Thursday, January 14, 2010

With Apologies to Wine Snobs

I realize that, with a title like “For Wine Lovers,” this blog runs the risk of offending serious wine connoisseurs. The title comes from the name of the company I work for: Oenophilia. I am not a wine connoisseur. In fact, I suppose you could say that I am decidedly anti-intellectual when it comes to wine. It’s not that I have anything at all against people who do intellectualize wine. I have great fun listening to aficionados geek out about such things as “the smoky gunflint nose;” “inner mouth of cherry stones, spices and cedar;” “minerality;” “resolved tannin;” “opulence;” “nose of fresh black fruits licked off granite;” “oily, petrol mineral notes;” and “good acid structure.” Quite often these are the true oenophiles, full of bacchanal passion, whose pointy-headedness does not at all interfere with – but rather, intensifies – their ability to experience great pleasure.

I like to listen closely and sip along, trying to have an “aha!” moment where I see exactly what they are talking about. But mostly I just enjoy the wine and the company and the fantastic figurative language.

I do get excited about the stories though. I love to hear about the farmer whose family has worked the same little vineyard for centuries, the Roman-built terraces still in use, the grapes picked on belay, the sherry so precious that the bottle came with a lock on the cap, the local who travels abroad to bring obscure wines back home to an appreciative clientele.

I have a cache of wine list survival strategies for getting by when not in the company of connoisseurs: I’ll often choose sparkling over not. Pink wine on hot afternoons. Red wine on a hot date. Chenin Blanc is usually promising. Barolo is godwine. I’m digging Malbec right now. Anything Basque, such as Txakoli, should be great. I love a minerally Riesling from Alsace, but American Riesling tends to be too sweet for me. There are Chardonnays that make me swoon, but I also know that some are too oaky for my taste.

Like I said, I get by.

North Carolina has almost a hundred vineyards and wineries, and I’ve gotten to know many of these people through my job. It’s been great fun to visit these wineries and taste the variety they have to offer and see their bottles on the store shelves.

And I have a trick when I’m buying in local retail settings: turn the bottles around and look on the back label. There are several importers in my area – Wine Without Borders (France); DeMaison Selections (Spain and France); Haw River Wine Man (US, Argentina, Greece, Italy, France, Germany); and Jon-David Headrick Selections (France) – who are local people who work with farmers. They are business owners who founded companies with the sole purpose of bringing us what they truly believe are the delicious wines of the world. I see these men at brunch or at the farmers’ market. Their kids hang out with my kids. I can find their wines at local restaurants, too.

Sometimes I find it’s best to try something I’ve never heard of before. I might get a higher quality wine for less money. And less pretension. But Pinot Grigio is usually my standard safe bet. Because it is aged in stainless steel tanks, I find that even cheap Pinot Grigios are dry, light and, if it’s very, very cold, refreshing enough for sharing with friends.

And that is the most important thing for me when it comes to wine, that I have it in the company of good friends and good food. Wine is ancient. Wine is organic. Wine is the result of people toiling in the dirt. It is not a thing that should stand alone under cold analysis, valued only for its investment values.

Wine should flow like laughter and be appreciated as an integral part of food and gathering. Swirl it. Sniff it. Swish and gargle if you like. Tell me about saddle and bell pepper and juicy apple and earth. But then tell me if you think it’s delicious.


Tasting quotes swiped from local wine geek Nathan Vandergrift on Wine Asylum (

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