Attentive readers of this column will have noticed a philosophy of wine appreciation emerging. When I started writing I didn’t know I had such a thing, but that’s part of the joy of writing: it forces you to decide where you stand. So here is my advice to someone interested in getting more out of drinking wine than they do at the moment.
Teach yourself. Your preferences are unique to you and they can never be wrong. Forget the scoring systems that give one wine 92 points and another 93. A wine can’t be better than another in the way one washing machine is better than another. Forget the tasting notes, where one expert finds notes of bramble and over-ripe fig while another finds, in the same wine, tobacco and chocolate. Ask just two questions: do I like it and does it have enough character for me to recognise it again? Which leads to the second piece of advice:
Engage brain. For every wine you drink, decide what you think of the colour, the smell in the glass (the bouquet), the feel in the mouth, the flavour when it’s in your mouth, and what’s left of the flavour when you’ve swallowed it (the finish). If your memory is hopeless, write it down.
Learn about the context. For every wine that you find interesting, do some research. Who can listen to ‘Love me do’ without everything they know about The Beatles coming into their mind and being part of their enjoyment? So, with a wine, you need to know the terrain and climate, the soil the vines grow in, the grape varieties, how the wine is made, and, if you really like the wine, who made it. Then, drinking that wine has the joy of meeting an old friend with whom you have ‘history’ rather than someone who seems nice but about whom you know nothing. The internet will tell you everything you need to know but if you like books you need a wine atlas and a book that describes wine-making around the world. I use Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion, which combines both. But all that takes time, so:
Focus on one region. For me it’s the Languedoc. I drink a glass of that purple, intense and fruity red and it brings to mind the heat of summer in the south of France, the stoniness of the soil, the squat solid men and women who work the vineyards, the small family holdings that make their wine their way and whose wine always tastes like their wine. In the end that means going there. I just hope that, unless you’ve got loads of time and money you’ve picked on France rather than Chile.
To forestall criticism, I should say that scoring wine is not a complete waste of time. Experts will tend to give the same wine similar scores. But if, like most of us, you tend to pay £10 or under for a bottle, you’d do better to look for character rather than a high score. I should also say that tasting notes are not totally useless, provided you wade through all the tosh describing the flavours and look to see whether the writer liked it, whether it had a full feel in the mouth, whether the flavours were intense or light.
Then you can choose the sort of wine you like.
Andrew is a retired doctor – our readers put their concerns to him…
“Doctor, Doctor, I’ve swallowed my pocket money”
“Take this and we’ll see if there’s any change in the morning”
“Doctor, Doctor, what happened to that man who fell into the circular saw and had the whole left side of his body cut away?”
“He’s all right now.”
“Doctor, Doctor, I’m at death’s door!”
“Don’t worry, we’ll soon pull you through”
“Doctor, doctor I’m addicted to brake fluid.”
“Nonsense man, you can stop anytime.”
Categories: Andrew Polmear