Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com
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Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

One of the things that makes the world of wine so enjoyable is the same thing that makes it so daunting. Too much information. There is so much to know about wine that it can seem a burden rather than a fun challenge.

Let’s say, for example, that you get your first taste of the big wines from Chateauneuf du Pape, and they speak to your soul. You’ll of course want to turn your friends onto your new discovery.

“Mmm,” they’ll say when they take a sip, “that’s mighty good.” And then the barrage of questions will come: “What grape is it?” (Well actually there are as many as 13 different grapes allowed, but Grenache dominates.) “Where is it from? (France, but beyond that, the Southern Rhône region, and more specifically, a sub-district where large stones reflect the sun onto the maturing grapes, creating heat and high alcohol.) “Who makes the best CDP?” (Try Chateau Beaucastel or Chateau Rayas, but there are so many other small wonderful producers.) “What vintage should I buy?” (While the ’05 is highly regarded it is best saved for the next decade. Now if you happen to find a ’98…)

That’s a lot of stuff to know and you haven’t even gone into the history of the place, the age of the vines, how the blends are made, what foods the wines pair best with … Oy vey! Enough already. Also consider that this is just one wine we’re talking about here.

So how do you get your head around the vast quantities of info and try to make some sense of the world of wine?

First, remember that the one thing, the only thing, that really matters is what kind of wine you like. Once you decide that Sancerre is for you, or that Oregon Pinot Noir makes your leg quiver, or that you’d pay good money (lots of good money) for that CDP, then you are on the road to discovery. Once you know what you like, consider that to be the trunk of your tree. Find out as much as you can about that wine and then add branches of knowledge from there.

Let’s say that Oregon Pinot Noir is to be your go-to wine. Start by picking up an Oregon wine book. You’ll see that the Willamette Valley is Pinot central. Write that down on a 3×5 card. Next, select, say, 5-10 producers whose wines you have either tasted, had recommended to you by someone in a wine shop, read about, or seen on the web. Write those down. Now look at a map and see what appellations, or districts, those are in. Then buy some bottles and taste the wines. Make notes on what you taste next to the names on your card or cards.

Slowly and methodically, the Willamette Valley will start to make sense to you. You may find that you like elegant single vineyard wines made in classic Burgundian style by Domaine Drouhin. Perhaps the cuvees from Beaux Freres, made from grapes grown throughout the Valley, please your palate. Regardless, you will have a more complete understanding of what you like to drink.

Once you get the basics, your tree of knowledge can grow in different directions. You may progress to trying Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. Use the same methodology, trying the wines, reading about the region, writing notes on cards that you can keep and study. Next up: Burgundy.

Or maybe you fall in love with a particular producer who makes your favorite Oregon Pinot Noir and decide to try wines they make with other grapes in other regions. Think Owen Roe, who makes great Pinot Noir in Oregon, as well as Syrah and Cabernet Franc grown in other regions of Oregon and Washington State. Try the same process with another grape and your base will simply expand.

And remember, wine snobs are not cool. Frequently, those who act like they know, don’t. Ignore someone attempting to use their knowledge of wine as a weapon. Secondly, like skiing, there is always someone a little better than you and someone who doesn’t have your chops, but all deserve to share the hill. As you learn, take lessons from those who know more and share with those who know less. Wine is a very egalitarian thing.

Enjoy growing your tree.


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