It’s one of those subjects that seems like it has a limitless amount of information and nuance. For something that so many of us consume quite often, it seems we should all be experts.
To help us be more informed consumers, we called on someone who’s spent a lifetime among vineyards in Napa Valley, devoted to creating world-class wines – so much so that Tuck Beckstoffer can’t remember a time when he hasn’t picked fruit off the vine and been elbow deep in grapes during the harvest. When he’s not making it, he’s traveling the world educating people, helping others fully enjoy wine.
“Nobody knows everything about wine,” says Tuck. “And more importantly, nobody likes a guy who thinks he knows everything about wine. We can all keep learning.”
Do You Like It?
Ratings and points are nice, but you’re the one drinking it, so buy something you’re familiar with and then branch out from there. If you know you like Pinot Noir, then you might try Grenache, but don’t feel pressure to buy a wine just because someone says you “should.” When you find a wine you love, get a few bottles of it or even a case. You’ll have it on hand, and you’ll also be able to experiment with different food pairings.
Define The Goal
Are you buying wine to drink now or put in a cellar? What’s your budget? If it’s wine to drink now, your choices are vast. If it’s red wine, then check out the small but growing selection of red wine blends on the market. We can generally make a better blend than we can a single varietal wine, and great blends are widely available for around $30.
Support the family-run, smaller wineries. They’re pouring their hearts and souls into each bottle of wine and chances are, the wines are made by hand and not in some giant production facility.
Talk to your local wine shop, get to know them and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Good shops not only stock interesting selections but staff can also get to know your tastes and make recommendations accordingly. These guys have tasted tons of wines, so let them know what you like and let them point you in the right direction.
Less than 1% of wine bottles are corked (gone bad). You’ll know if the wine smells like wet cardboard. If you think a wine is corked, ask the sommelier replace it.
Better With Age?
Many wines get better with age. If the wine was aged in oak barrels, it probably needs some age. Some whites, such as Chardonnay, benefit from time. If, however, wine has a screw top, no aging is required.
Reds can be trickier when it comes to aging. When we make wine we look for several key chemical components: pH, acidity and alcohol. Those elements must be in balance. These days many winemakers can make chemical adjustments to create wines that are big, fruity and ready to drink immediately. These adjustments can produce wines that have no aging potential because they are not in balance. Red wines that are created with good balance can age for 10 to 50 years.
The Wine List
Read the restaurant’s list from bottom to top, not top to bottom. It’s easy to buy the most expensive bottle on the list, but it’s more exciting to find the real values on the list. Remember that sommeliers are paid to assist you in your wine selections by listening to you. Tell them what you generally like. Don’t be pressured by someone who tells you what you’re supposed to drink. You are in charge.
Find An Experience
Resorts like Palmetto Bluff, Blackberry Farm and The Cloister regularly have outstanding wine events. They also have world-class sommeliers and wine educators all in one spot. Find a festival or wine tasting event and dive in.