Something rather odd has been happening to me in the supermarket wine aisles recently. An involuntary eyebrow raise, wide eyes and, at the worst of times, an aghast look ebbing across my face.
These all disappear as I am jolted back to reality via an elbowing in the ribs from whomever I am with. Why? The result of seeing young men or women reaching for a bottle of sweet wine from the shelves – be it Two Nephews or Four Cousins or what have you. At times, I have been known to wander in the direction of this scene, curiously wanting to find out more about their purchase or divulge information on residual sugar. Generally resulting, too, in a tug of my sleeve and a humiliating hiss of so they like sweet wine, so what?
So what indeed. I am often asked questions along the lines of how does one get into wine? Then I was asked to pen something on it and it really got the brain cells dancing around the bonfire. How did I get into wine? I had a look around my world. I have wine magnets on the fridge, my passwords are wine related, I study wine as time allows and, when my account hits rock bottom with too many days left until payday, I am generally asked, “how much wine did you buy this month?” Clearly then, it seems, I am into wine. And if I think back ten or so years, I was the one reaching for the Saint Anna on the supermarket shelf.
That’s where it began. I was a student and I lived and studied in the Winelands, I was always going to encounter wine. When you are a first year and you are on your way to a braai as a student, the liquor store purchase is invariably between some alcopop six-pack and wine. The whisk(e)y/brandy/vodka mixers tend to come a bit later – or so was my experience. Moreover, as a child, I was surrounded by adults who I looked up to – in both senses of the term – invariably holding glasses of vino at social gatherings. It looked so glamorous. A sip here, a sip there…a liking is easily acquired. When one starts drinking as a teen, remnants of the milk teeth have us reaching for the sweet…it’s the natural order of things. The fact that sweet wine gets you plastered so much more quickly may have only slightly something to do with it.
Following on from this is a lesson in the art of respect. Something my blog actually makes reference to. In my case, wine tended to win. Aspirin sales soared with me. It was around this time that I became enraptured by the grape – the whole thing, from berry to bottle. The way it reacts so differently with food, the way certain vines like cool or warmth, or don’t like getting their feet wet. For the first time in, well, ever, I was truly intrigued by something and wanted to know more.
Not everyone gets bitten by the bug, but everyone I speak to seems to enjoy wine to a degree: be it a glass once a week or a bottle every day. No judging here. I’ve chatted to those who don’t care if the bottle’s been sitting in the fridge for a week, or who actually prefer it out of a box – to those who are interested in what food it complements and the downright self-confessed geeks. It doesn’t matter which section of the spectrum you fit into, it just matters that you enjoy it. Wine is mostly about enjoyment (in my books). That and the fact that one of the driving forces of human nature is intrigue, so if you’ve been drinking Sauvignon blanc for two years, it’s likely that you will reach a point where you decide you’d like to sample a Sauvignon blend, and maybe later on, the boundaries will be pushed towards sampling a straight Semillon. Taking this into consideration, you clearly are into wine. The base is there, and from that you can build.
Don’t get caught up in small stuff. You are advised, lone behold instructed not to put ice in your wine, and God forbid it’s red wine. It “dilutes the flavours” and “if served at the right temperature, you shouldn’t need ice.” Swell, but you like your wine very chilled, so what’s the problem? The pharmaceutical companies recommend I swallow a headache tablet with a little water or milk. I generally take mine with Chenin blanc because that’s my preference. And speaking of preferences, it can be overwhelming for many to face a wine list in a restaurant, especially under the guidance of a third party. In a nice restaurant, we are generally tempted to try something a little different and when someone is punting a wine at you, you generally just go along with it to get the whole process over with and the nectar poured into your glass pronto. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been swayed to go for Wine Z, taken a sip and found my tastebuds wincing, internally screeching at me what the HELL is that??
To avoid this type of scenario, and to attempt to ‘get into wine’ a bit more (if that is indeed your preference) then I would start with this little activity which will tantalise your tastebuds, be a barrel of fun and prove informative at the same time.
Choose your favourite vino. Let’s assume this is Sauvignon. Hit the shops and buy 4 or 5 different Sauvignon blancs from different producers. Those that arouse your curiosity and you would like to ‘get to know better.’ Or buy 50/50 red/white if you prefer. Invite your best buddies over. Before they arrive, cover the bottles – newspaper or socks (clean, preferably) – are easiest. Mix them all up so that even you have lost track of which is which. Number them. And then just have a bit of a tasting party. Go through them, make a note of those you like and those you don’t – and why. If you want to take it a bit further, have some snacks prepared on the side with different flavour elements…salmon pieces, pâté, biltong, cheese, olives etc. Even something sweet. It’s great to see which combinations work and which don’t. Later, have a Google of ‘wine tasting games’ or similar – you will find a whole heap of ideas online. If it proves a hit, do it monthly or every second month with different wines. It’s interesting, relaxed and downright simple fun – and a laid back way to take your enjoyment of wine to the next level.
You may even discover your new favourite way of taking Aspirin.