The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, once said, “you’ll always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” How many times in the last month did you take a chance on a new wine region or variety you were unfamiliar with? Was it more than two or three? Did you even step outside of your normal wine indulgence boundaries once? Well if you haven’t, it may be time to do so.
There are a finite number of opportunities to try something new in our wine drinking lives. I know I’ve missed a handful. The most nagging part about not trying something new is that you have no idea what you’re missing out on.
My step mother once told me that she hates Chardonnay and that it’s her least favorite variety. Lucky for her I embraced the challenge to really put this allegation to the test. Chardonnay is produced in a wide array of styles; it's nearly impossible to dislike them all. She, like most American wine drinkers, was most often exposed to the oaky, buttery Rombauers of the wine world being unaware that Chardonnay can be something totally different. So I introduced her to the mineral driven Chardonnay’s of Burgundy. As you can expect, it was an instant hit with her palette. Now she’s a Chardonnay/White Burgundy fanatic!
One of the biggest fallacies that overcomes scores of sommeliers and wine professionals is getting too complacent drinking the wines they adore. As a wine professional you get exposed to an immense array of different wines produced in different styles from a variety of different places. Eventually, like most wine drinkers, we tend to favor certain styles of wine over others. Although enjoyable, drinking the same wines over and over again becomes detrimental to our ability to judge and appreciate other wines. It’s important to continuously rotate through different wines, tasting bottles that are outside your comfort zone.
Even the most well trained wine drinking palates of the world can fall victim to self-righteous wine drinking. So how can we begin to step out of our default wine consumption settings? If you don’t already know the difference between Old World vs. New World wines this is going to be your starting point. Open a bottle of Napa Cab alongside a bottle of Left Bank Bordeaux. Let the wines breath, taste each of them in 10 minute intervals and watch each wine evolve in the glass. But don’t stop there! Follow this same process across a number of comparable wines.
Here are a few Old World vs New World tastings you can experiment with:
- Napa Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Left Bank Bordeaux
- Australian Shiraz vs. Northern Rhone Syrah
- Russian River Pinot vs. Red Burgundy
- Finger Lakes Riesling vs. German Riesling
- Chilean Chardonnay vs. White Burgundy
- New Zealand Sauvginon Blanc vs Sancerre Blanc
If Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is your jam I’d recommend trying some more earth driven wines that express subtle fruit qualities. The wines of Chinon are drastically different from most Napa Cabernets. Chinon is produced from Cabernet Franc, one of the parent varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon; however, these wines are a touch lighter with subtle fruit character driven by earthy undertones and green vegetals. Chinon provides a stark contrast to Napa Valley Cabernet while being a great option when stepping outside of your normal wine preference.
One of the most educating experiments you can try is challenging yourself to try something you previously disliked. Wine lovers now is the time to muster up the courage to challenge old notions. If you’re like my step mom and ‘hate’ Chardonnay try white Burgundy. If Cabernet Sauvignon is too overwhelming for your palate, dip your toe in the wine waters of Bordeaux. Has Chianti always lived outside your comfort zone? Try a bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco.
Sometimes a flawed bottle or a wine from a lower quality producer can evoke inaccurate impressions about the potential for that particular style of wine. I implore you to scrutinize your previously conceived notions about rejected wines. All it takes is one bottle at the right time to completely evolve your wine drinking experience. Oenophiles, it’s time to pave new roads and take your palate to an undiscovered wine oasis. Be courageous and enjoy the journey.
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