Tuesday, July 26, 2011

...And Wine for All

Wine is universal. Vitis Vinifera, the grape species populated by the many beloved varieties that are made into the wines we enjoy everyday, has a very special and unique power. Unlike with other fruit, wine made from these grapes can give a world of different flavors that seem to have nothing to do with grapes at all!

What I mean is that wine made from, say, pineapples will taste just like pineapples, plum wine tastes like plums, but when Chardonnay grapes become wine, the wine can taste like green apples. Young Pinot Noir can taste like a salad of fresh raspberries, red cherries and cranberries. After a little time in an oak barrel, it can smell like baking spices - cinnamon and nutmeg, perhaps tobacco leaf and cedar, and it can have the flavor of hickory smoked bacon. Sauvignon Blanc can smell like freshly cut grass and green bell peppers, taste like citrus fruit like grapefruit and lemon, sometimes even passion fruit. No other fruit can do that!

So when I say wine is universal, I mean that with all those wonderful possibilities, there’s a wine out there for every palate. Seriously. If for example you enjoy eating grapefruits, and you love lemonade then I would think you should start buying and trying Sauvignon Blancs from around the world. If you grew up in South East Asia eating lychees, star fruit, rambutan and food cooked with ginger and lots of spices, get with some Gew├╝rztraminer (say it with me now: ge-VIRTZ-tra-MEE-ner)

This is not the same as pairing wine with food. While that is a fun and interesting exercise, it does not definitively address the issue of personal taste and palate memory. If the flavors in a wine are familiar to you, then you will better be able to relate to that wine, and so it can serve as an easy go-to for you. Like when I first tasted Chardonnay, I just didn’t get it. Growing up in a West Indian household, I did not eat apples really - certainly not green ones. So I downshifted to White Zinfandel (don’t judge me). Bubblegum! Yes, I’ve had that! Then I shifted back up into the real wine world by trying some Riesling - yeah, tropical fruit flavors. Now we’re talking! Suddenly wine wasn’t alien to me anymore. Soon afterward, I took my first wine class - the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Certificate at the Birmingham College of Food in the UK - and the rest is history.

Drink what you like based on what flavors resonate best in your food life. That is my best piece of advice for your wineLIFE!