I enjoy talking about wine. Sometimes, to my never-ending surprise, other people actually want to hear me yak away on the topic.
During several such public discourses, it becomes easy to pick up on what resonates with an audience, beyond my advice that the best way to learn about wine is to pop a lot of corks.
Here are a few tips and topics that generally garner a good reaction:
Identifying aromas is more parlor game than useful exercise: Sniffing a wine is enjoyable and can be useful if youre looking for freshness, clarity, harmony (alcohol fumes bad) and focus, but not if youre debating whether youre getting Key lime or kaffir lime.
Those tasting notes that list a litany of fruits and other elements should be pretty much ignored. Wine importer Kermit Lynch explains: I might smell violets on a wine out of the barrel, but by the time its bottled, there are no violets there. And a year later, it will have none of the same aromas as before. Or you can get an aroma at one temperature, but you heat the wine up five degrees and that aromas gone.
What we know can hurt us: The wine world is no place for assumptions and conventional wisdom. At a recent tasting I hit upon a theme of counterintuitive bottles: a complex Beaujolais worlds apart from the candyish Nouveau that most folks associate with the region (Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent); a dry moscato and a malbec not from Argentina but its homeland, the French region of Cahors (Chateau Eugenie). People love surprises, or at least the open-minded sorts who most enjoy wine.
Understanding texture is pretty simple: Talking about weight/body/texture/mouthfeel can elicit befuddled looks until I trot out an analogy from writer Karen MacNeil that provides context. Light-bodied wine: skim milk; medium-bodied wine: whole milk; full-bodied wine: cream.
Cook with what you drink: A good cook wouldnt use 5-year-old dried herbs, and a $20 cut of meat deserves a better flavor enhancer than most any $6 wine. I unfailingly quote Duxoup Wine Works winemaker Andy Cutter:
Never use crummy wine while cooking, because all it does is cook off the alcohol and the only thing good about crummy wine is the alcohol.