When it comes to wine, it’s about trial and error

A matter of taste

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2007



These are only a few of the colorful labels one might run across in the search for the perfect vintage. However, thousands of possibilities exist out there — red or white, dry or sweet, California or New York.

How might a wine beginner go about cultivating his knowledge of wine and his palate for the different tastes?

How about a wine tasting?

Gene Diamond, in sales with Alaska distributor Specialty Imports, has some knowledge in this area.

“People don’t remember my name. Everybody says, ‘You’re the wine guy!’” Diamond said.

He suggests starting simple and developing your own tastes before hosting an at-home wine tasting. There are some opportunities for wine tasting in the area that offer introduction to the wine drinker.

The Crossing, at the bridge in Soldotna, has an option called a Wine Flights. The restaurant has an extensive wine list, and a person ordering the Wine Flight chooses three varietals that are then brought in 2 ounce portions. The sampling is about the same price as a single glass of wine.

Mykel’s on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna has several options for experimentation. For a self-guided experience, on the first Wednesday of each month you can order the Wine Wednesday. This is an appetizer trio paired with three samples of unique wines. For a more educational experience, Mykel’s offers wine dinners, or tastings.

As the budding wine connoisseur takes on the duties of hosting a wine tasting, it begs the question: appetizers or full dinner?

“I would suggest starting with finger foods, appetizers, to get familiar and see what they like.

Once their palates progress, move to a wine dinner,” said Diamond.

So how does one choose the wine? The Internet provides a wealth of resources on this topic. Diamond listed some good sites with which to start, including wineenthusiast.com, winequestions.com, winespectator. com and foodandwine.com.

There are two basic types of wine tastings, the vertical and the horizontal. This does not refer to the way one is positioned during the tasting, rather, the way the labels are chosen. A vertical tasting refers to a selection of wines of the same varietal (such as a chardonnay), from the same winery (such as Kendall Jackson) of different vintages (say 2000 to ’03). A horizontal wine tasting refers to a selection of the same varietal of the same vintage from a variety of different wineries.

For a very introductory experience, marthastewart.com,the Web site of hosting guru herself, advises choosing three reds and three whites. The suggested varietals are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and a dry riesling.

Diamond agrees.

“A couple different whites, a couple different reds. A great way to start would be to set a price, start at maybe $10 to $12 a bottle. It would be smart to stick to those six, they’re good, solid wines and you can tell the difference in what you’re tasting.”

Diamond also said local wine shop proprietors might have suggestions as to popular wines within a taster’s price range.

Genie Pratt, manager at Country Liquors next to IGA on Willow Street in Kenai, has a strong knowledge of their wine stock, as do her employees. She is also willing to place a special order through her distributors. Her stock comes from all over the world — Australia, California, Chile, Argentina, France and even Kodiak’s Alaska Wilderness Wines. For beginners, Pratt favors the idea of choosing different varietals from different regions to form a base of tasting experience.

“To start with, I think I would probably use several different wines ... maybe all of them from a different vineyard and then if you were going to do it again, you might have one or two of the wines you might particularly like. You might try another variety coming from the same vineyard. Or you might try something completely different,” she said.

“Just because you get one wine you like from a particular vineyard doesn’t mean you’re going to like them all. Everybody’s taste in wine is different. It all depends on your palate and what you like.”

Another tricky point can be the food selection. One possibility: stick to milder tastes such as unsalted crackers or baguettes with milder cheeses such as a mozzarella, or fruits such as melon. Or, consider choosing a variety of cheeses and discussing with guests which wine goes with which cheese.

So how does a beginner keep the cost down? Pratt suggests a neighborhood affair.

“One person buys a bottle of wine from each house and then they all get together and try all the different wines, so that way you don’t end up spending $60 or $70 on six or seven bottles of wine and saying, ‘Oh, well I didn’t like any of those.’ It’s a trial and error thing.”

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