The Wine World: Enjoyment vs. Appreciation
In many ways, learning to appreciate wine ( instead of merely enjoying it) is a lot like listening to a symphony. At a concert, you hear the total effect of the music— all the parts at once. You may like the performance, be moved by it, even, but there’s more to be gained from the experience. Same with wine.
Instead of sitting back and letting Mozart wash wonderfully over us, let’s try to pick out the component parts that contribute to the overall effect. Over here, the violins are doing one thing. Up in the back, the woodwinds contribute harmonies, or counterpoint. Same with wine.
Sip a glass of something really good, like a teeth- purpling cabernet from Napa Valley, and you taste many things at once. Learning to pick them out, distinguish them, relish them— that’s appreciation.
For example, we generally divide the aromas and flavors of wine into five areas: fruit, floral, spice, vegetal and oak and oil. That big Napa cab, for example, might bestow flavors of black plum and cassis ( fruit), a tinge of violet or lavender ( floral), some cinnamon or pepper, perhaps ( spice), maybe a little mushroom ( vegetal) and overtones of vanilla, toffee or caramel ( which come from the oak barrels). Same with whites, just different fruits and flowers.
That’s why, when you’re in the company of sippers who are really into the wine life, you hear them slurp their wine, picking out those sensations and discussing them. They’re not being wine snobs, so please stifle the urge to smack them. They’re just being appreciative. ( A famous James Thurber cartoon depicts a man serving wine to his guests and saying, “It’s a naïve domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.” Him you can smack.)
You can get a bit more help in selecting and appreciating unfamiliar wines by remembering what some people call the “Three Gs.” If you know the the wine is made from, the or region where it’s grown and the or who makes it, you’ll have a pretty good idea of guessing what’s in the bottle.
Most people become frustrated selecting a wine because most labels tell you absolutely nothing. I can make a wine and call it Insignia or The Prisoner or Fred, even, and not have to list the types of grapes inside the bottle. So a big step toward wine appreciation is to sample widely ( that means drink a lot of wine), become familiar with the flavors of the grape varietals and discover the major winegrowing regions of the world. ( That’s a travel tip. They don’t grow wine grapes in ugly places, and wine tourism is a bunch of fun.)
For thousands of years, we’ve been crushing grapes, waiting for the juice to go bad and getting happy off the result. The wine world is a very big place, but keeping a few simple principles in mind can go a long way toward turning enjoyment into true appreciation.