Wine Wednesday - Go Wine Tasting!

Wine often carries a stigma with it which prevents many from even attempting to get into it. When you see super expensive vineyards labeling their wines and describing tastes and smells that are so particular they seem haughty, many the average person shies away from fully getting into it outside of a nice dinner or perhaps to score brownie points on a date.

My initial exposure to wine was through dinners, stores, and the occasional formal military dinner. I found that I enjoyed certain wines, with one of my early favorites being Australian Shiraz from Rosemount Estates and Penfold's. (I think the plural of Shiraz is Shiraz?)

Yet this had not developed into oenophilia. Really it resulted in an occasional purchase when I felt like have wine with spaghetti rather than a beer or coke. 

My attitude for wine changed, I mean really changed, only six years ago. I now consider myself a oenophile, even if simply an amateur one! 

What caused my attitude to change? Knowledge and experience.

I got to know more about wine, its varietals and the nature of the wine industry. I started to experience more when I listened to those who were more experienced, educated, and trained about wine. 

How did I come to gain this experience, time, and presence to wine knowledge?

By going wine-tasting!

Who wouldn't want to wine taste with this scenery?
Amanda and I first went wine tasting while on a road trip in 2006, at which we felt unprepared and realized quickly we didn't know what we were doing. (I've previously talked about this experience here.) Yet, what it did do was let us start talking to the people behind the counter, and the others in the tasting room who were savoring the experience. It didn't take too long to gain an appreciation for what you could learn.

After a couple of more trips through wine country, it became apparent that this supposed foreboding wine culture was actually very approachable and friendly! Particularly in visiting smaller vineyards, we met wine makers, owners, and more employees who were very gracious, down-to-earth, and knowledgeable. The passion and expertise showed, and soon our vocabulary, palate, and understanding expanded and learned.

Warning: Do NOT heed this
advice while wine tasting 
New varietals or blends became exciting to try, as we experienced first-hand how different wines can be from the same region or how different the same varietal can be from different blocks of vineyards! Nuances in taste and smell started to develop: a grassiness in some Sauvignon Blancs, the distinct nature of balanced tannins, and especially the widening of my being able to enjoy different wines at different occasions! No longer do I feel like I have to drink a red wine just to be "manly" when the occasion and food clearly calls for a nice dry, acidic white wine!

Honestly, the biggest thing for me in learning to like, and then love, wine was going and doing wine tastings at vineyards or special events at a store with knowledgeable. (i.e. someone who can explain characteristics of a wine without reading it off a card!) You will be amazed who you meet, what you learn, and what you did not even realize you already knew about wine! Several wine/liquor stores do in-store tastings, which can be good. Just beware anyone who says things like: "I'm dry - I'm sweet - I have it all!" (For the record, its impossible to be dry and sweet, they are on the opposite ends of scale!)

A couple tips on wine tasting:

1. Try smaller wineries. Don't worry about going to the biggest names first. In fact, smaller wineries will have smaller crowds and a more personalized atmosphere. Most of these tasting rooms also end up being friendlier as well, as they are promoting their wine, which they likely had some hand in creating! We've had several wine makers be the very person pouring the wine which is quite cool to hear them say something personal  about how they created the wine! Also, you'll probably realize that this is simply another agricultural (and small business) pursuit so most people are pretty laid back and down to earth.

2. Express an interest in what the tasting room manager/attendant is saying! If they pick up that you are there to actually learn about their wine, they will probably start talking more and more about it. Its kind of like when you ask someone about their kids or pets. They want to talk about them, but only if someone is genuinely interested! From those we know who work at Arizona Stronghold and Page Springs Cellars, they can sniff out their clientele who genuinely are there to learn/try/experience their wine versus those who are just there to drink.

2b. If you are new to wine tasting, let them know. I am one of those guys who doesn't ask for directions, and so I often pretend...but luckily I'm married to a gal who isn't afraid to ask! What I learned is if you let them know where you are at in your wine journey, they can tailor the experience for you.

3. Be open to trying something new. Its advisable to not make bold statements before trying like "I don't like Merlot" or "I only like sweet wines." Rather, be open to see what is offered. This is your chance to experience differences. You are not buying a bottle or a glass, you are doing a tasting. If you don't like something, that is fine! But you will likely be surprised at how diverse wine is and this is your chance to find what else your palate prefers.

4. Ask them what is new, or what they recommend you taste. Mention what you prefer, but not in terms like I mentioned above. Use descriptions like "I normally like full-bodied" or "fruit forward" or "minerality" or whatever it is that you think you like. If you don't know what you like, ask them if they have a good balanced flight. Most people who I've met in tasting rooms are very helpful and friendly. If they aren't, it might be a good hint that you should go ahead and leave. Don't waste your money on tastings that leave you feeling like you didn't learn anything.

5. Invite me! I jest, but only a little. Take someone you know that who you can relax with but knows a bit more. Have them show you the ropes a bit. If you live or visit Arizona and do want to come with Amanda and I, we would love to have some company in wine tasting! We got to do it quickly in Colorado with some of Amanda's family and our friend Andrew. Andrew got just a taste of what its like...but we need to take him again when its more relaxed!

This is what wine tasting is about - learning, enjoying, experiencing life together! What are you waiting for?

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