‘Choose Your Own (Wine) Adventure’

BY DAN BELMONT, Wine & Cheese Educator / Special Event Manager


‘Choose Your Own (Wine) Adventure’

“This is delicious. How do I ask for something just like this the next time I go out?”

It’s a question I get a lot during tastings. Everyone wants to be able to pick the right wine - at the wine shop, the bar or restaurant. But with a more diverse selection of wines available now than ever before - it’s tricky business. I submit that finding the RIGHT wine is about more than choosing a varietal or region or the winemaker - it’s objectively more important to pair the wine with the time, the place, the mood, and with the experience you want to have. After all, these external stimuli affect your ability to process and appreciate flavour.

Let’s say the wine I poured was a Chardonnay. Unfortunately, recreating that experience is not as simple as asking for another Chardonnay. New-world winemakers are revisiting old-school techniques and old-world winemakers are utilizing the latest technology. The grape is planted world-wide, it’s a blank slate for style, and even in a place like California, no longer are they all the ubiquitous oaky, buttery style. Simply put, not all chards are created equal.

So let’s sweep the hundreds of grape varietals aside, put the regions aside, put the wine making techniques aside and just describe the experience we want to have.

Cocktails can be even more of an enigma than wine, and now bars are often organising their drinks by when you should drink it. Menu matrixes plot an apertivo versus a post-dinner drink; and whether the drink is good for gearing-up or winding-down. Simply linking the ingredients and the experience that the drink offers to a time and a place and a mood.

I think we should look at wine the same way.

When you saddle up to a bar, you’re settling in for an experience you want to have - something tasty, sure - but do you want a wine that wakes you up? Do you want a wine that wraps you in a blanket? Do you want to be surprised? Calmed? Enlivened? Do you want to brood? Take a sunshine stroll along the shore or get lost in the deep dark woods?

I can work with that. Wine is evocative by its very nature.

Perhaps the experience we want to evoke is the universal language that can open up the world of wine and break down the intimidation that so many feel when the somm starts to explain tannin structure, oak usage, vintage variation or even flavour profile. As we’re learning, flavour is not the same for everyone as our vernacular is based in personal experience. At the end of the day, that somm’s baked apple pie may not be your baked apple pie. As a wine professional it’s my responsibility to know this stuff, but that vast body of information (it’s truly endless) shouldn’t be a prerequisite just to order a glass of wine that makes you happy.

My wife often says “I want a red wine that’s like a big hug.” And not once has a somm or bartender even hesitated. “I got just the thing!” And they return with a confident recommendation. I’d often have a chuckle to myself, my own snobbery getting the best of me - but no more! Because time and time again she gets the RIGHT wine! Maybe she had it figured out all along?

- Dan Belmont

Follow Dan on Instagram! @dbcheesynyc