A Wine Primer Part I – The Expert
I love going to our local wines-r-us store to browse the selection of wines and reading labels before I select a new wine to try out. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself being asked questions by total strangers who assume my ability to read labels makes me an expert. Standing in a wine aisle reading labels no more makes me a wine expert than standing in a garage makes me a car. Let me clearly and emphatically state that I do not consider myself an expert on any subject, let alone the complicated and highly subjective world of wines. But, that does beg the question:
What makes a wine “expert” an “expert”?
Technically, there are two types of wine experts: the sommelier and the oenologist. The oenologist studies the science of viniculture (study or science of growing and cultivating grapes, vineyard development, etc.). As the definition would suggest, these folks typically work at vineyards and wineries.
The sommelier is the front end expert in tasting rooms and restaurants. The sommelier should have a good general knowledge of the chefs menu with appropriate wine pairings and is often in charge of selecting, cellaring and maintaining the restaurants wine offerings. The best of the world class restaurants require their sommeliers to be certified as Master Sommeliers. Chances of a sommelier in a given restaurant holding this certification are minimized by the fact that there are less than 150 Master Sommeliers certified worldwide as of this writing and is even further reduced when there are pictures of the food on the menu.
When asking a sommelier for help in choosing a wine to go with your meal, you should remember that the answers are sometimes driven by the restaurant being a for profit business. If you sense that’s the case, thank them and then go with your own intuition.
When confronted with the conundrum (wine plug!) of helping a stranger choose wines I typically start with questions such as:
Do you prefer red wine or do you favor whites?
If red, do you prefer a mild or a robust flavor? (Merlot for mild, Cabernet Sauvignon for bold)
If white, do you prefer a crisp taste or do you prefer a more buttery flavor? (Sauvignon Blanc for crisp, oaked Chardonnay for buttery)
If they still seem hesitant, I suggest they choose a wine that they’ve enjoyed in the past.
The questions of taste expertise come down to this: who, better than you, knows what you like?
If we were tasting wines and I tell you that I get a hint of raspberry tailing on a bouquet of citrus with a nose of heather and you say that you experience a hint of blackberry tailing on a bouquet of apple with a nose of turpentine, who would be right? Simple answer – both of us!
If on your next wine shopping trip you find what you think may be an interesting wine, go ahead and try that bottle. If you find a new and exciting wine experience please share it with me in the comments section below. I’m always looking for my next great glass of wine.
Still, if you have questions while shopping for wine and you see an older, distinguished looking, yet ruggedly handsome gentleman standing around that you could ask, I’ll do my best to help.
Next week: Part 2 – The Gadgetry