Tag Archives: wine wisdom

liquid wisdom

last week, i had the privilege of attending the second day of the wine enthusiast editorial conference – a yearly meeting of some of the world’s most refined palates and esteemed writers to discuss the world of wine and plan a year’s worth of stories in three days’ time.

at the dinner after (which i’ll be writing about sometime this week – it was a truly amazing night) i sat across from wine enthusiast’s california editor, steve heimoff, an incredibly knowledgeable resource who has spent a lifetime learning about his trade.

heimoff is the author of a wonderful wine blog. his latest post asks a question that is often taken for granted by novice wine lovers and connoisseurs alike: “is a winery’s most expensive wine always its best?”

not always, heimoff says, especially if you’re buying a wine to drink immediately. while reserve bottles are often created to age well – tasting best several years from now – most of us drink more short-sightedly. heimoff says that if you’re planning to enjoy your wine within the year, you might actually be better off buying the budget bottle.

“The reserve isn’t “better” the way a Mercedes is better than a Honda. It’s different. If you’re of the school that a big wine far from its peak is better than one made for drinking tonight, then that’s where you sit. But there are other seats at the table.”

as a child of a consumer culture that usually assumes that more expensive = better quality, i’ve always assumed that the $30 or $40 must taste better than the cheap ones (and then gone ahead and bought the cheap vino anyway). heimoff’s post serves as a gentle reminder that wine doesn’t function so straightforwardly, with many other factors – for example, personal taste and what one intends to do with the wine – coming into play.



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through a glass, darkly

i’ve never been one to wax poetic about the proper accouterments for fine wine appreciation. to me, most wines are enhanced but not transformed by drinking out of a good wine glass, as much as a matter of style as of substance. just like i’d smoke cigarettes in a heartbeat if there were a nicotine-free version that tasted like, oh, dark chocolate. (the backward swing of the wrist, the smooth puff outward. it just looks so goddamn glamorous. sigh.)


fortunately, a sturdy, well-made wine glass will neither give you cancer nor ruin your palette – in fact, it might enhance it mightily.

i was reminded of this reality a few weekends ago, when i brought a bottle of 2005 cumulus climbing shiraz to a friend’s house for some pre-bar relaxation (does that sound more grown-up than pregaming? i hope so).


the climbing shiraz tasted fine to me – peppery, as a shiraz should taste, without a ton of complexity. granted, it could have benefited from a a few years of age – but at a very reasonable price of $12, i would be hard-pressed to cellar this sucker.

drinking now, the climbing shiraz is heavy on the plum flavors with some blackberry and the requisite oaky shiraz smoke. it tasted absolutely succulent with the decadent dark chocolate moonstruck truffles my friend erin generously shared with me.



thrilled with the taste combo, i offered some to my friend megan. we were clean out of good wine glasses, and the bar’s siren song was getting louder by the minute. so, i committed what i consider to be a pretty venial sin. i poured some of the climbing shiraz into megan’s solo cup.

the look on her face was classic.

“euh!” she attempted to feign a half-smile.

“that wine is SALTY!”

she took another sip. i could tell this was pure torture for her. had some evil gnome attacked her tastebuds? were we even drinking the same thing?

suddenly, it hit me. the difference was the cup. in my big red glass, the climbing shiraz had some breathing room – something incredibly important for all wines, but even more so (i would argue) for so-called ‘value buys.’

shakespeare once said that some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. i firmly believe that the same is true of wine. some are perfect right from the vineyard, some are savory after a few years in-cellar, and some… really need help. for this third category – the value vino that i know and often love so dearly – a decent wine glass can elevate a barely tolerable drink to a very quaffable one.

i offered megan my cup, suggesting that she try my climbing shiraz once more – this time, in a proper glass. she was amazed – she claimed that it hardly tasted like the same wine!

there is a very real science to the selection of a proper wine glass. in the instance of a shiraz, the wine needs to be channeled down the center and towards the back of the tongue, largely bypassing the tastebuds that detect sourness and saltiness (or tannins, in this case) and emphasizing the fuller characteristics of the wine.



don’t get me wrong. i’m not saying that there’s any need to go purchasing a new set of stemware for every type of wine (though the folks at glassmaker riedel would have you think it’s necessary – they have glasses for drinks from A to Z; apricot liquor to zwetchkenwasser. don’t believe me? check out the wine and glass pairing guide here.)

regardless, a proper wine glass can tangibly enhance your tasting experience. cheap wine in a good glass might still be cheap wine, but i guarantee that it’ll go down easier.

the wine: 2005 Cumulus Climbing Shiraz
composition: 100% Shiraz
hails from: Orange, Australia
flavor profile: Strong plum and jam, with a smoky, hearty underbelly
tannins: Extremely evident
approximate cost:
I paid $12 at my dad’s liquor store (thanks dad!) but you’re more likely to find it around $17.


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