While I appreciate wine for its varied flavours and vast complexities, I've always felt a bit left out of the wine tasting crowd. I never seem to pick up the right aromas or use the right lingo. I awkwardly say things I've heard in movies, like "this wine has legs." Or I try to emulate the swirling and slurping I see more knowledgeable wine enthusiasts do. I admit it: I have a fear of being shunned by the wine snobs.
Who or what is a wine snob?
In case you have yet to encounter them, let me tell you about the wine snobs. Wine snobs are people who make other people feel silly about not being able to identify the right flavours in a wine or not being able to identify what region a wine comes from. If we want people to appreciate wine as a part of culture and gastronomy, then why are we acting like enjoying wine is an exclusive club?
Are some people better wine-tasters than others?
I sit down with Dave Edmonds, senior winemaker for New Zealand's Nobilo Wines. I get to speak to him about what it's like to live and breathe wine. I'm excited but also nervous. I hope he's not one of "them."
I ask Dave how he feels about what I call "wine snobbery." He has a refreshing message for the layperson getting into wine tasting: you are never wrong. I breathe a sigh of relief.
Dave goes on to say: "That's the beauty of wine. We all see it differently. Aromatics bring back our memories. What you are smelling will be connected back to your earlier experiences, so it makes sense that different people will pick up on different aromas. People can take from it whatever they like. There is something for everyone and that's the fun of wine. Finding out what you like is fun, and no one can tell you you're wrong to like something."
Even with his wealth of experience in the world of wine, Dave admits that when someone points out an aroma they're getting from a glass of wine that he hadn't smelled before, something clicks in his brain. All of a sudden, he can smell it too. It's the power of suggestion at work.
Wine-tasting for rookies
Emboldened by Dave's laid-back attitude, I try a glass of Nobilo's regional collection sauvignon blanc 2014 vintage.
Taking a deep sniff, I tentatively ask, "Pineapple?"
Dave nods encouragingly and picks up his glass. "Exactly! Pineapple and tropical fruit such as passionfruit are the main flavours."
I take a sip. "Canteloupe? Something green?"
Dave tells me I'm right on target. He says there's freshly cut grass (the "green" flavour I'm picking up on), cantaloupe and honeydew melon and some "flinty minerality." I admit I had to look that one up. My oversimplified analysis: it means a smell or taste of wet rocks. Subtle, but it's there. I think I'm getting the hang of it.
How to go from novice to (more) knowledgeable
So how does a wine novice develop an appreciation for wine tasting? You guessed it: start tasting.
Dave recommends stepping outside your comfort zone and visiting a part of your liquor store you don't often visit. "If you're the type of person who always chooses wines from the same winery or region out of habit, experiment and pick up something completely different. If you only shop in the vintages section, wander into a different section and try something new."
Another strategy: you can start with narrow selection criteria and still get a great deal of variety. Even choosing the same varietal (type of grape) from the same region can mean you'll be tasting very different wines. For example, Dave tells me that sauvignon blanc from the Malborough region of New Zealand can vary in flavour from tropical juiciness of passionfruit to flinty minerality, citrus zest and yellow grapefruit.
This huge amount of variation is one of the things that most intimidates me about wine tasting, but this can also be liberating. Don't know what to expect from a certain grape or region or year? Not to worry... you can learn. Anyone can. Just get your spreadsheet started and note down what you like, what you don't, and why. I have a spreadsheet for wine, another for cheese and a huge one for restaurants. It's awesome to be able to access this info from your phone when you're out shopping or someone asks for a recommendation!
My secret tip for wine novices: While some of you may consider this cheating, everyone does it. You can usually find suggestions of flavour notes on the back of the bottle of wine or on a restaurant menu, so that can help guide you. But still try to determine if you can detect any aromas or flavours that aren't listed. Give yourself points for originality!
The "wine snob" snob changes her tune
Dave's relaxed and inclusive attitude towards wine appreciation is completely infectious. Now I feel like I've completely misunderstood what wine tasting is about.
Wine truly is something anyone can appreciate -- all you need is your sense of smell and taste. Now that I know you don't have to be an expert, I finally feel like I can be part of the club. You can too!
Host a wine tasting with your friends where you tell everyone the aromas and flavours they're picking up on are correct -- even if they differ from one another. A wine tasting where everyone is right? They won't know what hit 'em.
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