Monday, May 21, 2007

Becoming a Wine Connoisseur: Part I

People approach me all the time and ask me how to become a wine connoisseur. Well, now, for a limited time only, all of my secrets can be yours for only three payments of $19.95!!

I wish.

Nobody asks me how to become a wine connoisseur, and they certainly don't pay me $60 to learn what little I know. What does happen with way too much frequency is that people say to me, "I'm not a wine connoisseur like you, but I really liked this wine I tasted."

Get a clue, people, I'm no wine connoisseur. Sure, I like wine, and yes, I've learned a little about wine. But I'm far from a "connoisseur." People think I'm an expert because they've convinced themselves that wine is terribly esoteric and requires years of learning from “master sommeliers” to understand. That's the really weird thing about wine: people make it out to be some high mystery, presided over by Masonic priests in white robes, sharing secret handshakes and chanting mumbo jumbo.

Some wines, like Burgundy, are really complicated, and nobody really understands them. But it's not really all that hard to know something about wine. And as long as you know a single thing more than the crapulous cretin next to you, you'll look like an expert. How do you think I've fooled you for this long?

Enough blabbering you say, "here's my $60; make me a wine expert just like you."

Sigh. OK, I'll do it. I'll show you how to know as much about wine as I do.

But first things first. Please make your check out to “Anthony Dunn” and send it to me in care of the Chico Beat.

Step 1: Put down the Thunderbird and step slowly away

In order to learn something about wine, you have to be willing to try different wines. People (even highly trained and knowledgeable wine connoisseurs like myself) get stuck in ruts, drinking the same kind of wine over and over. “I bought a bottle of Gallo merlot and really liked it.” So now all you drink is cheap merlot? I almost guarantee that trying something new is not going to kill you.

In my particular case, when I started writing this column I knew nothing about white wines. To me, tannin equaled testosterone. Real men drank red wine, period. Only women and “girlie men” drank white wine, and I didn't want to be mistaken for either. Unfortunately, I had to face white wines sooner or later in this column, so I put my testicles in a drawer and tried some.

I wish I could say that I started with something manly sounding like Gew├╝rztraminer, which could easily be mistaken for some Nazi secret weapons program, but I think I started with the much more feminine-sounding Riesling. Nonetheless, I discovered that I actually like some white wines, and that white wines will often pair with foods that are impossible to match to a red wine. Riesling, for example, is fantastic with Indian food.

The moral is that you'll never learn anything new if you don't try something new. “But, if I've never tried it, how do I know if it's any good?” Short answer: you don't. That's part of the process. You think that I know beforehand whether every wine I taste is any good? Ha! You gotta kiss a lot of toads in this business to find the princes. That's just a fact of life. And just because I liked it and Robert Parker liked it, that doesn't mean you'll like it. Everybody's tastes are different. You have to be willing to taste some bad wine if you want to taste some really good wine. Get over it.

You'll learn even more if you can taste several wines side-by-side to see how they differ. Even if you can't describe the difference (leave that to us wine connoisseurs, please), you can taste the difference. In the beginning, that's all that matters.

How can you do that without breaking the bank or having a blood alcohol level high enough to kill a mosquito? Monks is one idea. Vino 100 and Creekside Cellars are two others. All do wine tastings or flights.

Another method is to invite like-minded friends over and tell them each to bring a bottle they like. Not only is everyone guaranteed to have at least one wine they like, everyone gets to try something new. Just make sure everyone leaves their pretentiousness at home. I've had $10 bottles of wine that kicked the ass of some $100 bottles, so don't try bringing an expensive bottle in game of one-upmanship. Nobody cares.


Go into your favorite wine shop and randomly pick a bottle off the shelf of something you've never tried before. You might hate it, but you'll learn something.

Next week

Your second check for $19.95 will be due and I'll talk about wine and book larnin'.

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