Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Not Mincing Wines and Weird Words

Grape: Wine Talk exists to help the average wine lover learn to enjoy wine the way nature intended. Photo by Aileen/

HEAD’S UP: Please welcome aboard the brilliant, beautiful Tamara Fish. Yes, two Tamaras at VEVLYN’S PEN. What are the odds? TF’s is a wine lover on a mission to demystify wine-tasting and wine buying through plain talk and simple pointers. Drum roll, please ...


do pencil tip, skunk and persimmon have in common? Wine tasting notes. That’s right. All of these words have appeared in those little blurbs hanging near selected bottles in wine stores.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I stopped chomping pencil tips shortly after third grade. I have never sampled skunk (but I do believe in “tastes like the smell of”), and unless you’ve got a Harry & David subscription or live in a tropical climate, you probably haven’t savored persimmon in a while.

In other words, a description of wine using these and other esoteric terms is probably quite useless to you.

Hmm ... Come to think of it, how many tasting notes like these have you seen? Are you, too, tempted to break into your best Masterpiece Theatre Classic impersonation whenever you read the back of a bottle?

Isn’t it time you’ve had some truly practical wine advice?

Then, welcome to Grape: Wine Talk. Simple grapes, simple words. Complex wines, still simple words. Period. That, and a little bit of background to guide your exploration of wine.

Grape: Wine Talk will guide you through the basics of wines, grapes, regions and tasting so that you can discover what it is you like, and make your way through any wine store with ease. Expect a spotlight on some smaller vineyards just to add spice to the average selection. Also expect it to be done with style, a relaxed Marc Jacobs type of style, but style all the same.

Let’s get started. First, understand that taste – literal taste – is very subjective. Consider Thanksgiving dinner:

“Ah, the beans were delicious!”
“No they weren’t. Too much garlic.”
“Whaddaya mean? There was barely a hint of garlic!”
“You’re nuts!”

Yadda, yadda, yadda ... Wines are no different. More often than not, wines will not taste the same to everybody. If this is true, then descriptions on tasting notes and wine labels are merely suggestions. No one will die if someone else sees “yellow” instead of “honey hewed,” tastes “lemon” instead of “lemongrass.” Wine-tasting is not a science. Some have elevated it to an art, but most just want to know if the bottle in their hand will pair nicely with dinner. Or is it pure plonk/rot-gut/ or, well, skunk. Tasting notes and wine labels are not gospel. They are a guide.

David Evangelista, Devin Parr, Olivier DuFeu at a Live Virtual Wine Tasting at South Gate Wine Bar and Restaurant. Photo by Derek Edward.

If guides don’t work, chuck them and make your own. That was actually the reason behind tasting notes in the first place. Tasting notes are cheat sheets, something that suggests what you might encounter in a bottle. What you actually find for yourself is more important than the notes. Really.

Too abstract? Then watch a recent “Live Virtual Wine Tasting” (http:// held in the light-filled wine cave of South Gate Wine Bar and Restaurant in New York.

Host Devin Parr asks South Gate’s sommelier Olivier DuFeu about what one ought to smell in a wine. ODuF’s response is equally applicable to tasting wine itself: “There are no rules when it comes to wine. Eat what you like and drink what you like.”

In other words, trust yourself.

Next: Tasting tips, and "A Tale of Two Vineyards"

Tamara Fish grew up stealing sips at the family dinner table. For the last 25 years, however, she has been savoring wine a bit more expertly. A professional writer living in New York and founder of The Presentation Professional (, Tamara delights in finding small regional wineries throughout the United States and beyond.

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