Saturday, March 21, 2009

To serve or not?

I think I've touched on this topic a bit. It's an interesting one, and one that gets people a bit worked up. Definitely brings up some people's insecurities. But what the hell, I like chaotic debates.

When you serve wines, should you serve them according to your guest's wine knowledge? For example, would you serve a beginning wine drinker a mature Grand Cru Burgundy that you've been saving for many years? Would you only serve great wines to like-minded connoisseurs?

My argument is yes. Never serve a great wine to someone who won't appreciate it. Someone who's used to the taste of $5 Yellow Tail plonk will be under the appreciation that wine is supposed to taste like that. They'll be used to the taste of overripe junk, smothered in vanilla and cream oakiness. They're used to drinking wines that are "smooth" and "easy drinking", with soft tannin, soft acidity, and soft personality. In other words, whorish wines that don't offer anything else beyond an initial massiveness of colour and weight. Wines with no personality, no sense of place, and not worth the effort it takes to clean your glass off after.

Forget personal palate preference, this piece will not take that into account. I'm talking only about appreciation. That includes being open to wines that are outside the realm of what you normally drink, and something that you definitely wouldn't try on your own. And that means taking the time to fully experience and taste a wine before you form an opinion. I've heard too many people tell me certain European wines are "too light", just because they don't conform to the jam and fruit punch they produce in Australia and California. It's tough, but once you take the time to experience wine with intensity instead of outright power, and appreciate the subtleties of regional and vintage characteristics, your enjoyment and appreciation of wine will improve a hundred-fold.

When we have family friends over, or when we're hosting bigger groups for dinner, I always try to gauge everyone's wine preference. None of the people we invite over, with the exception of JC and some of my friends, know anything about wine. So what do you do? I try to serve decent wines - wines that I'll be happy to drink myself, but ones that will not take more than 30 seconds of concentration. In other words, simple, food-friendly wines. Anything more, and its a waste. Our guests usually don't take time to really taste the wines. It's part of the food, and they're usually hotly debating something else anyways. Wine is just there to loosen the tongue, and aid in the party's joviality.

My friends though, that's another matter. I never pretend to be any kind of expert, but I want to share my enthusiasm for all wines with my buddies. I want to share with them amazing wines I've drank from Rioja, from Mosel, from Niagara, from Burgundy. I want them to learn, yes, but more importantly, I want them to really experience and appreciate wines along with me. And I want them to understand quality, and to stay away from plonk. That's all.

Is this an air-in-the-nose approach? I honestly don't give a shit if you think it is. Do you have to worthy for me to share a great wine with you? Yes - when I say worthy, I'm speaking of appreciation. If I open a classified-growth Bordeaux, and you tell me that you'd prefer a $10 Australian shiraz, then I'm the f*cking idiot.

Going in circles. But appreciation is so important. Maybe it's not the most important thing to be a connoisseur, to be able to detect and identify all the flavours, to rattle on and on about vinification. But if you can appreciate the nuances and significance of the wine, let's share a glass and talk.

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