I love wine. There is nothing better than enjoying a glass with my hubby at the end of the day. It’s hard to believe that in college, the girls drank Barefoot, Franzia and Yellow Tail and thought, well at least it’s not Natty Lite. We thought we were so fancy then, drinking wine out of red solo cups, maybe even a wine cooler if we were feeling wild. Little did we know there is a whole world of wine that exists outside of the jug and box.
I discovered this world when we moved from Maryland to Seattle after college. Turns out, Washington state is the largest producer of premium wines (a.k.a. non-jug or box wines, that glamorous title goes to California) in the U.S. and despite the notorious Seattle rain, the weather east of the Cascade Mountains is pretty perfect for growing grapes. There’s a number of growing regions east of Seattle in the central and southern portions of the state that are on close to the same latitude line as some of the best grape growing regions in the world, France’s Bordeaux and Burgundy regions. Because of this, a lot of the common French grape varietals grow well in WA (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay) and they’re all worth trying.
Everyone has a “gateway” wine and most people will admit they started out sweet and white (insert probably inappropriate joke here). Some are introduced first to sweet or sparkling Rieslings or Moscats (Moscato). Mine was Pinot Grigio, which is typically pretty fruity. So how do you go from “No reds for me, please” to “Bring me something dark, bold, and beautiful?” It definitely takes an adventurous and dedicated palette.
My tips for how to drink wine:
Go wine tasting.
Did you know wine is produced in all 50 states. That means, maybe even unbeknownst to you, there’s probably a winery tasting room near you! Not all of these wineries grow their own grapes, and some might not even be using grapes at all, but it’s an opportunity you should not pass up. Visiting a winery not only supports a local business, but you’ll probably learn a lot as well. For a small tasting fee (commonly waived with purchase), you have the opportunity to try several wines without the pressure of downing a whole glass. Read the tasting notes and ask questions. Remember, this is not a shot of wine to drink in one gulp – you should take a few small sips to make sure you’ve thoroughly tasted the wine. Swish the wine around in your glass and in your mouth, and smell the wine – I mean seriously, get your nose in there. Treat this as a real experiment in expanding your palette and take your time.
Know how to describe what you do or don’t like.
Do you like a wine that is sweet, or do you prefer one that is dry (opposite of sweet)? Does it taste crisp, almost refreshing? Or is not crisp, but soft? Many people say they do not like wines that are bitter or give the feeling of dry-mouth – these wines are fairly tannic. If you can put into words what you like about certain wines, and what you really don’t like, this can help you navigate (or allow someone else to help you) to find other wine types that might better fit your taste buds.
Visit you local wine shop.
If a winery is too far out of the way, try your local wine shop. In WA, wine can be sold outside of state-run stores so wine shops are often run by passionate (and often incredibly knowledgeable) winos who pick the wines they carry like they’re picking out a ring. They will be more than happy to help you find a bottle you’d like to try, and many even do their own tastings. No local wine shop? Try your local big box wine/beer stores like Total Wine & More or BevMo! where you can often taste some of their specials or chat with wine-trained personnel. Even some grocery stores like Safeway have beefed up their wine selection and offer tastings on occasion.
Pair wine with food.
Why not wine and dine? Food can be a huge complement to wine and certain wines taste far better with certain foods. A cold, crisp Chenin Blanc can be the perfect way to wash down a spicy Asian dish, just like a bold Cabernet can warm you up alongside a hearty beef stew. You can often find food pairing info online, or you can check with your local wine shop for suggestions. The perfect time to pair wine with food is at a restaurant, where the waiter or sommelier can often suggest which of their wines to pair with your upcoming meal.
Drink wines as they are meant to be drank.
This might go without saying, but not all wines are enjoyed at the same temperature and drinking a wine well outside of its intended temp will definitely skew the taste. Unless you have a wine fridge (I don’t), you’ll rely on your own refrigerator. Assuming you’re storing your wine at about room temperature (let the wine snobs gasp, but I do), white wines should typically go in the fridge at least an hour or two before you plan to enjoy it. I serve my red wines at room temperature, however I’ve heard some people will put them in the fridge for a quick 20 minutes before serving as well. Don’t drink wine right after you open the bottle. Let it sit out for at least a few minutes to “open up.” You’ll find that a little waiting can really go a long way.
Drink wine with friends.
Opening a bottle for all to try is kind of like hosting your own personal wine tasting experience. Also, there is just something intimate and fun in catching up with friends with a glass of wine in hand. If you don’t have friends (or at least ones that drink wine), try seeking out a local wine club or see if Meetup.com lists any in your area.
Never pass up an opportunity to try something new.
Trying new wines is the only way to expand your taste preferences. There are over 1,000 different grape varietals out there – gotta catch ’em all! Even let your palette travel internationally through wines from across the world. When you sit down at a restaurant with a wine list, or walk into an aisle that is wine as far as the eye can see – don’t be overwhelmed! You’re a figurative kid in a candy store! Enjoy!
Ultimately, drink what you like!
Without judgement. Seriously, wine snobs, be damned! Wine should be something you enjoy, not something you feel like you have to muster through, like compound fractions or a root canal. If you only like Pinots, then Pinot it up! If you only like dessert wines, then have your cake and drink it, too! Hell, if you find you really can’t stand wine at all, then enjoy your beer. The important thing is that you don’t automatically write off wine, in general, as something too frou-frou, too dry, or too sweet for you. Try to keep an open mind, and always a curious palette.