So a black girl walks into a wine shop....
Listen, no one likes to feel dumb. Even when you know you did or said something dumb, it's not a good feeling to have someone seemingly make it worse. Tasting and buying spoiled grape juice should NOT make anyone feel dumb.
Walking into a wine shop can be quite a jarring experience. You either feel like Belle the moment she walked into Beast's library (YAY) or like you are trying to read ancient Farsi in a cave quickly filling up with water (Jesus, Help!). For many people it's a flight or fight moment. You are either going to ask what you want to know and hope the person in the shop is personable and wants to help you learn more about wine OR you quickly exit before you have to go off on someone for speaking to you like you are dumb. Trust me, I get it. I know A LOT about wine and I've literally had to walk out of shops because of condescending employees. I have absolutely no shame asking about something I don't know and asking a billon follow up questions if I don't feel the answers or explanations I am given are satisfactory. Buying, tasting and enjoying wine should never EVER be a stressful experience. The complexity of what can come from a simple grape, given the proper attention, by the right people, in the right climate, harvested at the right time is simply magnificent and everyone should take part in enjoying the results.
Ok, that all sounded great right? But the reality is, if you walked in to the average wine shop right now, and said " Hey, I like Riesling, what would you recommend?" The employee would probably run through a litany of questions that don't make ANY sense to the average person. " Do you like dry or off dry? Do you prefer German, French or American Riesling?" Even if you manage to hold it together through that, you might then be faced with the horror of someone rambling off some German producer and wine descriptors that mean absolutely NOTHING to you. I'm gonna let you in on a secret... anyone that does that is completely full of S**T! Wine is complex, diverse and intellectual for those of us that are dorks and care to learn about viticulture, terrior, terpenes and so on and so forth. But first and foremost, wine is for enjoyment. So, now you are feeling empowered right? But you still aren't ready to walk into a wine shop feeling like you got this...no problem. Here are my 10 tips (in no particular order), to get you comfortable tasting, exploring, enjoying, and buying new wines.
Absolutely NO ONE can tell you what you like. Your palate, like your personal style is unique to you. A shirt can cost $10K and be on the cover of every fashion magazine, but if you don't like it, you don't like it. There isn't a Master Sommelier, or wine maker, or enthusiast on the planet the can or should be able to convince you to like something you don't. Just remain open to trying new things. The same type of wine can taste completely different depending on the country and producer. Your perception of the wine is what makes it amazing. Be open to trying the same wine from a different place or producer.
Get comfortable asking questions. In wine, there are NO DUMB questions and you only learn by tasting and talking. If the person in a particular shop tries to make you feel dumb, leave and go somewhere else, you don't need that negativity in your life. Email me, email@example.com, I will happily recommend wines, articles, books or even go wine shopping with you and take you somewhere i'm sure you'll have an enjoyable and informative experience.
Apps are your friends. Vivino is a wonderful app to keep track of what you drink and to read tasting notes from others. It'll also help you locate where you can buy the wines you enjoy. The best part is, all you have to do is take a picture of the bottle
Sign up (or contact me lol) for an Intro to Wine or Wine 101 class. A simple but solid foundational class can really boost your confidence and interest in exploring new wines. If you are in NYC, Corkbuzz offers an array of classes, suitable for all levels.
Take note of what you don't like. Believe it or not, it's much easier to identify taste and smells you don't like versus the ones you do. For instance, I don't like chocolate (gasp...I know lol) so it is very easy for me to identify when I smell or taste it in a wine. If you decide to try blind tasting at some point, the ability to detect these markers is super helpful.
Watch Somm: Into the Bottle on Netflix. I really don't need to say much more. This is best, easy to digest, informative, fascinating movie ever made about wine. (Fun fact if you watch, I've had the pleasure of tasting the Matthiason, 2013 "Earthquake" vintage..its amazing!)
Get familiar with your local wine shop. Chances are there are weekly tastings. Tastings are great way to not only try new wines but to talk to producers and learn the story behind the wine.
Get over not paying more than $20 a bottle for wine. Can you get great bottles of wine for under $20? Of course.. can you get a BETTER expression, higher quality, more enjoyable wine for $20-$40...ABSOLUTELY! Find a wine you really enjoy and try it at different price points, I guarantee you will see the differences. (Note: there is no direct correlation between enjoyment and price. After about $60 the price of the wine is more tied to supply and demand than the actual quality of the wine).
Start asking restaurants to pair wine with your food. You'll be amazed by how the right glass of wine can completely elevate a dish! Somms LOVE pairing wine with food. Set a budget and enjoy the ride!
WINE IS FIRST AND FOREMOST FOR ENJOYMENT AND PLEASURE! The second it starts to feel like a chore..STOP. Even those studying for exams (like meee) will tell you they still enjoy every moment they spend tasting. Wine can be complex and intellectual if you want it to be, but in the end, its for enjoyment, never ever forget that!
I hope these tips help you on your journey through the wonderful world of wine. Please share your comments and questions below and tell me what you are drinking!