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Breaking Out of the Wine Lover's Funk

Sat, 03/01/2014
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All new wine lovers have been there: You fell for something great, but over time you became afraid to let go and try something new. It’s understandable. Those first few sips of that California Cabernet seemed magical only just a few years ago when you had no idea what an amazing thing wine could be. But, as habits formed and the years passed, you just kept drinking what you’ve always been drinking. That sense of discovery is gone even if you still enjoy your favorite stuff.

Most novice wine lovers have limited time and limited income, meaning that throwing all caution to the wind in terms of wine selection seems both risky and expensive. Let us put an emphasis on seems, because with a few tips you can broaden your horizons without turning into a manic wine buyer without direction. Shouldn’t wine be about the journey? It’s only fermented grape juice.

 1) Not a Ph.D. geographer? Relax!

One of the main obstacles for people discovering wine is that they feel intimidated and overwhelmed by all the geographic references needed to enjoy European wines and even wines from other world regions that fall outside of California or Australia.

It’s simple: figure out what grape varieties you like and use a reference book to transpose that affinity. If you like Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, look to Burgundy and run with it. You don’t need to understand all the nuances and complexities of the Cote d’ whatever. If you fall in love with Burgundy, you will figure it out eventually. If Burgundy isn’t your thing, you’ll learn a little and move on. Don’t force it.

2) A grape by any other name…

There are literally thousands of grape varieties, and while the major vinifera varieties are popular with good reason, there are dozens and dozens of very interesting and enjoyable varieties to be tried.

Why are you afraid of Chenin Blanc? Once you figure out that it’s a major white grape of the Loire Valley in France and also South Africa, why not give it a try? How about Gewürztraminer or Grüner Veltliner from Germany and Austria, respectively? Cabernet Franc comes from the Loire and is also having great success in New York’s Finger Lakes. It’s cool—really.

These wines aren’t grown in large scale in California and widely distributed with big graphics and ready-made front window displays, but they are available in almost any wine shop. Every once-in-a-while, pick a grape that you don’t know or know well and take a chance. Even if it doesn’t inspire you, wasn’t it fun to try?

3) Stop thinking about money.

Value and price are two different things. It’s extremely limiting to stay within a specific price range on wine, or to categorize wine quality or interest by price alone. Have no doubt, wine conglomerates and distributors are messing with your head as they play with the consumer perceptions about what is a “fair” price for wine. If you fall for it, then you’re leaving a lot of great wine products on the shelf by default.

Build your wine journey by focusing on varieties and regions you’d like to try first, and then worry about what it might cost to dive in. Remember, there is no requirement that you buy multiple bottles of any one wine category or stick with the same retailer. Buy one bottle at a time, methodically, and note the price fluctuations. If you’re comfort threshold is $25, then careful planning should allow you to find wines from various regions both above and below any given price point. One day you buy high, the next low—it will all even out.

What you are looking for is the aggregate experience, and what you will find is that good wines from the far-flung regions of both the U.S. and the world are priced all over the place. The impression, if you will, is what the lineup from a given varietal or region leaves you with over time.

4) Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

Becoming better versed in wine doesn’t happen overnight. Take your time and don’t rush it. And don’t be afraid to go for the tried-and-true when necessary. A good old wine is a good old friend.

Having the discipline to expand your wine horizons does not require a fancy education, an encyclopedic knowledge of varieties, or a fat wallet. If you take it one step at a time, you will feel like wine is an avenue to improve your knowledge and appreciation about a great many things in life—not too show off, but simply to enjoy what the world has to offer.