. Do you think certain flavors and aromas are appealing and important? Do they paint a picture of the wine and make you feel like you are tasting it with them? Those are the people you want to pay attention to. Drink good wine. Read about good wine. Get to know good wine.
I used to ride motorcycles for many years. I would often debate with friends about American versus Japanese bikes and why this one or that one is better. At the end of the day I usually concluded that it didn't matter. I thought that any motorcycle was better than having no motorcycle at all. But you can't think that way with wine. Wine doesn't have to be expensive, rare, single vineyard or any of the BS that wine snobs think it needs to be. But it has to be good. It has to provide enjoyment and create a good memory. Life is too damn short to drink bad wine.
Don't give me a reason to buy you this shirt!