27 March 2005

Benito's Wine Manifesto

Here's a overview of what I like and dislike in wine... Hopefully this will be helpful in evaluating whether or not these reviews will be helpful for you, the reader. For instance, the late, great Julia Child was not a fan of Italian or Mexican cuisine, or Indian or anything else that is generally characterized as hot and spicy. If you're fond of those cuisines and are looking for recipes, you wouldn't dig out the Julia Child cookbooks. But if you want classic French recipes written for the American kitchen, giddyup!

So consider this my statement of personal bias, which has influenced the prior reviews and will certainly color future ones. And these opinions will certainly change over time, and I might reorganize this into a more coherent document.

General Feelings about Wine
  • I tend to prefer wine with food, but I don't obsess over the perfect match. I'm often willing to experiment with unusual combinations, which sometimes work beautifully. Citrus fruits tend to screw up your palate while drinking red wine, but a cheap red, fresh oranges, and grilled steak is an amazing trio. Consider it a shortcut to sangria. This weekend I served an old favorite (the sparkling Zardetto Prosecco) along with a roast turkey breast and boiled artichokes. Beautiful combination.
  • I don't have much of a sweet tooth. A few years ago, I just lost interest in sweet beverages and foods, and haven't looked back. I'm not diabetic, nor do I get goofy under the influence of sugar, but I just don't crave it anymore. This has definitely influenced my wine drinking. However, when it comes to sparkling wines, I prefer something roughly demi-sec as opposed to brut. Basically, don't come here looking for info on White Zinfandel. Which leads me into...
  • I try to avoid wine snobbery. If you like something, drink it and enjoy it. I try not to insult anyones wine preferences (mine certainly aren't perfect), but I do encourage people to at least try other wines. Don't just find a grape and hold on to it for dear life. Again, I have to mention White Zinfandel, a favorite of the suburban housewife and college student. It's a great, non-threatening entry-level wine. But if that's all you will drink, try a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer. Be daring and grab a non-sparkling Vouvray. All of these are sweet wines, but you'll get a little more complexity and refinement than White Zin, and they'll pair better with food rather than overwhelming it with sweetness. And they're all easily affordable, which reminds me...
  • I try not to spend a lot on wine. $20 is about the most that I'll spend on a bottle, unless it's for a special occasion and I'm intimately familiar with that particular wine. You can find some amazing wines in this price range, but be forewarned: it doesn't hold true for all grapes or varieties. Specifically, I'm talking about Cabernet Sauvignon. It's an amazing grape and produces some of the finest wines in the world, but it needs care and age and often benefits from careful blending with lesser-known grapes, as is done in Bordeaux. If you want something beautiful, you're probably going to have to start at $25 and work your way up. This is also true for Pinot Noir, though there are some fun jammy bottles out there for $10-15. Don't let this discourage you, though. There's thousands of other grapes from multiple countries that are inexpensive, delicious, and meant to be drunk now rather than later.
  • I don't personally keep wine at home for more than a couple of weeks. Part of that is that I'm a little impulsive, and like to grab wine after I've made up my mind about dinner. I've read a lot about the proper storage of wine for aging, and it's led me to believe that I'm not going to be able to do it properly in my house. For one thing, there's too many extremes of temperature, particularly in the winter when my roommate tends to crank up the heat to keep the house sauna-like. I'd like one of those standalone wine refrigerators, but I'm not ready to make the investment right now. While I've seen the amazing results of proper aging over many years, with my current lodgings any investment in ageworthy wines is going to be a losing proposition.
  • Because of that, I try not to save wines for special occasions. I'll certainly go out and pay extra for a properly maintained great bottle of wine, but holding on to a bottle in the average home is going to be a grand disappointment. I'll never forget a couple of friends who kept a bottle of $10 Cabernet Sauvignon in the kitchen cabinet over the stove. They bought it on their honeymoon and were saving it for their 10 year anniversary. I didn't say anything, but given the heat and likely inability of the wine to age properly, they're going to be greeted with a sour, brown liquid that can be smelled from across the room.
  • Even properly maintained wines can be flawed, such as corked, oxidized, or dozens of other things. This means two things: try to smell a flawed sample kit at some point, and always have a backup wine on hand.
  • I support the use of synthetic enclosures in ready-to-drink wines. The jury's still out on how these wines will age, but for everyday use, it's a godsend. I prefer the synthetic corks to the screwcap (it preserves the pomp and circumstance of the wine experience), but both are generally reliable.
  • I love wines that are interesting, obscure, have a great story behind them, or are just plain weird. I'll try almost anything once, and sometimes a mediocre wine with a great backstory can be elevated at a dinner party through the power of suggestion. And people will remember that wine fondly.

Red Wines
  • In general, I don't like heavy tannins. With proper aging and blending, these soften out over the years. However, as I drink a lot of younger wines that aren't going to age, I don't enjoy having the lining of my mouth worn off.
  • I love full flavor. Australia has been amazing with this, even at the affordable end of the spectrum. California produces fruit-forward wines as well. France has been slow to catch up, but I also find their more subtle and refined flavors to be enjoyable for contrast.
  • I pay a lot of attention to balance and aftertaste. Both are very important. An unbalanced wine will strike your tongue and confuse your palate. A bad aftertaste is going to make you avoid another glass, and it will stick with you until you brush your teeth.
  • Grapes that I love: Zinfandel, Syrah/Shiraz, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Franc. There's none that I really hate, but I'll address the Merlot question here. Despite the bad press it gets from the movie Sideways, it's not a bad grape. In fact, it's beautiful for blending, as it softens out the harsher edges of Cabernet Sauvignon. On its own, I just find it kind of boring, and don't really buy it. However, keep in mind that since it is soft and non-threatening, it does make a great gateway wine for those who are uncertain about red wine.
  • I try to drink red wine before and after breathing. Sometimes breathing makes a difference, sometimes it doesn't, but it is interesting to look for those changes.

White Wines
  • Here's where the sweet/dry divide really hits home. I prefer dry or mildly sweet white wines. Lately I've been excited about the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, which have a lot of citrus flavor but aren't sweet. It's difficult to explain, but the taste is incredible.
  • I prefer unoaked white wines. Once you try several oaked and unoaked whites, you'll quickly be able to tell the difference between the two. In fact, with a lot of California Chardonnays all I taste is oak. They're also much smoother to drink, and survive a wider range of temperatures. All wines taste a little different at various temperatures, but a room temperature oaked white is going to taste nasty.
  • Speaking of temperature, the colder a wine is, the less you'll taste. This is useful for bad wines, but for what you hope will be a good wine and one that you want to examine, don't drink it ice cold.
  • Grapes I love: Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, French Chardonnay, Moscato. Again, none that I really hate, but I'll state once again that Pinot Grigio has little or no flavor in my experience.

Rosé and Sparkling Wines
  • I really enjoy a good rosé, but I'll admit that I haven't explored the field very much. I think these wines deserve better attention and study than they've traditionally received. They're excellent for a wide variety of foods, which is good for the often confusing American meals.
  • I don't drink much proper Champagne unless someone else is buying, but I'd hope that everyone would drink more fun sparkling wines. They're great informal wines, and can make a lackluster dinner look really classy. And don't be afraid to drink them with food--again, lots of dishes that are traditionally difficult to match with wine work well with sparklers.

1 comment:

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