There are two questions about wine that I get asked frequently enough that I think they deserve to be addressed here in this space. The great thing about these two questions is that if you can embrace the philosophy behind the answers I’m about to give you, your wine buying and drinking will be far easier and far more enjoyable.
1. How do I know which wines to buy?
The answer to this question is easy – read this column! OK, that was a bit self-serving, but there is a kernel of truth hidden underneath the self-promotion. The truth is that figuring out what wines to buy can be a complex task. There are so many wines out there competing for your attention, whether you buy your wines at the local market or at one of our tasting rooms. And the simple truth is that unless you have an opportunity to taste the wine before you buy it, you have no idea whether that great deal on a Sauvignon Blanc you just purchased at Sonoma Market is going to be so great when you get it home.
As far as I’m concerned, there are really three ways to approach buying wines that result in the highest probability of enjoyment. 1.) Find wine(s) you like, and keep buying them. My parents do this quite a bit, and it works well for them. They don’t want to experiment that much and yet they want to drink wine every night. They’re OK with drinking the same wines, because they like them. 2.) Find a writer or publication whose reviews you calibrate with and start building a “try and buy list” based on their recommendations. 3.) Find a local retailer you like and let him guide you. A knowledgeable retailer can really become your own personal consultant as he or she learns what your likes are.
After all of that, though, the ultimate answer is to try wines and trust your own palate.
2. How do I know when a wine I’ve purchased is ready to drink?
This question generally applies more to red wines than to whites and I will tell you for 90 percent of the wine purchases made out there, it is a moot question. Why? Because just about all wine purchased (especially single bottles) is consumed within an hour or so of purchase. We Americans are an impatient lot; we love our instant gratification. And let’s face it, for most of our wine purchases – on our way to a dinner or barbecue, or on our way home after a long day—how well a wine will age is really only an academic discussion.
Now, as an aside, I will say here what I’ve said before, for maximum enjoyment of any young red wine, make sure you open that wine an hour before you plan it drink it. This gets the shut-down aroma components interacting with air and I guarantee doing that one thing will make for maximum enjoyment of what that wine has to offer.
For those of you who are looking to lay down a case of something you really like and want to have a foolproof way to understand when that wine will be drinking at peak, I have a simple system for you: drink a bottle periodically. Open a bottle when you first buy the case and make some notes (mental or otherwise) on where the wine is – take a mental or verbal snapshot of it. Then wait six months and try another and see if it’s different. Then wait another six months and repeat the exercise. You should be getting an idea of where this is going and if the wine is improving. Make your own call about whether it’s really ready or needs more time, because, ultimately you are the one who wants to enjoy drinking it. It’s the best way I know.
As always, you can email me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Walter, a Sonoma resident for more than 20 years, has been in wine and food publishing for more than 30 years, 15 of which were spent as a senior editor and later president of Wine Spectator magazine. Today he writes the PinotReport newsletter (Pinotreport.com) and publishes books through his Carneros Press imprint (Carnerospress.com).