If you’re a newcomer to fine wines, or if you’re still on a bit of a learning curve, you’ll find it a tricky maze for several reasons. The main reason for this difficulty is actually quite simple – there are no basic, hard and fast rules that you can apply to each and every wine! This is the maze you have to learn to navigate.
The journey of wine appreciation doesn’t follow the same route for each traveller. If twenty people were invited to sample ten different wines and pick which one they thought was “best”, each wine on offer would get at least one vote. This is because everyone’s palate is different.
There’s an old Latin saying: “de gustibus non est disputandem”. This means “with taste, there is no debate”. You might really enjoy sweet wines, whereas your chum loves dry ones. Neither of you is right, neither of you is better, or more sophisticated. One of the things that puts wine beginners off is the ever-present threat of making the “wrong” choice in the eyes of wine snobs. If you want a friendly, non-judgemental wine club or supplier, try Portland Wine, as it has regular wine-tasting events and a newsletter, as well as friendly and helpful staff to guide you along.
If we start off by getting past the idea of “right” and “wrong” tastes, or preferences, then we’re halfway to developing a decent appreciation of wines. If you like a particular wine, then buy it. It’s helpful, though, to analyse exactly why you enjoy it more than others. Is it drier? Fruitier? Oakier? What is it about this wine that makes you buy it again and again?
Despite all that’s been said above, though, there are a few constants that you can rely on. These facts are reliable enough to take for granted, and form the basis of your wine education. A few of these tenets are:
A Chardonnay is most often a dry wine.
A Riesling is usually very sweet, but some Rieslings have such high acidity levels that the sweetness is overpowered and they seem dry.
Younger white wines are usually more fresh and enjoyable that older whites.
In the main, the oxidation of wines is something to be avoided – there is a small number of speciality wines that benefit from this process, but you’ll know about that before you drink it.
Despite what people like to think, not all red wines age well. The reds that are aged in the right storage conditions can be superlative, but might also be a bit too much for people that haven’t learned to appreciate the more mature red.
While reliable, these rules don’t apply to every single wine out there. There’s always going to be exceptions, and these exceptions are something you’ll pick up as you go along, either from reading about them or talking to experts. The best way to learn and progress is to try as many wines as you can and make notes. Read your notes, too!