Wine is an outlier in the modern age of standardized products. On any given trip through a grocery aisle, you encounter dozens, if not hundreds, of items. While it may be difficult to describe in words, you likely know exactly what that Lays potato chip is going to taste like and even feel like when you bite into it. But walking through a wine store is a whole different experience filled with guesswork.
For instance, when looking for that bottle you had on your birthday in a wine shop, you try to recall….the label had a horse on it, or a dog or something. And it was from Italy...or maybe Spain, but the wine definitely had Cabernet Sauvignon in it. After getting a puzzled but sympathetic look from the wine seller, you will be presented with a few options. And even if you remember the exact label, from the exact year, it is very likely that when you bring it home and pour a glass, it may be similar, but not exactly the same as what you remember.
This is one of the frustrations with wine that can discourage people from learning too much about it. Getting over this hurdle requires thinking about wine as something different than a mass-marketed foodstuff. Where all of those products are designed to be consistent, wine is relational. From the winemaker’s perspective, wine is a conglomeration of the grape’s relationship to the vine, soil and weather. From the wine drinker’s perspective, wine is a complement to the food being eaten, the atmosphere of the room and – most importantly – their emotions.
The best way to come to accept this attribute of wine is to buy a case of wine and to drink it over the course of a year. Not fancy, “investment wines,” but normal, enjoyable bottles at a comfortable price. The contents of all of the bottles are pretty much exactly the same, yet with each new bottle, you will notice small changes. The weight of the wine will change to complement the weight of the food. Some nights the wine will reveal a characteristic previously overlooked, while other times, it may seem flat and lifeless. And sometimes the taste of the wine may even go unnoticed, when the mind is preoccupied with something else.
Wine is so deft at these small shifts because it is nuanced. So, with a little attention, wine is a great tool to give a glimpse of one's relationship to the moment. If a wine was not that great the last time but is now delicious, why? Is the food better? Are you sharing it over an interesting conversation? Did you have a particularly good, or bad, day? After getting comfortable with the idea that your experience of a wine shifts and changes on a continuous basis, you can stop searching for that one amazing bottle you had a few months ago and just start enjoying the one in front of you on the table.
In the United States, Anderson Valley, CA is one of my favorite areas for great tasting, and excellent value wines. There are many new vineyards being established there now, but one of the earlier pioneers that helped establish the region was Navarro. Their wines, particularly if you’re a fan of white, are always well made, go with a wide variety of foods, and won’t break the bank.