As we age, our sense of taste becomes more refined. What we used to find disgusting as teenagers may now be quite delectable as adults. For example, you used to hate fish as a child and now you can’t stop cramming sushi into your mouth. You warmed up to that flavor over time and now find it highly enjoyable. Wine presents another fine example of this phenomenon.
Nature doesn’t fuck around, so of course the grape is an amazing thing. In my book, the only bad grape is a seeded grape. Even in their fruit juice or Kool-Aid forms, grapes retained their deliciousness. I haven’t always been able to say the same about wine.
When I first tried wine, I thought it tasted real funky. It wasn’t until college that I started to actually appreciate the flavor, and even then I progressed slowly. Like many people, the sweet stuff was easier to stomach, so I stuck with whites and rosés at first. Eventually, I moved up to their more pungent red cousins and never looked back. It took time to develop a taste for wine and it involved a lot of trial and error. If nothing else, you get drunk off wine from time to time and this is not a bad thing.
If experimentation is your game then there really is no better way of getting to know wine than to go wine tasting. We in Northern California are lucky enough to be surrounded by several excellent regions for a bit of vino. Napa is an obvious first choice as its number of wineries boggles the mind and causes my liver to shiver in fear. It’s quite beautiful there and the weather can be very nice, but it’s also a bit snooty for my taste. Instead, try Healdsburg and its surrounding areas for a few nice surprises.
Closer to home we have the Lodi area, which looks like a dirt patch but manages to come up with some tasty Zinfandels. I have heard great things about the El Dorado Hills region but unfortunately I haven’t been. I’ve even heard cries of Livermore enough that they should start calling the town Liverless.
All of these can be fun places, but for my money (or lack thereof), the Amador Valley is the place to be. Amador has the beauty of Napa, the civility of Healdsburg, and wine that is as good or better than any of them. Tasting is usually free in Amador, which is not the case in Napa or Healdsburg, and they will usually let you re-taste whatever you like.
The wineries are cool like that in Amador. You won’t be dealing with some sucka-ass sommelier with high opinions of him/herself. Instead your wine will more likely be poured by the owner, winemaker or friends and family of one or the other. Which is to say, no one in Amador is going to try to make you feel stupid if you don’t know shit about wine or how wine tasting works. Of course, they will appreciate it if you do.
The good news for those eager to learn is there really isn’t much you need to know to avoid looking like a total dipshit. As with most public places, you should avoid fighting, breaking things and vomiting wine all over the place. Drink what you like and pour out what you don’t into the buckets on the counter. Don’t forget to eat crackers, pretzels, cheese or whatever the winery has laying around for you. You need to cleanse your palate between different wines so you can taste the difference between them and you also need to eat something to soak up all that booze, ya lush.
Once you got all of that, the real fun can begin. You can hold your glass up and look at the wine in the light if you want, but that shit gets old pretty quick when you are tasting, so do what ya like! Once you are done staring at it, swirl the wine around lightly to aerate it and open up its flavor. Take a sip and savor it. Remember if you like it and move on to the next. Repeat the process until you are finished with your flight. Buy a bottle of that good shit if you want or say thanks and go to a different winery and repeat. Easy peasy!
Hopefully you haven’t been driving like a drunk lunatic all day. Getting a limo or car service to take you around is pretty sweet, but it can be expensive unless the whole gang comes along. If nothing else you better get your drunk ass a room near the last winery you go to and sleep it off before you kill us all on the freeway. Keep yourself alive long enough and maybe you’ll eventually become a full-fledged wino! Don’t worry, you can thank me later!