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Jan 25, 2007 10:40 AM

Update from the wine newbie

I recently posted on the board as a wine newbie looking for some guidance as I set about broadening my wine knowledge beyong "red or white". Your feedback was terrific and I followed all of it including reading some suggested books, enrolling in a Wine 101 course and going to different wine shops to pick some brains and, of course, purchase and try differnt wines. Here is my initial observations on the journey into wine exploration and education:

Wine Stores- Finding a good wine shop was harder than expected. There are a lot of the superstores that tend to focus on quantity of selection and price but are limited in their selection of quality wines. The ones that I find most frustrating are the shops that immediately push the wines sitting in the bins or the end of the aisle. I have had more than one clerk tell me that the owner was pushing certain wines because they purchased a lot of it and it was not moving. I have a hard time with that approach. However, with enough patience you will finally find a shop that has knowledgable and passionate staff that are enthusiastic about wanting to teach you. Surprisingly, these shops prices are about the same as the others. I am still very early into this but I think it is safe to say that finding an honest wine shop, and probably finding several wine shops, is one of the most important factors for the beginner.

European wines- We have found that we enjoy a French Bordeaux much more than a California Cab and we enjoy a French Burgundy much more than a domestic Pinot Noir. We even enjoy some of the Italian Cabs more than the California Cabs. As a beginner I find the differences dramatic and fascinating. One wine shop owner told me that it has to do with the roots being tougher in Europe and the traditional wine making in France versus a more modern approach in California.

Other countries: As if there was not enough to learn already, I had to go out and confuse myself and get a great Malbec from Argentina and a Pinot Noir from Germany called Spatburgunder.

I have to admit that I am having fun with my trial and error approach to wine education. I don't know if I will ever totally figure out the French wines, it seems so varied and different than the other countries, but since my wife has fallen in love with red Bordeaux, I will have to learn. I know that all of my comments are overly general but I just wanted to share the thoughts of a newbie since you have all been so much help. Thanks!

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  1. Terrific that you're engaged in what can be a lifelong pursuit of wine knowledge. For my part, I've enjoyed learning as I go, and whenever I'm in a situation where wine decision-making is involved, I always look to ask "the experts" in my midst for assistance, be it the sommolier or the wine store salesperson, pick their brain, and take the sure is a fun way to learn!

    1. I would caution you about these blanket statements about this pinot being better than that pinot, this cab better than that cab... You would have to taste ALOT of California cabernet (and french and Italian for that matter) before you could ever reach such a conclusion that it's not as "good" as Italian or French. There's such variety from region to region, winemaker to winemaker, and especially year to year.

      It would be more appropriate to say "I prefer this Italian Cabernet from this winemaker in this year" better than I prefer "this California cabernet from this winemaker from this region in this year". And I prefer it today. That doesn't say much about how a wine like cabernet, which can evolve so much, might strike you after 5 or 10 years in the cellar.

      The important thing is that you're experimenting around...

      But in the process you don't want to get "stuck" with dogmatic judgements that won't help you move forward.

      The great progress you've made is to identify some good wine shops and just TASTE different varietals. The next "level" that would be good is to start matching these varietals with various foods... a step many people don't make until much later in their experience. And they end up drinking really good wines with really bad food matches.... The sooner you do it, the better.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Chicago Mike

        I did not say that one wine was better than the other and I certainly did not say that I concluded a California Cab was not as "good" as Italian or French. I said I enjoyed the European wines that I have tried more than the California Cabs that I have tried so far. As I try more winemakers, regions, vintages,etc., my opinion is likely to evolve. I understand your overall caution, however, and appreciate your feedback.

        1. re: Chicago Mike

          There's not nearly as much variety among California cabernet as there is among Bordeaux. That's one of the big problems--California winemakers are all trying to make 1961 Lafite. Some of them are pretty good at it.

        2. Congratulations! I envy you your journey. Initial wine discovery and the wine epiphanies associated with that endeavor are really, really fun.

          It is intriguing that your palate has already started to form towards old world reds (burg/bord) vs. new world. It could very much be a result of the specific selections that you have made, but there are significant differences and it is worth noting your preferences. One reason it is intriguing is that it is not unusual to see a progression in that regard... people initially like the jammy, big, fruit forward new world styles before moving to the more elegant, complex flavors of the old world. Of course these are generalizations and there are exceptions galore, but I'm sure you take my meaning.

          You will get lots of advice, good and bad (a shocking amount of it bad), so in all things let your own palate be your guide. Don't worry about your judgements... they're yours and noone else's. They too will evolve and the journey is really fun.

          1. Sounds like you're having fun, and THAT'S what wine is all about!

            1. Unfortunately, what you have experienced in some wine shops is a desire to "sell," rather than "service." A really good shop and staff care more about you being a customer for the long-haul, than helping them move some old stock. When you find that shop, you will be set.

              Good wine, and fun in life,