December 18, 2013

On Wine: Wish list for all who drink, serve, produce and regulate

Suggestions for all involved add up to making wine more enjoyable and healthier.

For all you last-minute shoppers and remorseful resolvers, here’s an all-purpose wine-based holiday guide. Partly my personal wish-list, partly a resolution line-up, partly a trendspotter if we could choose our trends, it’s an optimistic (and largely useless) take on what we all might look forward to in the year ahead. (It’s also a sort of table of contents for the next few columns I plan to write.)

DRINKERS

Open a non-boring sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve (“non-boring” to be officially defined next week), and slow down enough to realize that it’s a beautiful wine, rather than just a celebratory bubble-transfer device. Buy two more bottles and stick them in the fridge.

Next time you order pizza, or boil pasta for a cream-based sauce, or have an omelet and mashed potatoes for dinner, or bake haddock with breadcrumbs, or fry chicken, or open a can of white beans into a pan that is sautéing broccoli rabe, garlic and hot pepper, drink the bubbly.

If you’re worried about having to down a whole bottle, either buy a good sparkling-wine stopper, or recall that your wine is likely a low 12% alcohol, and use a bit of it for your dinner’s sauce or batter.

RESTAURANTS

Pour all wines into the biggest, thinnest glasses you can afford to stock. I’m aware of the Riedel-fueled insistence that various glass shapes are suited to particular styles of wine, but all my recent side-to-side comparisons bear out a bigger-is-better approach.

You can’t go wrong with “Burgundy” glasses, especially those with a turned-out edge at the lip.

If wine is about aroma, depth and expression, let’s accentuate it. Maybe if you pour crappy wines, you should stick with the narrow, thick-glass goblets (better yet, stemless), so no one will be able to taste them.

Speaking of sparkling wines, these are dramatically better off in a large glass. Sure, a “flute” retains more effervescence for longer, but is effervescence-loss actually an issue?

Almost all good sparkling wines are pent up at first, and need a few minutes outside the womb before they’re ready; a large glass makes it possible.

CRITICS

Well, we’re all that now, right? There are countless blogs, apps and social-media-based platforms for disseminating opinions.

But my overall wish for people who pay attention to what they drink and then try to write about their impressions in an endeavor to help people learn is: Don’t talk about flavors. Descriptions of flavors indicate the quality of a wine as well as descriptions of colors indicate the quality of a painting.

Flavors are usually conveyed with nouns: blackberry, white pepper, apricot, hay. Is there anyone who will find true value in knowing whether a wine reminds someone of hay? (I ask this though I have used “hay” as a descriptor.)

One gets a bit closer to the truth of a wine by referring to body over flavor, and in so doing moves toward adjectives: rich, spicy, oily, pretty.

But the more I drink, the more I find that what distinguishes great wines from forgettable ones are texture and structure. And the parts of speech best suited to these traits are verbs and adverbs, because they express the how of a given wine’s project. Does the “hay” flavor come through easily, lightly, firmly, thunderously, steadily or off-kilter? As I drink a wine, I ask where the action is. What are the verbs? And how is that action handled? With grace, or stumbling?’

PRODUCER, EUROPE

Put more information on the back label of your wine. Your Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, Rioja or Rosso di Montalcino is not going to be any less expressive of place if you list the grape names, and maybe some helpful information about your soil, climate and agricultural practices. Don’t put pairing suggestions there (“Pastas, meats and aged cheeses”? Really? All of those?), but use the space to talk about what you value most (don’t consult a marketing director), and maybe the general sorts of meals that you prepare when you drink your wine. If you have too much info to fit, embed it in a QR code.

PRODUCER, AMERICAS

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