Wine Talk: To each his own

When it comes to selecting wine, the new rule of thumb is drink what you like, not what the experts say you should like.

Wine Talk 370 (photo credit: courtesy)
Wine Talk 370
(photo credit: courtesy)
I have to admit that I and all those in our industry have been intolerant and unthinking of those who do not like wine. How many times have I given a tasting and been told that the white wine was too sour or the red wine too bitter.
I normally react with “If you drink it with food, it will seem better.”
I often explain that a child does not like coffee that is bitter but can learn to like it, which is why grown-ups drink coffee and children don’t. So an appreciation for wine can be learnt, and a taste can be acquired.
I have now read the most instructive wine book that explains how wrong I have been. It is titled Why You Like the Wines You Like and is written by Tim Hanni MW, one of America’s first two masters of wine. His research puts me and the wine trade as a whole in the dock. Hanni categorizes people into four vinotypes. There are two that are relevant to this article.
The first is sweet. These are people who are ultra-sensitive and need sweetness to overcome tastes of alcohol, astringency or bitterness. This is the sort of person that drinks weak coffee with sugar. It is not inferiority or a lack of sophistication, it is just the way the person is built.
Now that I think about it, what’s wrong with drinking sweet? Could this be one of the reasons that kiddush wine is still sweet and natural grape juice is so popular? In the book, it says that wine has been made for 8,000 years, and for all but the last 50, most wine has been sweet! So what is the problem? Certainly in the 19th century and early 20th century, what they called Hock (slang for German wine) was more expensive and fashionable than Bordeaux. In those days, they used to accompany the finest of meals with Hock and Sauternes! My distinguished forebear, Sir Moses Montefiore, drank port with everything.
Fortunately for the sweet vinotype, cometh the hour, cometh the perfect wine. The first wines of the new vintage each year are the Moscato wines. In America, they are proving so popular that they are calling it Moscato madness.
These wines are light, aromatic, grapey, frothy, semi-sweet to sweet and low in alcohol. They are “any time, any place” family wines, suitable for breakfast, brunch, barbecues, picnics or Friday nights.
There are Moscatos produced under the labels of Dalton, Golan, Teperberg, Carmel Selected and Young Selected. There is also a red version called Young Selected Carignano. I guarantee the great-aunt in your family who hates wine will like these.
If today some people choose to have ketchup or Coca-Cola with their meal, it stands to reason they may prefer a sweetish wine with their meal.
They should not worry about the so-called experts, and we should not turn up our noses at the idea. Anyhow, Moscato and Lambrusco are wines that make me smile and remind me that wine should be fun and not taken too seriously.
The next category of vinotype is Hyper-sensitive. This represents the person who wants light fruity wines that are not extreme in taste in any way. They want fruit and flavor without too much tannin, astringency or bone-dry acidity.
Fruity reds, dry to off dry or semi-dry whites, roses and sparkling wines.
Prosecco, Israeli-style Gewurztraminer and unoaked reds are what this vinotype prefers, and who am I to say they are wrong and do not understand? In fact, it is often the wine-knowledgeable person who does not understand. Taste is personal, and everyone is his own expert.
In fact, the wine trade is virtually immune to the person who does not feel comfortable with wine. We sell wine in heavy glass bottles, where you have to buy six glasses’ worth. We stopper the wine with a bit of tree bark, which needs an opener and the skill to use it. And when our intrepid consumer looks on the back label for help, he is confronted by wine-speak, usually with a basket of fruits thrown in.
If he or she finds the opener and manages to use it, the final expectation is that the household will have wine glasses.
Those who prefer tea in a china cup and wine in a good glass can be particular. But most people drink tea in a mug, and the reality is that not everyone has wine glasses. It really does not matter. Just open the bottle of wine and drink it. Any glass will do.
I recently had a glass of wine in a tumbler (like a low water glass) and found it very releasing.
It removed the need to taste and swirl and pontificate.
After all, wine is just fermented grapes, a stopping point between grape juice and wine vinegar. I love the idea that sometimes the important thing is the drink and not the taste or explanation.
There is something about core European authenticity in drinking wine from a tumbler.
It reminds me of villages in France, where old weathered men sit on benches outside cafes watching the world go by, with a tumbler of wine before them.
The wine will be simple, rough red wines that have a refreshing bite (rather like cranberry and pomegranate juice). To paraphrase Hugh Johnson, it is almost like rubbing down with a rough towel. This is the bare essence of wine and far removed from the elevated world of pontification, self-importance and opinion.
Of course, I am not saying that a quality restaurant, a formal dinner party and/or a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild does not merit a serious wine glass.
However, when eating spaghetti Bolognese on a red-and-white checkered tablecloth, it seems to me totally appropriate to drink wine from a tumbler.
One of my favorite drinks is the wine spritzer. This a word derived from the German. In Israel, the spritzer recalls a time in the wine dark ages. It was popular with the Yekkes and Romanians who came to Israel pre-state.
They used to buy Carmel Hock, pour it into a tall glass and add soda water. Regrettably, today’s wine intelligentsia look down on them, seeing it as representing an age when wine was not wine.
This was what the grandparents drank. Of course, now in Israel, “we understand wine.”
However, think again. What a refreshing drink it is! It is both perfect for the hot summer and good for those on a diet. It is also ideal for those on a budget, as a bottle goes a long way if drunk in this way.
I say we should be more humble and more open to the simple enjoyment of wine. In northeastern Italy, you will see young people quaffing spritzers in the trendy cafes. There, it is the height of chic.
A red wine spritzer also sounds a little old fashioned.
However, go to Spain and call it Tinto de Varano, and suddenly it becomes the in thing. A tumbler with red wine and soda with a slice of lemon looks divine and tastes very refreshing. I recommend it.
So why not ignore the naysayers here and bring the spritzer back? You can certainly serve one if I am coming to visit.
So be more tolerant the next time you hear someone say, “I hate wine.” There must be a few like this at every family gathering.
Furthermore, if someone pulls a face when tasting your favorite wine, don’t grimace and feel superior. Thank your lucky stars that wine is broad enough to satisfy everyone.
There are alternatives. Not everyone is programmed to like the wines we do, and it is wrong for us in the wine trade to try to shoehorn everyone into what we smugly call quality wines.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications. [email protected]