It's been just about 14 years since I began to become interested in wine - that is more than simply having a glass or two with a nice dinner a few times a week. I had recently moved to Toronto, and become a first time homeowner. As a homeowner, I felt it right that I should have some wine on hand.
I have a dark cupboard with shelves under the basement steps - ideal for storing a few bottles. This could store a variety of wines that would match different foods, and be available to serve to guests. I didn't know much about wine. I knew that there were some wineries in Niagara. I knew about Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. I knew of Bordeaux and Burgundy. The only winery I'd ever visited was Poggio Antico in Italy.
As i collected a few bottles, my knowledge grew. One day I read an article about a winery in Niagara called Crown Bench Estates. The article intrigued me enough to escape Toronto one Saturday and have a peak around.
Now, hundreds of winery visits, a few thousand bottles bought and consumed, stacks of Wine Spectator magazines, and a few trips to California, it's interesting to consider the key things I've learned. - and here they are:
1. Your palate is the only one that counts
If your buying wine for yourself, it's useful to listen to recommendations from other - be they friends, family or famous wine critics. However, ultimately, one develops one own preferences. A wine writer may give a wine a '90 point score' - but that doesn't mean that you must like it too.
This isn't a right or wrong thing. People have different tastes - and thankfully so, as this leads to more variety.
2. Avoid fixating on one wine
People generally don't eat the same food everyday, because most of us find that tiring on the third day or so. I believe the same is true for wine. My original goal in having 'wine on hand' was to have a variety - and I've kept to that.
I think this has helped me avoid getting palate burnout on any given wine style.
3. The palate evolves
This having been said, I enjoy some wine styles more, and some less, than I used to. The evolution may be due more to age than training my palate to become more 'educated'.
4. I know what I like
When I first began to collect, I would scour the Vintages monthly catalogue, The Wine Spectator, and anything else I could fine in order to figure out what to acquire - especially in terms of value for money.
Now I have good idea of what I like, and I don't spend much time reading up.
5. Price points
I used to buy wine in price point between $10 and $45 - and occasionally up to $75. These days, I'll by wine in the $13-$17 range for 'everyday' consumption. I'll buy wines $40 and over for special occasions and laying down.
Why is this? Firstly, I know what I like - and I can get a very enjoyable wine for between $13 and $17. The wines between $18 and $39 maybe good, but they are not usually worth the premium.
At and above the $40 price is where I found the that are either especially good and/or will age well.
6. My 'go tos'
Here are some of my 'go tos' - wineries, regions, appelations or what have you.
Rasteau- this Cote du Rhone appellation has never failed me. It's generally good value. This and wine from Vinsobres are worth seeking out. They can be hard to find - and there is a reason for that: many people agree with me.
Gamay - the varietal - it's full glorious name being Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc. I enjoy Gamays from Beaujolais - especially Morgon, and many offering from Niagara wineries (Malivoire, Angel's Gate, Eastdell to name a few. Gamay is good value and very food friendly
Sebastiani- this is the winery in Sonoma. Look to Sebastiani for an excellent Cabernet or Merlot at a good price.
7. After a few dozen winery visits...
you stop learning from the winery tour and tasting workshops. These are useful for those starting out - and some wineries are worth a tour to look at the setting or architecture. However, after you seen a few dozen barrel rooms, more large stainless steel tanks - how much more can you learn? Not much.
Now, if you get a change to speak with the winemaker or owner, then a tour can be interesting.
8. Winter is good
Go to the wineries in winter. There are generally no crowds - unless you're in Niagara during the Ice Wine Festival (which I avoid these days). In Winter, you don't have to worry about your purchase getting cooked in the trunk of your car.
Winemakers release wine year around. This will be when they believe the wine is ready - which is as likely to be in WInter as any other time of year.