Should You Have A House Wine?
First of all, I hope that everyone is safe and secure during this time. I know that I have not posted in a while but I have been thinking and praying for all of you to remain safe.
My Palate Background
Someone recently asked me what I like to drink daily. I wanted to share this with you but also share some background with you. When I first started studying to become a sommelier, I was sampling wines from all over the world every few days and making notes. In order to get my palate to be able to detect little nuances between different regions and grapes, it was my job to drink everything (yes, I know it was hard work).
During that time, I did notice differences between the grapes and regions. This is also the same time I found Spanish Reds. Sigh…my life changed, and I suddenly was hooked and that’s all I would drink. If you know me, I’m a devoted tea drinker and not a fan of coffee. Nothing wrong with coffee…I was raised on tea so that became my drink of choice. I always had to make tea for my dad whose instructions were clear:
- Boil fresh water, place into a clean mug and put the tea bag in for 1 minute.
He expected me to time it. As a kid, I’m going to estimate a minute, pull the bag out and then give it to him plain (no sugar or milk). I used to watch him be able to tell if it had been longer for a minute or less than a minute. He was a stickler regarding tannin levels and knew what he liked. So since it’s my dad and he must know about tea, I would do the same (a bit longer) but I would never let my tea steep for any length of time. Three minutes???? Never, it would be WAY too strong for me.
I learned not to appreciate tannins. Let’s look at this scenario now, then shall we? I’m tasting big Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbecs from around the globe and do not like tannin. I never understood the love for tannins in wines and therefore avoided them. I would drink light to medium body reds or Fortified wines. Until I found Spanish Reds.
My Love for Spanish Reds
In a nutshell, Spain has a classification system that preages the wine before release. Add in the grapes used to make these wines have lower tannin levels than your Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, etc. The laws have recently changed but the chart below should help to explain the ageing process. Please note that the numbers represent the minimum amount of time the wine must age or can be released.
Time spent in barrel
|Time Spent in Bottle|
Years aged before Release
Here is an example of this. I can find a 2014 Reserva which means the wine is 6 years old. It was aged by law a min. of 1 year in the barrel, 6 months in the bottle and cannot be released until its aged in any combination for 3 years. I’m purchasing a wine that has been aged 6 years (in the winemaker’s choice following the laws). After 6 years, tannin naturally reduces over time. So, we are starting out with a lower tannin grape, and then ageing it for which allows the fruit and acids to shine and makes it exceptionally smooth and soft on the palate. BTW, the wine I’m describing is $16 a bottle.
Keeping an Open Mind
I WAS HOOKED!!! For about a year, that’s all I would drink, and I loved it. I could not get enough of it. One day, I had a wake-up moment. I went to a big wine tasting and realized that my mind was locked down. In a nutshell, I was comparing everything to the wines I had been drinking. I’m tasting superb Oregon Pinot and I would comment that it was not as good as the Spanish Grand Reserva that I had last night. As a sommelier, the most important aspect of my career is to have an open mind. I need to look at wines in two ways
- Does the wine have any faults (which means has it gone bad)?
- Is the wine good? Not in my taste profile but will it meet someone else’s profile and they like it?
The second point is more important than the first one. I recently talked with one of my good friends about White Zinfandel. OK, I do not care for it and it does not meet my taste profile. However, if others like it and its not faulted (point #1), who am I to say that they are wrong? During this time in our lives with everything going on, we sometimes can get too focused on opinions instead of just being happy. If you want to drink White Zinfandel in front of me, go ahead and be happy because what I’m drinking may not fit your taste profile.
What Am I Getting at?
The reason why I talked about my Spanish Red kick was to explain this point. I was shocked, opposed, miffed and any other combination that you could come up with about people not exploring other wines. How can you only drink this one wine from this one producer when there are thousands of options available in the market today? Why close your mind to other opportunities and only drink this one wine?
I forgot point 2 from above. It made them happy and that’s all that matters when we consume something. Just be happy and drink what you like. Life is too short to be able to try everything out there. So now at my house, I have a system for my wines that I consume on a regular basis. I have two whites, and two reds that I predominately drink. I also go out of my way to choose two new wines that I have not tried to keep my palate fresh, to be able to take notes to learn and to be able to give recommendations.
Your house wine should follow three criteria:
- You like to drink it all the time
- The wine is relatively inexpensive for YOUR budget (if I did not have a budget, my list would be different)
- They are universal. You can drink each of them straight up or generally pair with food (maybe not perfect but it works).
Here are my four base wines that I drink:
The most expensive one is Prisoner, but I normally keep a bottle just to have. All the others should be under $20 anywhere in the country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, our world is different right now and changes day by day. Even though we must practice social distancing, please note that we can have a House wine and enjoy it daily. More importantly, if this was 30 years ago without the internet and our six channels of TV, we would need something to keep us occupied.
Everyone, please stay safe and enjoy this time. Send me your pics of your house wine. I would love to toast you electronically.