Well, I'll gladly contribute my .02, one cent at a time........
June 30 2001, 7:12 PM
Yes it is a vast subject, and keep in mind that every hour of every day, subtle new variations of the established grape genestock are developing, the weather is determining the quality and nature of the next vintage, wines in barrels and basements and caves and ships are slowly evolving...
new and established winemakers are planning and designing to make a better wine from the grapes and land they have or might have or might want all over the world...Oregan has great Pinot Gris, Australia great Reisling, New Zealand -- Sauvignon Blanc, Argentina -- Malbec, Lebanon -- at least one great Bordeaux blend, USW...
next year all these folks and many newcomers will present you with an entirely new complete set of wines
Because of this, I recommend you find at least 1 printed survey of general wine history, technology and terminology, and study it thoroughly. Depending upon your mental constitution, you might wish to pick up any of several "wine course" type books found at any large book store, or if your mind fuctions like mine, simply read Alexis Lichine's Encyclopedia or the Oxford Companion to Wine. Leave the stuff like annual vintage opinions until later.
In the meantime, wine is good for you, it makes food taste better and tastes better with food (usually) and it can be enjoyed on virtually any budget. The universe of good-to-great wine is so vast, and really bad wine just isn't in the bottle except for rarely. Oh, a wine may be a disappointment or not as good as another for the price or the year or the grape or the producer...but almost never undrinkable and valueless and uneducational. I have had 1-3 or so glasses or wine daily for...well almost forever, and almost every bottle I open is new to me. That's right, I almost never buy a case, and I rarely buy more than 2 of anything. I am most likely to walk out of a wine shop with a case or 2 or 3 of 12 or 24 or 36 different wines, none of which I have ever had before, and I am in no danger of running out of candidates. I mention this for just one reason: even if you decide to choose your wine in a more "conventional" fashion later, at least to start with, Don't Be Afraid To Try The Unknown. Find a store with a reasonably knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and a wide selection. Try whatever interests you and is within your budget. Sure, ask about it so you'll understand how to best enjoy it, look it up in your book when you get home, if you like it try a different vinyard or part of the world for that grape, or try different wines from the same region.
Oenophilia, or The Art of Being a Wino, is even more subjective, less precise, and more varied, than even WIS-dom.
Much too many people take the appreciation of wine, fine or otherwise, much, much too seriously.
It's about the enjoyment, first and foremost, and as Wes says in his masthead, the camaraderie shared over a glass of vino and a plate of delicious ...
There is much to learn. The whole journey is almost Zen-like, a constant battle between the intellect and the senses; the abstract and the concrete; the Brix level and the mouthfeel.
Here's something to start you out with - to decant or not to decant? And if so, what type or vintage is better to decant, and what not?
Personally, I am an avid believer that a youthful wine, or a mature, robust and powerful wine, should be decanted, for several hours, if possible. If you are curious how it develops, pour off a quarter glass as you open, just to see how it shows, then compare with how it develops over time.
There are those that argue that decanting is unnecessary for a young wine (ie, '90 or later California Cabs; '94 or later Bordeaux - except for the '94s, I would not be drinking any later Bordeaux now anyway, but that's another story.)
For both abstract, theoretical reasons (oxygen both ages and "wakes up" wine) and empirical observations (I got 6 bottles of three vintages, Chateau Montelena Cab Reserve, two bottles each, and decanted one each, and compared them side by side with the undecanted bottles. There was no question from me or any of my guests that the decanted bottles showed more smoothness, more complexity, more depth, than the undecanted bottles, without losing any character) I heartily recommend decanting most anything that is less than 10 years old, and much of what is worth drinking older than that.
Of course, there is the other reason for decanting, the separation of the wine from the particulated sediment in older wines...
Enjoy the journey, and hope to see you around regularly!