The famed Scottish essayist, novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: “Wine is bottled poetry.” It is more like dance – tipping the glass, a touch of velvet to the lip, a whirling over the tongue, an embracing swallow that warms the chest – and you never have to leave your seat. A good wine has this appeal. Better yet, the more experience you get, the better the dance becomes.
So, have you begun?
Well, you’re here. That’s a start. The web is a fast and easy way to bone up on the fascinating subject of wine. It has one pitfall, however, in that it doesn’t allow you to taste the stuff. It can but lead you in. Interested in learning more about wine, as an experience? If so, New York City is the perfect place to be. It is one of the biggest importers of wine, worldwide, with a sophisticated wine culture to boot. Better yet, outside the city are several notable wineries, ranging from the Finger Lakes to the Hudson Valley and Long Island. You might already know some of them, such as Pindar, Duck Walk, Martha Clara and Sheldrake Point. In later articles we’ll begin to explore these fine and picturesque wineries.
There are many ways to go about experiencing wine and thereby joining the dance. The best way, obviously, is to drink it and discover the varietals and styles that suit you best. This is easier said than done. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, as there’s no clear place to start. Assuming you’re completely new to wine, go to your local wine shop and ask (by all means ask!) the person behind the counter for his or her advice. This person should ask you what you’re looking for, taste-wise: “Do you want a red wine, a rosé or a white?” They should also ask whether you want something light, sweet or dry. If you don’t have a ready answer for these questions, don’t give up. The retailer should guide you to a wine suitable for a beginner’s palate, preferably something simple and smooth with just enough complexity to tantalize your taste buds. In the end, no matter how knowledgeable you become, it is always about taste – your taste, above all. A good wine shopper should never be bullied into something that sounds unappealing, no matter how enthusiastic the retailer might be. Trust him or her, but not too much. It’s more important to trust yourself.
Now not all wine shops have a knowledgeable staff, sadly; though there should be at least one person, the owner presumably, who will know something to help you get started. Nevertheless, there is no better way to start than by seeking out the wine shop closest to your home. Even if you do run up against the problem of unknowledgeable staff, at least now you know where not to go. You might need to travel farther afield to indulge your burgeoning curiosity, but the journey is worth it. If you live in Manhattan (or have regular access), there are quite a few good shops that you can go to. It is Manhattan after all. One of the best, with exceptional variety and a knowlegeable staff, is Union Square Wines, located at 140 Fourth Avenue and 13th Street. You can also visit their website to get an idea of what they have on offer: www.unionsquarewines.com. They do delivery as well, if this is too far from your home or work. Alternatively, visit this page, by Dr. Vino. It provides an excellent listing of reputable shops in and about the city. If, however, you want to enter the wine shop of your choice already forearmed with a few good options, try the following: in a light red, it’s hard to go wrong with the 2007 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir; for a delicate pink wine, try 2007 Raphael’s Rosé of Merlot; and in white, there’s the crisp, fragrant 2006 Toasted Head Chardonnay. If the retailer does not have one of these specifically, they will point you toward something comparable.
There are at least two more considerations when starting out and comparing wines.
Pick a theme and stick to it. If you’re about to pick up three different labels, keep the varietals the same or at least within the same tint. At wine tastings it’s easier to go from red to white, because you’re tasting them not drinking. At home, drinking a few bottles of wine with your friends, you’ll feel the effects of mixing wines from opposite ends of the grape spectrum and the morning won’t be kind. The added bonus of sticking to a theme is discovering the variance in styles within a single varietal. You might enjoy a Malbec, for instance, by Finca Flichman more than one by Nieto, or vice versa.
Finally, as was mentioned before, it is imperative that you trust your own sensibilities and palate. Therefore, neither do you want to hurt your finances. The economy, though showing signs of growth, still has some way to go before it makes a full recovery. Be kind to yourself, don’t break the bank. It is not necessary to spend upwards of $20 for an excellent bottle of wine, especially when starting out and trying as many wines as possible. Wine is wonderful, but it is only wine. Remember that. Not only is it not necessary to spend more than $20, you can spend as little as $10 and still walk away happy, confident that a good bottle is stashed under your arm. A good retailer respects this.
Once the confidence has been gained, then you might want to start experimenting with pricier wines. At that point, it’s no longer as much about educating the palate, however, as putting together a good wine library. For whether you see wine as poetry or as dance, you’ll eventually want a collection of partners with whom you can explore the artful mysteries of life and taste. Here’s to your health!