There’s more to Know-How than having the ability to stack firewood or read a compass. Those calloused hands are nothing, after all, if you can’t smooth them out every once in a while.
To reach the peak of our Triad, we need to know a little about a lot.
Take all the holiday affairs you’ll surely be attending over the next month. Countless bottles of wine will be broken out. And you may even be asked to pick a bottle for a meal.
So in light of the holiday season we’ve now entered, here is Manward’s ultra-quick primer to everything you need to know about wine.
It’s nothing like you’d expect.
We’ll Drink to That
First, it’s critical you know about the infamous “Judgment of Paris.”
It shows the farce that is so much of the wine world.
The “judgment” was the decisive (and funny) event in 1976 when one of the world’s leading wine merchants pulled together 11 top wine experts for a bit of a blind taste test. He wanted to prove that the wine pouring from France was far superior to the new stuff coming from Napa.
Of course… the wines from Napa won.
And then they won again a few years later during a bit of a rematch.
More recently, this is the funny part, wines from southern New Jersey beat out Napa’s best examples.
The wine world was terrified.
Joisey doesn’t quite have the same romantic appeal as Napa.
It proves what most honest wine drinkers have believed all along… There’s a lot of branding, snobbery and illusion in the wine world.
The truth is test after test proves the vast majority of folks (even the so-called experts) can’t taste the difference between an expensive wine and a cheap wine.
In fact, in many tests, the expensive vintages actually score lower than cheap wines.
The conclusion, of course, is to save your money.
You may not want to go for the $9 bottle, but you certainly don’t need to splurge for the $90 bottle. Nobody will know the difference.
The Color Wars
As for all those different varieties of wine… we’ll need more room to cover them all.
But know this. Merlot, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon are simply types of red grapes. And chardonnay, riesling and sauvignon blanc are all types of white grapes.
There’s nothing all that different in the winemaking process between species of grapes – although red grapes are typically fermented with their skins intact. The varying taste and texture simply come from varying plant chemistry.
Red wines are typically softer and richer than white. They should be served just below room temperature – at about 65 degrees. This dulls the often sharp flavor of red wine’s rich tannins (which taste like tea or dark chocolate) and emphasizes their fruitiness.
In other words, slightly chilled red wine burns less.
White wines, on the other hand, are much more fruity and floral. They are typically served at 55 degrees to help bring out their rich aroma and emphasize the acidity.
In other words, a chilled white wine tastes better and feels a bit crisper in the mouth.
Our advice is to find a grape you like (we’re still looking for one we don’t like) and stick to it. Try different brands until you find a favorite.
The go-to grape in the Manward house… is malbec. We once spent nearly two weeks touring the wineries and vineyards of the malbec capital of the world – Argentina’s famed Mendoza region.
Wines from the high-altitude foothills of the Andés are quite unique. They’re very flavorful and have a texture unlike any other wine.
Our favorite bottle costs just $13.
Your Bottle, Sir
Finally, we must cover what is perhaps the most intimidating part of the whole wine-drinking world.
We’ve all been there. We order a bottle of wine for the table, and the waiter leans over and pours us a small sample glass.
The whole table is watching, waiting to see if we say something that proves we’re a true wine snob.
Will we swirl it in our glass just right? Will we sniff it first? Will we choke on a sip of pure vinegar and send it pouring through our nose?
Don’t sweat this intimidating process.
It should be painless.
Our job isn’t to grade the wine or give the table a review of its texture, aroma and “legginess.”
No, our job is to make sure the stuff ain’t spoiled.
Give it a taste, make sure it’s fit for your glass and not your salad and give the waiter your snobbiest of nods.
It’s rare these days, but sometimes a bottle will suffer from what can only be scribed as “mustiness.” It will smell like an old trailer… or maybe a wet dog (a French poodle, of course).
You don’t want that.
The smell comes from a compound called trichloroanisole (or just TCA). It often comes from a tiny amount of the smelly chemical finding its way onto a bottle’s cork. That’s why, when wine is suffering from the ailment, it’s often said to be “corked.”
Again, if you’re testing a glass at the tableside and it smells musty, turn it down. The bottle is bad.
Feel free to shake your head in disgust. The table will be convinced you’re an ultimate wine connoisseur.
But the truth is wine is quite simple.
Humans have been drinking and enjoying the stuff for thousands of years. But somewhere along the way, keen marketers found out they could charge a premium for their bottles if they put a bit of mystery and snobbery behind their brands.
Most folks have no idea what they’re tasting. And that’s okay.
Our tongues simply aren’t that sensitive.
Have fun with a bottle (that’s the point of it!). Try different grapes and regional varieties. And don’t get caught up in the marketing and hype.
Just be sure to raise a glass to Manward.
Don’t worry… We’re fine with the cheap stuff.