WineInk: Taste like a journalist
Some people just like to drink wine. They don’t care what it is, as long as they like how it tastes. And that’s fine, as most winemakers are pleased to make a product that pleases the palate.
But one of the fun things about being a wine drinker is learning what goes into getting wine from the vine and into the glass. If you are a curious person, one who likes to explore various aspects of the things you buy and consume, then the wide world of wine is tailor made for you.
Still, for many people it can be intimidating. There are so many wines, so many vintages, so many foreign names, so much to know. Where do you start? How can you begin to learn and make sense of it all?
Easy. Start with one single bottle.
Anybody who has studied journalism is familiar with the acronym “WWWWWH” also known as the “Five W’s and an H.” It stands for “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” “Why” and “How.” While not always adhered to, it is a maxim outlining the six things that every journalist should know about a subject before they writing a story. The same concept can be applied to the one bottle of wine you choose to use as the basis for your own personal wine education.
It’s easy. Let’s take a bottle, say, the Saintsbury 2005 Carneros Pinot Noir, a popular and fine wine you can buy at most any wine shop in Aspen and one that is fairly priced at about $30.
Begin with WHO makes the wine? Saintsbury is a noted producer of California pinot noir and chardonnay that has focused for a quarter century exclusively on Burgundian varietals. That tells you they are committed to what they do.
WHAT kind of grapes is the wine made from? This wine is made from 100% pinot noir. A grape that achieved its pinnacle in the Burgundy region of France but has been reinterpreted in wine regions throughout the world with California, New Zealand and Oregon all making outstanding wines from the grape. It is a grape that is difficult both to grow and to harness into a great wine, but when done well, it can create an epiphany for wine lovers. Characteristics include a lush, fruit-driven flavor with hints of smoke, earth and chocolate in the glass.
WHERE is it from? It says right on the label “Carneros.” This is a cool growing region on San Pablo Bay on the coastal end of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Where a wine comes from is, in many cases, the most important thing about it. In wine, as in real estate location, location, location is a good thing to know.
WHEN was it made? This wine is a 2005. It is a young wine that could be set down for a while or, given its price point, drunk next Tuesday. Other vintages of note for Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noirs would include the 1995, 1996 and 2001.
WHY drink it? Ah, the $23 question. Why should you buy/drink this wine? For all the reasons above. Or not. If you don’t like pinot noir, or if you don’t like pinot noir from California, then maybe you should try another grape, or region. But if you love lush pinot noirs and you know that Carneros is a region that is noted for sunny days with cool coastal breezes that are perfect for the grape, and that David Graves and Dick Ward at Saintsbury are true innovators in the making of this expression of the grape, then of course, you will buy/drink this wine. Answering the previous questions about the wine will answer this one, perhaps the most important one.
Finally we get to HOW was the wine made? It is perhaps the most esoteric of the queries. When was it harvested? What was the yield? Was it left long on the lees? Was there much malolactic fermentation? How long was it in oak? French or American?
I’ve lost you right? Well, HOW is a tougher question and it may not matter much to you. But if you get into the habit of answering the “Five Ws,” the “HOW will become more intriguing.
It’s not a test and it’s not rocket science. But the more you know about what you’re drinking, chances are the more you’ll appreciate it.
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