It can all be pretty confusing and pretty confounding.
There are literally tens of thousands of wines out there, all vying for your attention on a restaurant’s wine list or on the shelves of your favorite retailer.
Some of the labels are quite appealing and beckon to you with shades of sophistication or with an overwhelming dose of cuteness or with animated critters that would give Walt Disney plenty of ideas for a new feature film.
But in all cases, as interesting as the label is, you will be purchasing the product not for the package but for what is inside the glass. And for that you need to know something about the wine that is described on that label.
Are you a drinker of only American wine? Can you decipher a label that is in another language that tells you the point of origin (usually some remote small village in a vast country of small villages)? Are you familiar with a brand name or the name of a family whom you have never met?
Do you know the many types of grapes from which fine wine is made? Do you appreciate the entire “manufacturing” process and the many steps involved, each one having a profound effect on the taste and the aroma of what is in your glass?
Or maybe you’re happy letting someone else do the heavy lifting and will pretty much drink whatever comes along? That’s not really a bad thing; it’s just that you will never have the satisfaction of knowing what and why.
So I raise all these questions, and you, I hope, saw yourself in one or more of the scenarios. What do we do now?
C’mon, would I create a situation and not provide you with information? OK, well, maybe –– but not this time.
What confuses many wine drinkers is that early in our personal relationship with beverages, we fell into the “pop mode.” That is, we picked out a brand of what we liked, and we drank it exclusively.
You still see this all the time: people hanging on to cans of some highly marketed, well-known soft drink. They will drink nothing else but that brand. As we became more mature, or at least some did, we graduated to beers or spirits. And we found a taste we liked and drank it, to the exclusion of everything else.
In fact, often when someone served us something different from our favorite brand, we furrowed our brows and either plowed through the unpleasant gift and/or made fun of the new beverage, maybe even putting down its shortcomings for our tastes.
The beer and spirit companies thrive on this loyalty factor and play it up in their marketing. “If you drink X, you are way cool, and you look just like these other cool people. If you drink Y, not so much.”
Well, wines are a bit different. The large companies would like you to be loyal to a particular brand. They’d like that a whole lot.
But there is an issue with that approach because the folks who make wine can only make so much of it, and the usual scenario is that there’s not enough of any particular brand to get some to everyone all the time. Yes, you see certain brands spread all over the retail and restaurant scenes, but those are the exceptions.
Besides, wine presents many more interesting facets than beer or spirits. Some may argue with that, and they are entitled, but the myriad of wines –– made in certain different ways, blended differently, using different grapes and changing with every vintage as well as the passing of time –– puts wine in a unique posture to offer an endless variety of experiences.
Now, back to our original question: How do we find those wines that appeal to us personally?
You taste a lot of wines and pull a lot of corks (or these days, twist a lot of screw caps). "Ah," you say, "I’m up for that, but my wallet is not. Buying bottles of wine just to see if I like them can get quite expensive very quickly."
Lucky for you, you are reading Happy Hour at www.myneworleans.com. The solution is at hand, and, in fact, the solution is in the market.
Every week, practically every night, there are wine tastings staged by merchants and restaurants. These tastings are usually themed, built around wines from a certain region or wines primarily composed of a certain grape.
When you attend these tastings, you will find new sensations that please you. You will also find sensations about which you won’t be so excited. But that is the point. You can enjoy a good taste without having to buy a whole bottle only to discover that the phenomenal wine your buddies were bragging about is, as far as you are concerned, perfect for cleaning old wallpaper off the walls or stripping the varnish off the outside deck.
Keep in mind that when you attend a tasting event, it is just that. You are not going to receive a full-to-the-top pour. You will receive a taste, maybe one or two good mouthfuls of wine. If you want more, that’s where the purchase-a-bottle option kicks in.
Still, after you have tasted six or eight wines, it all adds up. You will feel some effect. Go easy, and pace yourself.
A big hole in the market at this time is the lack of wine outlets that are featuring flights. Flights are an excellent way to taste similar wines, made in a similar style, from different places. Usually four wines are placed in front of you, and you can see which style suits you best.
I like wine flights because you can really distinguish between wines from Europe, America, South Africa, Australia or wherever when they are sitting side-by side.
Alas, that direction seems to have fallen out of favor while the number of public tastings has increased.
It’s fun to find new wines that you enjoy. It’s also fun to eliminate wines on which we don’t want to waste time or money. Plus it’s fun to hang with good people having a great time over wine.
Bottom line: Go for it. You have absolutely nothing to lose, except maybe that outdated notion that brand loyalty is the way to go.
Surely you know there is much good stuff out there that you are passing up.
Please note that in some cases, at some times, there may be a small charge for tasting. Check with the establishment to be certain.
Wine shops that stage wine tastings at least once a week, maybe more
Swirl Wine Market, 3163 Ponce de Leon in Faubourg St. John by Esplanade Avenue
Phone: (504) 304-0635 www.swirlinthecity.com
Martin’s Wine Cellar, locations Uptown, Metairie, Northshore, Baton Rouge
Phone: (504) 896-7300 www.martinwine.com
Cork & Bottle Wine Shop and Clever Wine Bar in the American Can complex,
3700 Orleans Ave.
Phone: (504) 281-4384 www.cleverwines.com
Corkscrewed Wine Shop, 4224 Williams Blvd., Kenner
Phone: (504) 468-2558 www.corkscrewed.biz
Wine shops that stage tastings often, but maybe not every week
Hopper’s Wine and Spirits, 170 Broadway, #145, Uptown
Phone: (504) 861-7500 www.hopperswines.com
Elio’s Wine Warehouse, 6205 S. Miro, off Claiborne Avenue
by the new Tulane Baseball Stadium
Phone: (504) 866-1852 www.elioswinewarehouse.com
Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits, 600 Poland Ave., Bywater
Phone: (504) 948-9111 www.bacchanalwine.com
Wine Seller by Ben Lazich, 5000 Prytania, Uptown
Phone: (504) 899-6000 www.wine-seller.net
Wine Institute of New Orleans, 610 Tchoupitoulas St., Warehouse District
Phone: (504) 324-8000 www.winoschoolcom
Tommy’s Wine Bar, 752 Tchoupitoulas St., Warehouse District
Phone: (504) 525-4790 www.tommyswinebar.net
Helix Restaurant and Wine Bar, 936 St. Charles Ave., Lee Circle
Phone: (504) 309-2791 www.helixwb.com
The Cellars of River Ridge, 1801 Dickory Ave., River Ridge
Phone: (504) 734-8455 www.cellarsrr.com
The Wine Market, 2051 E. Gause Blvd., Slidell
Phone: (985) 781-1177 (no Web site located)