I enjoy big wines. Seriously the bigger the better (TWSS?) Thick and heavy on your tongue, flavorful, but not too jammy-sweet, with a lingering coat on the tastebuds. I never thought I’d be the type of person who’d be able to describe what kind of wine I like, and it seems pretentious to even say it now. But I am that kind of person, I do know what I like, and once you do too, you’ll be oh so thankful and realize there’s nothing pretentious about it.
The sooner you learn your “type,” the sooner you can describe to shop owners, bartenders, and waitresses what you’re looking for, and the more likely you are to spend your hard earned dollars on something you’ll actually enjoy drinking.
This is not to say you shouldn’t continue to experiment outside of your comfort zone when the opportunity arises. There are a lot of fantastic wines out there that you can still appreciate even if they don’t fit your “type” (crisp, sharp Savignon Blanc; bright, spicy Pinot), but just like having a go-to cocktail (vodka soda, double-lime), having a go-to type of bottle takes the anxiety out of ordering.
So how do you go about determining your “type”? There’s an easy answer – drink more.
But more important (probably) is to pay attention to what you’re drinking. When you go to a party and the host offers you white or red, check out the bottle you’re drinking from and look for a few things:
Most bottles of wine aren’t straight Zinfandel or straight Cabernet Savignon. More likely they’re a mixture of Cab Franc, Zin, and Cab Savignon, or something of that nature. The amount of which type is present in the bottle will likely be listed on the back of the label. By checking out what type of wine makes up the majority of the mixture, you can get an idea of the type of wine you prefer.
You can also use this later when checking out wines in the grocery store – see if the percentages look similar to the bottle you bought earlier that you remember enjoying. Likely you’ll enjoy this one too. When you order at a restaurant, the only information you might get is “House Cabernet” or “House Pinot.” Which percentages did you prefer when you were drinking those bottles earlier? The one made up mostly of Cabernet or the one with a high percentage of Pinot?
This is where things can get a little tricky. What if you’ve decided you like Pinots, and you go ahead and order a bottle of Pinot Noir from Spain, only to discover that it’s way too spicy for your liking? Now you’re getting a sense of region. The Pinots from Spain tend to carry more of a kick, whereas the ones from California Sonoma Valley can be more mellow. Grapes differ based on the climate and soil in which they’re grown, so take a quick peek to where this wine is coming from as well (usually on the front of the label).
Soon, you’ll have a few favorite regions for your favorite types, which will really help narrow it down at the store where most wines are separated by country, and then type.
Now you’re really getting it. You have a few favorite go-tos and you feel fairly confident picking out a range of bottles from your local shop. This is where you have to push all fears of pretentiousness aside and learn how to describe what you’re looking for. The people who can do this are much happier wine drinkers – I assure you. They know that no matter what is offered, whether they’ve seen it before, they can pick out something to please their palate.
The key to this one is the same as the rest – pay attention. Most wine bars and restaurants will have descriptions listed. If something is described as “crisp” and “floral,” swirl the wine around in your mouth and think to yourself, “this is what floral tastes like.” Really. When someone describes a wine as “floral” they pretty much always mean the same thing.
Now when you’re in a wine bar and ask for a Savignon Blanc recommendation, you can say, “do you have anything crisp and almost floral-tasting?” Don’t you sound fancy?
Remember, this is not about being pretentious, it’s about knowing what you like and having a good go-to so your money is being spent on tasty wine that you’re going to enjoy. Notice price is not one of these differentiators. It’s just not. There are $8 bottles and $80 bottles that are both excellent and stick to the description of my “type” of big, heavy Cabernet Savignon, preferably from Napa Valley. Can I tell the difference? Hell yeah. But they both satisfy what I’m looking for, and I can be happy with either. Figure out your “type” and you will too.