Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine: 108 Ingenious Shortcuts to Navigate the World of Wine with Confidence and Style by Mark Oldman, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine: 108 Ingenious Shortcuts to Navigate the World of Wine with Confidence and Style

Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine: 108 Ingenious Shortcuts to Navigate the World of Wine with Confidence and Style

by Mark Oldman
     
 

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For the thousands of people who know nothing about wine and want to rectify that swiftly and painlessly, Mark Oldman-the 'Naked Chef' of wine-is here to help with the kind of information readers can use right now:
• Australian Shiraz is the most instantly likable red under $15
• Drink slightly sweet wine with spicy food
• Judge a wine

Overview

For the thousands of people who know nothing about wine and want to rectify that swiftly and painlessly, Mark Oldman-the 'Naked Chef' of wine-is here to help with the kind of information readers can use right now:
• Australian Shiraz is the most instantly likable red under $15
• Drink slightly sweet wine with spicy food
• Judge a wine shop by whether it has homemade shelf signs
• Don't store unopened wine in the refrigerator for more than a week

Loaded with his personal recommendations-including the top 100 wines less than $15?Oldman's Guide also includes the wine picks of an eclectic mix of collectors, from Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni to Morley Safer of 60 Minutes. This is a wine guide like no other and is sure to be savored by anyone who wants their wine without the attitude.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Robust, hearty and full bodied describe not just a Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon but also this comprehensive wine guide for the novice oenophile. Oldman, who has taught wine courses for more than 10 years (and, incidentally, cofounded the career Web site Vault.com), boils the basics of wine down to 108 simple chapters (here called "shortcuts"). He proves "the dirty little secret of wine appreciation is that there's just not that much to it." While Oldman says this isn't a reference book, it may be best used that way. Without the benefit of a flight of tasting wines, the information is overwhelming. Yet to look up wines by type or region, or to learn how to order in a restaurant, Oldman's guide overflows with succinct, useful advice. Those determined to read it straight through will find Oldman's anecdotal style makes the subject lighthearted and fun, and Oldman is amusingly opinionated: "Drinking Pinot Grigio is often like experiencing an Ikea rug, Ben Stein's voice, or a dose of Paxil: neutral, monotone, and devoid of highs." The casual voice occasionally is forced (drinking old wine "won't earn you a prayer session at the porcelain altar") but it makes the information accessible. Each shortcut comes with even more shortcuts: a "cheat sheet" summary, wine picks by price range, a pronunciation table and suggestions for food pairings. (Nov. 30) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Libraries have many choices when it comes to buying wine guides. Some books (e.g., Leslie Sbrocco's Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing and Sharing Wine) target specific audiences, while others (e.g., John Winthrop Haeger's North American Pinot Noir) explore the pleasures of a specific grape. Wine educator Oldman takes on the whole subject of wine-from what it is and where it comes from to how to taste, buy, and store it-without writing something unwieldy and pedantic. He has written a highly approachable, contemporary, and practical guide that gets right to the point. In brief, two- to three-page chapters ("Short Cuts"), he tells readers how to order at restaurants, how to (and how not to) taste, how to recognize the characteristics of different grapes, and much more. The end result is an inviting and informative book sure to please both novice and experienced wine connoisseurs. Its balanced and practical approach aims to put good information into the hands of busy people. A wise purchase for all public libraries where there is an interest in wine.-Andrea R. Dietze, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780142004920
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/07/2004
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
640,335
Product dimensions:
7.50(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Praise for Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine

“The perfect primer—concise, evenhanded, fun, and practical.”

The New Yorker

“Fresh, funny guide . . . glib and unpretentious, Oldman decodes wine-tasting lingo and shows how to spot a bargain bottle.”

People

“THE benchmark book for a wine introduction.”

—GoodGrape.com

“Highly approachable . . . [an] inviting and informative book sure to please both novice and experienced wine connoisseurs.”

Library Journal

“Transforms the wine experience.”

Kirkus Reviews

“If you’re a budding wine enthusiast with a distaste for encyclopedic volumes, this is the book for you.”

La Cucina Italiana

“Simplifies . . . with fun and celebrity.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“We love [Oldman’s Guide]; Mark demystifies the world of wine.”

Family Circle, Editors’ Choice Selection

“Winespeak without the geek . . . will make you fluent in wine without sounding like a blowhard.”

Bon Appétit

“The perfect book.”

Wine Enthusiast

“If only we’d had just one wine book: Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine.

—Jesse Kornbluth, The Huffington Post

PENGUIN BOOKS

Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine

Passionate about helping wine enthusiasts jostle the jaded and slay the snooty, Mark Oldman is one of the country’s leading wine personalities. His signature style was summed up as “winespeak without the geek” by Bon Appétit and “the ideal mix of wine connoisseur, showman, and everyday dude” by Publishers Weekly.

The bestselling Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine, was called “perfect” (Wine Enthusiast), “shortcuts to a connoisseur’s confidence” (BusinessWeek), and “the perfect primer—concise, evenhanded, fun, and practical” (The New Yorker). Currently in its ninth printing, it won the Georges Duboeuf Best Wine Book of the Year Award, was a finalist for “Best Wine Book” at the World Food Media Awards, and is published in Japan, Belgium, and in four volumes in France.

Mark has also written the bestselling Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, which was called “the perfect book for someone who’s just caught the bug, or would like to” (The Wall Street Journal), one of the “Best of Books of the Year” (iTunes), “amazing, hilarious” (Marie Clare), “charismatic and cool” (Publishers Weekly), and “a book you will cherish” (The Huffington Post).

Mark is a lead judge in the PBS television series The Winemakers and has just completed filming the show’s next season in France’s Rhone Valley. He has written for several top publications, including Food & Wine, Departures, and Travel & Leisure, and he has chosen all of the wine picks for the 15 million annual readers of Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine. A renowned speaker, he lectures at the country’s top gastronomic festivals, including the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, the Boston Wine Expo, and the South Beach Food Network Wine & Food Festival.

Graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University with a B.A., M.A., and J.D., Mark has long been keenly interested in innovating in the areas of education and consumer advocacy. Mark cofounded the career portal Vault.com in 1997 and served as the company’s president through its successful sale in 2007 to a private equity firm. He has served on four major boards of Stanford, including the university’s Board of Trustees

Visit Mark online at www.MarkOldman.com, www.facebook.com/wetakem, or twitter.com/markoldman.

“I drink to th’ general joy o’ th’ whole table.”

Shakespeare, Macbeth

Introduction

I know nothing about wine” is the classic sheepishly exasperated refrain uttered in wine shops and restaurants, at dinner parties, and anywhere else corks are popped. Whether you’re a habitué of Michelin three-stars or a connoisseur of Subway sandwiches, chances are you’ve experienced a Maalox moment when faced with making a decision about wine. It’s one of those universal knowledge deficiencies—like remembering friends’ birthdays or knowing the right dance moves—that haunt people throughout their lives.

The wine and restaurant industries are partially to blame. How do you experiment with new types of wine when restaurants mark them up at least three times over retail price? Even if you can afford to broaden your wine horizons in a restaurant, there’s not always someone there to guide you. Although some restaurants employ wine-savvy servers, many of them have no background in wine or just aren’t that approachable if they do. The situation can be just as difficult in wine shops. For every customer-focused wine store, there are others run by imperious or indifferent owners who care more about moving stock than educating their clientele. Even if you ignore the shopkeeper, it’s difficult to decipher the multiplicity of wine label types, with some wines identified by grape variety, others by region of origin, and still others by brand name.

Compounding the problem is wine’s Grey Poupon aura, which makes it needlessly difficult to master. Do restaurants employ scotch stewards? Do we decant tequila? Do beer guzzlers feel compelled to memorize vintage charts? And it’s not just what you do with wine; it’s what you say. Can a wine really be “diffident” and “flintaceous” or smell like “gooseberries” and “tomato leaves”? Snobs would have you believe you need a Ph.D. in linguistics to truly enjoy wine.

Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine cuts through this needless confusion like a samurai sword. The idea for it came from my students, who, over the twenty years I’ve taught wine courses, have urged me to “put this stuff in a book.” The book mirrors my teaching style, which is always focused on providing an approachable answer key of quick, easy-to-implement nuggets of wine wisdom. Having attended countless wine tastings, devoured virtually every wine book on the shelves, and talked with innumerable wine pros, I derive enormous pleasure from serving as a human filter for budding wine enthusiasts by distilling wine information down to its essentials. And because wine is not my primary business, I bring an independent perspective to the task. I am beholden to no winery, distributor, wine shop, publication, or restaurant.

There is no shortage of wine books on the market, and I recommend some of the excellent ones in the last chapter. But even the good ones require several readings to glean basic principles. Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine gets to the heart of the matter with unambiguous answers to practical wine questions. It is not a coffee table book, a reference book, or an in-depth study of a particular wine region. If you want to learn the chemistry behind malolactic fermentation or the history of the Côte d’Or, please look elsewhere.

But if you “know nothing about wine” and want to rectify that swiftly and painlessly, this book will help. I have covered the subjects most useful to my students and me and have done so with the kind of brevity that makes these principles easy to remember. This book contains 108 streamlined shortcuts, each followed up by a few explanatory paragraphs. They are carefully designed to impart just enough wine knowledge to conquer dinner parties, business dinners, gift selection, wine handling and storage, and visits to the wine shop and wine country.

Even better, this book will vastly increase the number of bullets in your vinous holster. Because most people are hopelessly resigned to falling back on the same old bottles in stores and restaurants, I’ve designed every section of this book with an eye toward expanding your wine options. You’ll learn the basic grape and regional styles as well as a slew of secret alternatives, with many sections loaded with Mark’s Picks wine recommendations. To make your wine decisions even easier, my Faithful Fifty lists supply you with dozens of time-tested bottles that will deliver big pleasure at small cost. Finally, to broaden your perspective even more, I’ve included On My Table profiles—the personal wine picks and insights of several of the world’s most accomplished wine enthusiasts, from Francis Ford Coppola to Rémi Krug.

Consider me your wine sherpa, helping you navigate the perilous but rewarding elevations of vinous knowledge. If my goal is achieved, this book will allow you to do more than just enjoy wine. You will become so confident that you’ll feel as though you’ve gotten the better of it. You will outsmart wine.

Key

CHEAT SHEET To help you remember the driving principle of each entry, the Cheat Sheet sums things up in a pithy sentence or two.

LABEL DECODER Even experts lose sight of whether a wine’s name refers to its grape or its place of origin; the Label Decoder will supply the answer.

OUTSMART THE TABLE Designed to entertain and enlighten, Outsmart the Table provides a bit of supplementary color to each entry and gives you something scintillating to say around a table of guests.

TALK THE TALK A key reason wine intimidates us is that we can’t pronounce all of those tricky european names. Talk the Talk supplies the pronunciations for hundreds of major wine words and producer names.

MARK’S PICKS Each Mark’s Picks sidebar offers a list of recommended producers for a particular wine type, based on years of gauging the preferences of my students, my wine friends, and myself. It is designed to be not a complete list of quality producers but a gateway to your exploration of a particular wine category. I have tried to emphasize options that are affordable and widely available—but be advised that even these bottles are sometimes difficult to find given America’s byzantine distribution laws. In addition, the On My Table profiles interspersed throughout the book provide hundreds of other interesting picks.

FIT FOR FEASTING While the guiding principle of food-and-wine pairing should be always to follow your own taste, it’s helpful to know about the foods that tend to flatter certain wines. Fit for feasting provides a sampling of these recommendations, with emphasis on general categories, but also specific dishes, especially ones that have traditional (e.g., red burgundy and roast chicken) or regional (e.g., Gewürztraminer and Muenster cheese) significance. By no means should you feel constrained by these or anyone else’s food recommendations—let your palate ultimately be the judge.

ON MY TABLE SURVEY I’ve found the best way to expand your wine horizons is first to hear about what other people drink. So I set out to discover what some of the world’s most interesting and accomplished wine lovers drink in their leisure time. The result: the On My Table survey, the personal wine preferences of oenophiles around the world. Interspersed throughout the book, these profiles are designed to inspire the development of your own wine passions. They constitute a veritable Noah’s Ark of prominent wine enthusiasts: winemakers, winery owners, star chefs and restaurateurs, award-winning sommeliers, leading importers, academics, auction house legends, merchants, wine educators, and celebrity collectors. I wanted you not only to become familiar with the names and preferences of these wine heroes but also to catch their excitement about wine’s ability to, in the words of Herman Melville, “open the heart . . . and thaw it right out.”

Each On My Table profile supplies a respondent’s favorite wine type, followed by a sampling of specific producers. Consult the Appendix for a full list of On My Table participants, as well as the fascinating trends that emerged from this survey.

1 The Faithful Fifteen: Fifteen Top Producers for Value

When it comes to dispensing wine advice, I don’t hide the ball. So let’s start things off by answering the question that everyone asks: where are the best values?

Although I cover buying strategies in depth later on, including my Faithful Fifty lists of the world’s best wine deals, I couldn’t wait to give you my Faithful Fifteen producers. These are the wineries offering wine that is consistently delicious, widely available, and affordably priced (often below $15 a bottle). They have served my friends, my students, and me so well over the years that they deserve to be recognized, if not memorized.

Here are the Faithful Fifteen producers, followed by some of the wines that make them such an impressive source for value.

Brancott (New Zealand)

(Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir)

Castle Rock (California & elsewhere)

(Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah)

Chateau Ste. Michelle (Washington State)

(Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Merlot, Syrah, Ice Wine)

Columbia Crest (Washington State)

(Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Ice Wine)

Concha y Toro (Chile)

(Casillero del Diablo wines, including the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carmenère)

d’Arenberg (Australia)

(Riesling, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier-Marsanne)

Georges Duboeuf (France)

(all types of Beaujolais)

Gruet (New Mexico)

(Sparkling wine)

Hogue (Washington State)

(Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer, Syrah)

OUTSMART THE TABLE

In your home, designate a “house” white, red, and bubbly—and call them that.

Lindemans (Australia)

(Chardonnay Bin 65, Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 45, Shiraz)

Paul Jaboulet Aîné (France)

(Côtes du Rhône Parallèle 45, Crozes-Hermitage)

Segura Viudas (Spain)

(Cava)

Veramonte (Chile)

(Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon)

On My Table | MARIO BATALI is one of the most influential chefs of our time and the owner of several cutting-edge restaurants, New York’s Babbo being the most famous.

Prosecco

Mionetto

Red Burgundy—Chambolle-Musigny

Georges Roumier and Ghislaine Barthod—“I love the soft and feminine Burgundies because they go so well with the braised winter food I cook.”

Southern Rhône—Châteauneuf-du-Pape (red and white)

Henri Bonneau, Les Cailloux

White Burgundy—Chablis

François Raveneau, Moreau, Laroche

Tocai [lively, full-bodied white from the Friuli region of northeastern Italy; not to be confused with Tokay–Pinot Gris from Alsace or Tokaji Aszú from Hungary]

Schiopetto, Bastianich, Marco Felluga

Primitivo

A-Mano, Sinfarossa, Felline

Brunello

Cerbaiona, Col d’Orcia, Barbi—“Special wine for special occasions.”

We begin our journey with a few simple principles that will forever improve how you judge a glass of wine. As you read on, you’ll realize that the dirty little secret of wine appreciation is that there’s just not that much to it. Swirl your wine, breathe deeply, take a taste, and think about what comes to mind. Does it smell like fruit or flowers or spices? Fermented grape juice can evoke everything from apricots to violets—but you have to train your nose to make these associations. Does the wine smell a bit sweet like vanilla? That’s evidence of oak. Is there a tingle around the sides or tip of your tongue? Acidity. Is there a puckering dryness on your tongue or inner cheeks? Tannin. Does the wine taste “hot”? Alcohol. Awareness of these and other principles provides a helpful lens through which to assess wine—so that you can then communicate your preferences to wine merchants, servers, and others charged with fulfilling your libational happiness.

2 Educate Your Nose

How did strawberries get in the wine?”

When one of my students asked this question as I was describing Pinot Noir, her naïveté generated snatches of snickering in the class. But I thought it was a reasonable question, because to the uninitiated the vocabulary of wine appreciation seems less about grapes and more about the inventory of a fruit stand.

As you embark on your wine journey, be assured that it takes experience and dedication to begin to see what the pros perceive in wine. As when learning French or the piano, you need discipline, concentration, and faith that it will eventually get easier. You have to want to detect the subtleties in wine—they won’t come to you. The payoff is that even just a little bit of effort will push you light-years ahead of most casual wine drinkers—and turn the daily obligation of eating into a ritual of pleasure and fascination.

Much of the initial difficulty of wine tasting is that we’re not used to thinking while we smell and taste. When we eat, we’re frequently like cows grazing in a pasture, glassy eyed and oblivious to the nuances of what is in our mouths. If we like a steak, we think it’s “good” or “delicious”—not that it’s “juicy with a funky, charred, minerally character.” We’re especially unfamiliar with using the nose to make more detailed discriminations—which makes scrutinizing wine that much more difficult, because, as we discuss in the next shortcut, most of taste is in fact smell.

Moreover, we’re not accustomed to homing in on specific components in wine—such as distinguishing the grass from the grapefruit in Sauvignon Blanc or the earthiness from the berry aromas in red Burgundy. It’s like listening to music: if you’re not trained to look for the twang and guttural growl of the bass guitar, you may never notice it. But if someone demonstrates what the bass sounds like by itself, that element becomes infinitely easier to identify when layered into the whole.

“THE 1982 GRUAUD-LAROSE WAS PERHAPS THE FUNKIEST WINE I HAD EVER TASTED. . . . [WHEN I OFFERED] A TASTE TO OUR WAITRESS, SHE REPLIED WITH GLEE, ‘IT SMELLS LIKE A BABY’S DIAPER.’ I DON’T KNOW WHY THOSE SMELLS IN WINE APPEAL TO ME . . . [PERHAPS] SOME DEEP ANIMAL INSTINCT BEING AWAKENED.”

—Karen King, former wine director at New York’s Gramercy Tavern

Even if we do detect aromas and flavors in wine, we don’t necessarily know how to express those sensations. Think about it: there are innumerable ways to describe what you see, hear, and touch—but where is our vocabulary for smell? It usually doesn’t venture far beyond “good,” “bad,” “sweet,” or “Who’s smoking the Mary Jane?”

“[TAKING] NOTES ON WINE WAS A PROVING GROUND FOR MY RESEARCH ON THE UNIVERSE. NOW WHEN I DESCRIBE THE BEAUTY OF A NEBULA, MY VOCABULARY IS INSPIRED BY YEARS OF WINE COMMENTARY.”

—Neil deGrasse Tyson, collector, astrophysicist, and director of the Hayden Planetarium, on how years of recording his personal wine reflections pays off in galactic studies

Your mission, then, is to construct your own sensory vocabulary for wine. Begin by becoming familiar with the descriptors that experts use. This terminology relates primarily to the aromas and flavors that naturally spring from grape juice after it undergoes fermentation. For example, fermented Cabernet Sauvignon grapes yield wine that is usually aromatic of blackcurrants and plums, while Sauvignon Blanc is often described in terms of lemon and herbs. Wine terminology also describes nongrape essences such as vanilla (from wine’s contact with oak barrels), baked bread (from the yeast used in the fermentation process), and leather or mushrooms (from the secondary aromas that develop as certain wines age). To provide a common vocabulary for these kinds of words, one enterprising expert—retired viticulture professor Ann C. Noble—fashioned them into something called the Wine Aroma Wheel. Long a favorite tool of wine-tasting classes, the wheel includes more than a hundred popular descriptors, helping narrow down impressions from the general (like “fruity”) to the specific (such as “blackberries,” “raspberries,” “strawberries”).

Winespeak isn’t limited to the concrete, of course. Wine is often associated with gender (“an aggressive, muscular Barolo,” or “a gentle, perfumed Volnay”), class (“a well-bred Bordeaux,” as opposed to a “rustic Primitivo”), and, of course, plenty of sex (“a lush, full-bodied, hedonistic Meursault”). Such associations are limited only by your imagination; a Chardonnay once reminded me of a “frozen yogurt shop” because, as I later realized, the wine was redolent of the vanilla scent that always filled that store. It is, of course, possible to take wine descriptions a bit too far. And, for your entertainment, I include on page 10 a list of some of the more florid and bizarre terms I have encountered over the years.

CHEAT SHEET

Wine appreciation needn’t be stuffy or onerous—but you must be willing to train your nose and develop your own sensory vocabulary.

OUTSMART THE TABLE

• Although the terms are used synonymously by most people, aroma technically refers to the simple, intrinsic smell of a particular grape type, while bouquet is supposed to refer to the more complex smells that develop in wine with years of bottle age. For our purposes, the difference isn’t important.

• For more on the Wine Aroma Wheel, visit www.winearomawheel.com.

As for the classic descriptors, this book will introduce you to dozens of them. But just knowing them is only the beginning. You then need to figure out which of these words make sense to you and educate your nose to recognize those aromas. This is as simple as smelling the real article—a lemon, a jar of blackcurrant preserves, the crushed pepper on your salad—and then looking for those aromas in the wine itself. Become a “student of smells,” paying attention to everyday aromas like the fruit you eat, cedar in a closet, or the smell of pavement after it has rained. Doing so, you will more easily isolate the individual components in the wine—like the bass guitar twangs in our music analogy.

Another helpful technique is to smell different wine types side by side, noticing the subtle aromatic differences among, say, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Pinot Noir, and a Beaujolais. Finally, it’s valuable to compare your own impressions against those of the experts. How do the descriptions of seasoned tasters like famed wine critic Robert Parker or the editors of Wine Spectator match up with your own? Eventually your own sensory repertoire will take shape—and you’ll be able to describe your wine preferences with precision and flair.

Thirty Poetic (and Perplexing) Wine Descriptors

The following are unusual wine descriptions I’ve heard over the years—use them at your own risk!

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Heathery

Meadow flowers

Seaweed

Mown lawn

Burning autumn leaves

INDUSTRIAL

Ash

Lead pencil

Flint

Kerosene

Candle wax

Creosote

EXOTIC

Lychee nuts

Chamomile tea

Nettles

Quince

Lanolin

Bacon fat

Vaucluse truffles

PERPLEXING

Tatsoi

Jangly

Septembral

DOWNRIGHT WRONG

Old running shoes

Wet dog

Cat’s pee

Crushed earthworms

Sweat

Beef blood

Dirty hot tub

Waterlogged Buick Riviera

Fungal

Excremental

On My Table | FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA is one of America’s great filmmakers and the founder of the award-winning Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery in Napa Valley, California.

Shiraz

Rosemount, Lindemans

Cabernet Sauvignon (and other reds) from Napa

Swanson, Staglin

3 The Three Steps of Wine Appreciation, or Don’t Give Short Shrift to the Sniff

If you remember anything from this book, know that you should never give short shrift to the sniff. In fact, as we’ll soon cover, it is the most important aspect of wine appreciation.

With that in mind, here are the three classic steps that wine tasters use:

1. THE LOOK In a step called “eyeing” the wine, tasters tilt a glass of wine away from them, preferably against a white surface, and take a good look at the wine. Besides the aesthetic pleasure of admiring your wine (such as the twenty-four-karat glow of an Australian Chardonnay or the pitch-black mystery of a Petite Sirah), a wine’s appearance can give you an idea of its bottle age. White wine gains color as it ages, often becoming golden and eventually a deep yellow-brown. A red wine sheds color as it evolves, showing a purplish tint in its youth, which turns ruby and finally a faded red-brown hue after several years. Of course, a wine’s color also varies with its particular grape type; a pinot noir, for example, starts life with a kind of ruby translucence, while syrah is characteristically darker and opaque.

Although you may feel compelled to consider a wine’s “legs”—the streaky droplets wine leaves on a glass—Shortcut 4 will disabuse you of this unnecessary ritual.

“WITHOUT VISUAL CUES FROM THE LABEL AND THE WINE COLOR, YOU WILL BE AMAZED AT HOW MUCH MORE YOU NOTICE IN THE AROMA.”

Ann C. Noble, retired professor of viticulture

2. THE “NOSE” Your olfactory sense is mission control for wine appreciation. While the mouth is a relatively ignorant sensory organ—basically capable of perceiving only things that are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty—your nose is a veritable Geiger counter of sensitivity, able to detect thousands of nuances. So most of our sense of taste is actually smell—which is why Alfalfa of the Little Rascals held his nose before being force-fed castor oil.

To get a good hit of a wine’s aromas, you must first aerate the wine—expose it to oxygen—by swirling it in the glass. It’s easier to perform this so-called taster’s twitch if you swirl the glass with its base resting on a table and when the glass is no more than half full. Then, after swirling the wine, insert your nose well into the glass and take several quick sniffs. This is when you start looking for the whole range of essences mentioned in the previous shortcut—from aromas of fruit and flowers to things like vanilla, earth, and pepper. Tasters refer to the aromas or bouquet of wine as its nose, as in “I notice a lot of blackberries on the nose.”

CHEAT SHEET

Although proper wine tasting involves three steps, nothing is more important than getting good, deliberate sniffs of the wine.

OUTSMART THE TABLE

• Never judge a wine by the first sip—allow some time for you and the wine to settle down and get acquainted.

• Always hold a glass by its stem, so as not to warm or smudge the bowl.

3. THE TASTE Let’s not kid ourselves here—the smell may be mission control, but the taste is the money shot—the real payoff. As you roll the wine on your tongue, ask yourself if any of the scents echo in its taste. Some will, but remember, it’s far easier to smell these nuances than it is to taste them. As the coming chapters explain, you’ll also want to assess a wine for its weight or body (light, medium, or heavy), acidity (sharp, moderate, or low), dryness (bone-dry, off-dry, or sweet), and, with red wine, its level of tannin (gum-numbingly high, moderate, or low). As you sit with the wine, you should consider its aftertaste or finish (long or short), balance (harmonious or out of proportion), and complexity (does the wine have a lot to say?). The pros often use the word palate to refer to a wine’s taste, as in “On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, tannic, and complex.”

We’ll clarify these concepts ahead, but if you’re asking why it’s necessary to consider such a laundry list of factors, the answer is, well, it’s not. However, if you wish to be able to describe the style of wine you really like—so that you can then communicate your preferences to wine servers and other purveyors of vinous pleasure—learning about the basic components of wine is well worth the effort.

4 Ignore a Wine’s Legs

Legs, also known as tears, are the film that collects inside a glass after you swirl your wine. I tell my students to think about how paint looks when it drips down a wall—those are a wine’s legs.

Legs are easy to identify, but they aren’t easy to interpret. In general, prominent, slow-dripping legs tend to indicate a wine that’s of some viscosity and thus more likely to taste fuller bodied. A generation ago, some wine pros declared legs an indication of a wine’s quality, and before long, every bell-bottomed barfly was looking to see whether a wine had nice legs.

Although the notion of legs has persisted in the popular imagination, these days you won’t hear experts equate legs with quality. At best, a wine with slow-dripping droplets may tip you off to a fuller mouth feel, but there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. You’ll learn much more about a wine from actually nosing and tasting it than you will from ogling its droplets.

CHEAT SHEET

Slow-dripping droplets, or legs, can indicate a fuller-bodied wine, but not much else.

OUTSMART THE TABLE

In Spain, a wine’s legs are called lagrimas (tears); in Germany, they are Kirchenfenster (church windows).

On My Table | ALAN RICHMAN is one of the world’s leading chroniclers of gastronomy and a multiple winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for his contributions to GQ magazine.

Sauvignon Blanc from California, New Zealand, France, and South Africa

U.S.: Rochioli. Sancerre: Crochet. New Zealand: Craggy Range. South Africa: Mulderbosch.

Pinot Noir from California

Siduri

Red Burgundy

Lignier, Dujac

Zinfandel

Martinelli, Seghesio

Champagne

Mumm de Cramant Blanc de Blancs

Gewürztraminer

Alsace: Zind Humbrecht. New York: Standing Stone. New Zealand: Lawson’s Dry Hills.

Riesling from Germany, California, and Alsace

Germany: Dr. Loosen, Selbach-Oster. California: Smith-Madrone. Alsace: Trimbach, Zind Humbrecht.

5 Dry Wine Is Technically Unsweet, but . . .

Even if you don’t know much about wine, you probably order your wine “dry.” Somehow, somewhere, ordering “a glass of dry wine” became the politically correct thing to do, even if some people don’t know exactly what dry means or they normally like sugary beverages like cola and frozen margaritas.

Let’s set matters straight: dry is technically the opposite of sweet, so you can think of a dry wine as being unsweet. A truly dry wine occurs when all of the natural sugar in grapes converts to alcohol during fermentation. Sweet wine, in contrast, gets that way because not all of its sugar is allowed to convert to alcohol. The unfermented sugar left in the wine is called residual sugar and is the reason dessert wines taste sweet on the tip of your tongue. Wines that are off-dry, such as many Rieslings, have only a moderate amount of residual sugar, so they are semisweet but usually dry enough to be enjoyed with a meal.

Where it gets tricky is that many wines that are fermented dry can nevertheless give the impression of sweetness. In fact, many bestselling “dry” wines, from bubbly to Chardonnay to Zinfandel to Shiraz, can seem a bit sweet. This sweet sensation comes not from residual sugar but from the fermentation of extra-ripe grapes. When grapes get intensely ripe—as they often do in warm climates like California and Australia—they can produce wine that gives a sensory impression of sweetness. Vegetables like corn or tomatoes have the same impact: although we don’t think of them as sweet per se, at their ripest and most succulent they can seduce the palate with sensations of sweetness. Dry wine can also seem a bit sweet from contact with oak barrels, which imparts a sweet vanilla dimension to wine.

“EXPERIMENT, EXPERIMENT, AND EXPERIMENT SOME MORE. . . . MOST WINE LOVERS TRACE AN EVOLUTION FROM SWEETER/OFF-DRY WHITES TO DRIER WHITES TO LIGHTER REDS TO HEAVIER, FULLER, MORE STRUCTURED AND LESS OBVIOUS REDS.”

Allen Meadows, owner, Burghound.com

CHEAT SHEET

In wine, dry is the opposite of sweet, but dry wines can sometimes seem a bit sweet. This impression of sweetness comes not so much from unfermented (i.e., residual) sugar as from the natural fruitiness that results from the fermentation of intensely ripe grapes, as well as the wine’s contact with oak barrels.

6 Acidity Is a Lemon Squeeze for Food

Miss, may I get a plate of lemons?”

If I can only tell you how many times I’ve heard this while dining out with my friend Adrian. Every chance he gets, he orders lemons with his food. Not just with fish, either. Omelets, tacos, spaghetti—everything he eats gets a hit of lemon.

At first I thought Adrian had some sort of citric obsession—you know, a lemon-colored car, crates of Lemon Pledge in his closet, and posters of ripe lemons in his bedroom.

But as I learned more about wine, I realized that his lemon lust makes perfect sense. A squeeze of lemon is like acidity in wine: it heightens the flavor of food.

Acidity is naturally present in wine and is most noticeable in tart whites like Sauvignon Blanc and light reds like Beaujolais. You know it by the tingle on the edges and tip of your tongue as well as a mouthwatering sensation in the cheeks and back of the throat. Don’t confuse acidity with tannin (Shortcut 8), the drying sensation perceptible in big red wines. When describing a wine with noticeable acidity, tasters often use terms like racy, juicy, tart, tangy, and zesty.

Like everything else in wine, acidity should be in balance. If a wine doesn’t have enough acidity, it can taste dull and lifeless—“flabby” in wine parlance. It is also what makes off-dry and dessert wines refreshing, counterbalancing their sweetness and preventing them from tasting syrupy. On the other hand, when a wine has too much acidity, it imparts a sharp, sour, almost salty sensation.

How much acidity a wine has depends on things like its grape type, soil, and climate. Cooler climates, such as France’s Chablis region and New Zealand’s Marlborough region, tend to produce wines with more pronounced acidity. Winemakers can reduce the acidity in wine by inducing malolactic fermentation. That’s a scary phrase that simply refers to a secondary fermentation that takes place in many wines. When a wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, its sharp malic acids (the same biting acids present in green apples) are converted into lactic acids (the creamy soft acids in milk), making the wine softer and smoother. Now when you hear about a wine’s “malo” in winery tasting rooms, you’ll know that it’s just a chemical reaction that tones down the wine’s acidity.

“FINE WINE IS FOOD FOR THE TABLE; IT’S MEANT TO BE DRUNK AND ENJOYED, NOT ENDLESSLY STUDIED. . . . REMEMBER, WHAT YOU LIKE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. DE GUSTIBUS NON EST DISPUTANDUM [THERE’S NO DISPUTING YOUR TASTE].”

Jack Stuart, former winemaker, Silverado Vineyards

As my lemon-loving friend has demonstrated, however, you don’t want to suppress all of a wine’s acidity. Not only is tanginess a flavor booster for food, it can actually make certain foods taste better. An acidic wine like Chianti pairs so well with acidic foods like tomato sauces and tangy cheeses because the tart tastes in the wine and the food subdue each other. The net effect for your taste buds is a bit sweet—a pleasing sensation. A wine’s tanginess is also useful with creamy sauces, helping to cut through their richness and cleanse your palate. The one pitfall to avoid is pairing acidic wine with sweet food—a combination that clashes on most people’s palates—such as having Sauvignon Blanc with birthday cake.

CHEAT SHEET

Acidity in wine is your friend, amplifying the flavor of food and giving the wine zest and, in exceptional cases, ageability.

OUTSMART THE TABLE

As we’ll cover in Shortcut 84, coldness emphasizes a wine’s acidity. That’s why serving fine dessert wines ice-cold will bring out their tartness, which is needed to balance their sweetness.

Finally, acidity is the primary reason that a tiny percentage of white wines can actually improve with age, becoming more complex and interesting as the years roll on. Acidity acts the same way that tannin does in red wine, serving as the wine’s “structure”—a gradually diminishing preservative that allows an ageable white like a grand cru Puligny-Montrachet or a fine German Riesling eventually to scale celestial heights.

7 Oak Gives Wine Hints of Vanilla and/or Smoke

Is the broccoli buttered?”

Ordering a vegetable like broccoli off a menu is always a gamble. It can come lightly buttered, its crunch softened by a light coating of beurre blanc. Or it can be swimming in a buttery lagoon, its very vegetability smothered by a creamy canopy.

So it is with oak and wine. Oak is an add-on winemakers use to enhance a wine’s natural fruit, adding a sweet scent and a creamy texture to the wine. Applying it excessively or with the wrong grape type, however, creates a heavy-handed wine that deadens the palate and clashes with food.

So how do you know that oak is in play? Its signature scent is that of vanilla, but it can also smell like butterscotch, caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut, smoke, or burned toast. Chardonnay from California and Australia is famous for its oakiness, while many of the world’s great reds, Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux, see a lot of time in oak, too. Mature Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux are often described as redolent of cedarwood, a “cigar box,” or, as a wine friend once said, “a sleepless night at the Cohiba factory.” Australian Shiraz and Spanish Rioja are sometimes infamous for their heavy contact with strong-scented oak.

Oak adds not only aromas but also flavors that echo these scents, as well as greater viscosity and creaminess. Because tannin naturally occurs in oak wood, contact with oak barrels can also give some reds a bit more tannic impact.

An even easier tip-off to oak is a label mention such as Oak Aged or an allusion to barrels, as in Barrel Fermented, Barrel Aged, or Barrel Selection. These terms describe how a wine gets oaky in the first place. One way is to ferment it in oak barrels, rather than stainless-steel tanks, which, unlike oak, don’t add any flavor to the wine. The other source of oakiness is aging in oak barrels after fermentation, typically over a period of six months to two years (and sometimes longer), to give a wine more complexity.

The type of oak used determines the impact it makes. New barrels have a much stronger effect than used ones; American oak is considered more aggressive and somewhat less refined than its French counterpart. Another consideration is the degree to which the inside of the barrel has been charred, which gives wine a toasty, smoky character.

“OAK IS THE LAZY WAY TO GET FLAVOR. IT IS TO WINEMAKING WHAT ADVERBS ARE TO WRITING.”

Jay McInerney, novelist and wine writer

Oak barrels don’t come cheap. A top-of-the-line barrel from France will set a winery back $600 or more. So if you’re wondering how producers of your favorite $10 Chardonnay can afford the expense of oak barrels, the answer is that they can’t. They instead resort to the effective but decidedly unromantic use of oak chips, contact with which can oak up thousands of gallons of wine for the price of one precious oak barrel.

CHEAT SHEET

The vanilla, butterscotch, or smoky essence in your wine comes from its contact with oak barrels.

OUTSMART THE TABLE

You’ve fallen hopelessly into the well of wine geekdom when you start talking about the provenance of the oak wood used with a particular wine. Such oakaphiles will debate the merits of oak from France’s Limousin forest versus that from Nevers and Alliers, not to mention looser-grained American and Slovenian oak.

8 Tannin, the Pucker in Your Mouth, Is Red Wine’s Natural Preservative

I call it “Château Leep-tohn.”

Before I teach about tannin, I boil about a hundred Lipton tea bags in a deep pot, stirring the bags like a witch presiding over her magic cauldron. After it cools, I serve a taste of this massively concentrated tea to my students, telling them it is an old, rare Bordeaux called—what else?—Château Lipton.

As soon as the concoction hits their lips, they know they’ve been playfully duped. I then ask them to shout out how it feels in their mouths. Inevitably I hear some amalgam of “bitter,” “dry,” “puckering,” and “yuck!” used to describe the sensation of tannin.

I found my tea trick to be the ultimate way to demonstrate tannin—an invisible chemical compound in tea, the skins of walnuts, and the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. It is noticeable in red wine because when red wine is made, grape skins are fermented with the juice, thereby imparting tannin (and red color) to the wine. White wine isn’t allowed to ferment with its skins, so it has only imperceptible levels of tannin.

Because tannin is also present in wood, wine can get some of its tannic character from aging in oak barrels. Certain grape types, Cabernet Sauvignon being the classic example, are known for producing tannic wine, while others, Pinot Noir for example, are often only slightly tannic.

If tannin is bitter, why even suffer it? Its raison d’être is to serve as a naturally diminishing preservative, giving wine what tasters call structure, which, along with acidity, is the chief reason some wines improve with age. I tell my students to imagine an ageable, tannic wine as being born with a jacket of bitter tannin. As the wine gets older, it sheds that tight jacket as its tannins slowly precipitate out as sediment, leaving the wine with more complexity and a softer texture. Tannin is also useful for giving a rich wine some oomph—a bit of bite that balances out a wine’s ripe fruit flavors and cleanses the tongue of fats and oils during a meal. Without an undercurrent of tannin, certain wines can taste dull or out of balance.

You should ultimately assess all red wines for their tannic impact and decide how much tannin you like. After you take a sip of wine, run your tongue along the roof of your mouth. Does the wine leave any noticeable dryness on your tongue? Does the wine give your tongue a dry but powdery-soft coating, indicative of soft tannins? Or is it very tannic, with a bitter, almost painful numbing dryness on your tongue, cheeks, and gums? In the last case, the proteins and fats in certain foods may help ease the pain. Just as milk softens the astringency of tea, meat and cheese tend to diminish the sensation of tannins in wine; blue-veined cheeses like Roquefort are especially helpful here. Nuts such as walnuts and pecans, which contain tannin themselves, are effective neutralizers, too. A tannic brute might also soften somewhat with an hour of aeration in a large decanter.

CHEAT SHEET

Resulting from a wine’s contact with grape skins during fermentation, tannin is the gum-drying bitterness you find in certain red wines.

OUTSMART THE TABLE

It makes sense that tannin often gives you a sense of leathery dryness, because tannins are also used in converting cow hides into your favorite pair of leather gloves.

9 A Wine’s Alcohol Content Hints at Its Body

Starting with our first, regretful realization that “liquor is quicker,” we learn to distinguish between the differing alcohol levels of beer, wine, and hard liquor. What we aren’t prompted to do, however, is distinguish between the different alcohol levels in wine. Alcohol content—noted in small print on the label—can reveal important things about the wine’s weight and taste, not to mention how quickly it will get you trolleyed.

Most wine varies between 10 percent and 14 percent alcohol, with some notable exceptions. This level depends mostly on the ripeness of the grapes at harvest. During fermentation, yeast transforms grape sugar into alcohol, which means that the more sugar the grapes contain, the more alcohol exists in the finished wine. It follows, then, that warmer growing regions like California and Australia, where grapes get ripe and sugary, make wine that’s higher in alcohol—sometimes hitting 14 percent or more.

Grapes in cooler climates such as Germany and northern France don’t get nearly as ripe—a fact reflected in the generally lower alcohol content of these regions’ wines. In difficult vintages, winemakers in cool regions may even resort to chaptalizing the wine—adding sugar to the grape juice before fermentation to give the resulting wine an extra 1 or 2 percent alcohol content.

A wine’s alcohol content is a good indicator of its body. A wine’s body is simply how heavy it feels in your mouth. Wine educators often compare light-bodied wine to skim milk, medium-bodied wine to whole milk, and full-bodied wine to a rich, mouth-filling taste of half-and-half. Connecting the dots, then, a wine that promises 10 percent alcohol should be relatively light on your palate, whereas a 14 percent blockbuster—such as many California Zinfandels—will slosh between your cheeks like a mouthful of chicken soup. When a wine has that much alcohol, it needs to be balanced by a good amount of fruit flavor, or it can leave a coarse, hot, burning sensation on the palate.

CHEAT SHEET

The higher a wine’s alcohol percentage, the fuller its body is likely to be.

OUTSMART THE TABLE

• Giving a highly alcoholic red a slight chill will tone down its “hot” taste.

• The low alcohol content of off-dry German Rieslings (8 to 9 percent) and lightly sweet Moscato d’Asti (5 percent) results from the fact that winemakers stop their fermentation early, preventing all the sugar from converting into alcohol; this unfermented or “residual sugar” makes the wine sweet.

• The high alcohol in port and other “fortified” wines (17 to 21 percent) comes from the addition of brandy during production.

10 Assess Every Wine for Balance, Complexity, and Finish

Wine tasters are always looking for a wine’s fruit sensations, as well as evidence of oak, tannin, acidity, and alcohol. Awareness of these components can help you identify three hallmarks of great wine: balance, complexity, and finish.

BALANCE A balanced wine has nothing excessive or defi cient when judged against other wines of its type. For an oaky Chardonnay to be balanced, its sweet-vanilla essences must be equaled by a sufficient amount of ripe fruit. Similarly, the sweetness in a dessert wine needs to be counteracted by a slash of acidity. Even massively concentrated wines can be balanced if their fruit, acidity, tannin, and alcohol are integrated such that no one element dominates. Tasters use terms like harmonious and symmetry to describe wines that are well balanced.

COMPLEXITY Even if a wine is balanced, it won’t necessarily have complexity. Complexity refers to a wine’s ability to show a range of pleasing aromas and tastes. Whereas inexpensive, everyday wines are mostly simple, one-dimensional affairs, better wines intrigue you with a panorama of nuances. Some great red burgundies, for example, can offer a shifting kaleidoscope of berries, violets, rose petals, smoke, earth, and Asian spices—all of which are subtle, beguiling, and apparent only after you sit with a glass for a while. A fine Viognier can treat you to an Edenic bouquet of peaches, apricots, and flowers like honeysuckle and orange blossom. Don’t fret if such gradations are not immediately apparent to you; it takes experience and concentration to appreciate them in a complex wine; see Shortcut 2.

“HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO, I BELIEVE FULLY AND COMPLETELY THAT I WAS A JOLLY PLUMP OLD LADY, WHO HAD SPENT ALL HER LIFE STOMPING ON GRAPES. ONE DAY I LOOKED UP, STILL JOLLY, AND SAID, ‘ONE DAY, I WILL HAVE MY OWN WINE CELLAR AND I WILL KNOW THE GOOD GRAPE STOMPERS FROM THE BAD ONES.’”

Tori Amos, singer-songwriter

Finish Do certain songs resonate with you after the music has stopped? Like great music, some wine tends to reverberate with you after you’ve experienced it. This is a wine’s finish, which means its aftertaste or, poetically, its lingering farewell. While the sensation of everyday wine may evaporate from your palate in just five to ten seconds, the flavor of better wine can linger for thirty seconds or more and, in exceptional cases, over a minute. A wine’s finish is judged not only by its length—how long the taste lingers in your mouth—but also by the balance of components and complexity in the wine’s finish. Is the finish too alcoholic (i.e., “hot”) or too acidic? Is the aftertaste smooth and velvety, or gritty with bitter tannins? Are you getting just one flavor or a variety of compelling nuances? These are the things tasters look for on the finish.

CHEAT SHEET

The best wines will show balance (no single element dominates), complexity (layers of aromas and flavors), and a pleasing finish (the longer, the better).

On My Table | MORLEY SAFER is the longtime co-anchor of CBS’s venerable 60 Minutes news magazine and the man behind “The French Paradox,” the groundbreaking story that revealed the health benefits of moderate wine consumption.

Red Bordeaux

Lubéron [primarily red and rosé wine from around Provence in southern France]

Chianti

Champagne

More from Morley: “The thing that I feel is most important about buying and drinking good or even indifferent wine is: there are no rules. Do not listen to anyone who claims that you must have a particular wine with a particular food. They are talking rubbish. Drink what you enjoy. Period.”

11 Terroir: A Wine’s Sense of “Somewhereness”

With no precise definition in English, the French wine concept of terroir can be elusive. The best shorthand I’ve encountered for it comes from wine writer Matt Kramer, who says that certain wines taste like they come from somewhere—and thus exhibit a sense of “somewhereness.” These wines—often described in connection with French Burgundy—are said to reflect the particular parcel of land from which their grapes come, as well as all of the natural conditions of that land, such as the soil type, angle of slope, and microclimate.

The homespun analogy I offer my students is to tomatoes. I ask them to imagine that if they bit into a tomato grown on Johnson’s Farm in my hometown of Martinsville, New Jersey, they would be able to identify a consistently unique taste. The taste of the tomato would express not just the essence of this type of fruit but also the particular plot of land it came from—its terroir, or the sum total of the natural conditions, such as Martinsville’s clay soil, gentle hills, ample August sunshine, high humidity, and so forth. The personality of this parcel of New Jersey land would be reflected in the taste of the tomato to such an extent that a tomato grown a mile away might taste slightly different.

In Burgundy, winemakers cannot say enough about terroir. Their job, they will tell you, is not to imprint their own personality on a wine, such as through the excessive use of oak barrels, but to express the terroir of each individual vineyard with as little human tinkering as possible. Respect for terroir, it is said, means that a winemaker steps aside and lets nature determine the character of a wine as much as possible. An admirable concept, no doubt, but as critic Robert Parker has stressed, respect for terroir does not give winemakers license to shirk their responsibilities. At least as important as terroir is a winemaker’s energy and ingenuity in making decisions about when to harvest the grapes, how to ferment them, whether to filter the wine, and other matters. Terroir, then, can be thought of as one factor in determining a wine’s character, especially in rarefied locations like Burgundy, but it shouldn’t be given the overriding importance it sometimes is.

CHEAT SHEET

Terroir refers to the unique personality given to a wine by its soil and other natural conditions in which the grapes were grown. It is most often associated with fine wine from Burgundy and Bordeaux but also is used in connection with other regions such as Alsace and Germany.

OUTSMART THE TABLE

Those who consider terroir all-important in determining a wine’s character are sometimes branded terroir-ists.

TALK THE TALK

terroir tare-WARE

Related to the concept of terroir is the term goût de terroir, or “taste of the soil,” also often used in connection with wine from Burgundy and other regions. You’ll often hear wine enthusiasts invoke it to describe a wine’s earthiness, which gets tasters speaking of things like tilled soil, mushrooms, and wet leaves. Mature red wine can sometimes “give up the funk” even more, with hints of aged beef or manure—a gaminess that many connoisseurs quietly appreciate.

Vintage Rearing: Survey Respondents

on Their First Wine Experiences

“I received a few drops of Krug on my lips a few hours after birth and before mother’s milk (like all Krugs).”

Rémi Krug, Champagne Krug

“I was brought up with wine. My parents would give me a little bit of wine with water during our dinner, and I grew up looking at wine as liquid food. As a result, when I went to college and watched my classmates overindulging in beer, scotch, etc., I was surprised.”

Robert Mondavi

“I drink only wine with a meal—not alone as a cocktail or an aperitif. Growing up, wine was always on our table, and as kids we could try it if we wanted to—often with some water or even ginger ale. So to me, wine and the family at table are forever linked.”

Francis Ford Coppola

“My grandfather gave me sips of the Widow [Veuve Clicquot], his favorite Champagne, when I was a child, but, at a more adult level, [what hooked me was] the first night I arrived to live and work in Paris, on a hot night in July 1965, a bottle of Nuits-St.-Georges [red Burgundy]. I have loved that earthy, vibrant taste ever since.”

Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby’s wine department

“At age fifteen, I was deep into my first kitchen apprenticeship at a two-star Lyon restaurant called Gerard Nandron. One day on our way back from a catered event, Chef Nandron and I stopped off to visit [famed chef] Paul Bocuse at his restaurant. The man himself poured us a bottle of Château Grillet [rare Viognier from the northern Rhône]. I don’t recall the exact vintage, but I do remember it seemed very old to me at the time. . . . Well, I returned to work drunk but was hooked for life on great wine.”

Daniel Boulud, celebrity chef

“When I was ten, during a recorking of our treasure, I tasted Gräfenberg Rieslings from the nineteenth century—vintages my great-grandfather, the founder of Weil, had [enjoyed].”

Wilhelm Weil, winemaker, Weingut Robert Weil

“Champagne. I loved it since I was a child and drank the remains of glasses from my parents’ dining table one evening. They found me standing on my head with a big smile. It still makes my world turn upside down—in a happy way.”

Arthur von Wiesenberger, writer on gastronomy and water master

“Being Tuscan, I was born with wine, and there families don’t go to the wine store to buy it; they go directly to the small producers and get great prices and wonderful wine.”

Sirio Maccioni, owner, Le Cirque

In this section, we cover eight classic wine types—each named after its grape of origin, because New World (i.e., non-European) wine regions like the United States and Australia tend to label wine by grape type (or varietal in wine parlance). We encounter the eager-to-please Chardonnay grape, then the grassy penetration of Sauvignon Blanc, and finally the feathery and floral Riesling, the last being the favorite white in the On My Table survey of wine lovers. We then turn to two marquee reds—Cabernet Sauvignon and its softer sister, Merlot—and finish with three other primary reds: food-fabulous Pinot Noir, peppery, lovable Zinfandel, and spicy, dark, deep Syrah.

12 Chardonnay: The World’s “It” Wine

When I’m around wine experts, it sometimes seems like Chardonnay is the piñata wine: everyone likes to beat on it because of what’s sweet inside. My survey respondents weren’t shy about taking Chardonnays to task for “all looking alike and making wine drinkers’ lives quite boring” (vintner Etienne Hugel) and being “overripe, overoaked, over-everything [such that they] tire the palate and destroy a meal” (vintner Mike Havens).

On the other hand, Chardonnay remains not only the most popular white wine in America but also the only white wine for many drinkers. Its vanilla-bean bouquet, creamy texture, and overall inoffensiveness make it as comforting as a spoonful of applesauce—and thus a starting point in our wine journey for many of us. For me, tasting a ripe California Chardonnay is like hearing the first few bars of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”: a dreamily sweet ride down the palm-lined boulevard of my past.

Meet the Author

One of the country’s leading wine educators, Mark Oldman is author of the best-selling Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine (Penguin Books), which was called "perfect" by Wine Enthusiast, "winespeak without the geek" by Bon Appètit, and "shortcuts to a connoisseurs confidence" by BusinessWeek. Winner of the Duboeuf “Best Wine Book of the Year” Award. Oldman’s Guide was also recently published in Japan and in four volumes in France.

Mark writes about wine for several leading lifestyle publications, and contributes a wine column and chooses the wine picks for the hit magazine Everyday with Rachael Ray. He is also the lead judge in the new PBS television series The Winemakers.

For over seventeen years, Mark has taught his lively Outsmarting Wine™ courses and seminars to thousands of wine enthusiasts across the country. He lectures at some of the country’s top gastronomic festivals, including the Aspen Food & Wine Classic and the Boston Wine Expo.

Mark began his wine journey in 1990 when as a student he founded Stanford Wine Circle, a popular university club hosting tastings with California wine legends, earning him the nickname "Bacchus on the Campus" in Wine Spectator magazine.

Mark’s pro-consumer approach and commitment to education have animated all of his professional endeavors. He is one of the three founding partners of Vault.com, the leading media company for career information. He is also a licensed attorney and co-author of several best-selling career-focused books.

Mark graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A and M.A. from Stanford University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. He is a Trustee Emeritus of Stanford University, having served on its Board of Trustees for five years.

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