New York Times Wine Critic Previews New Book
By following chief wine critic of the New York Times, Eric Asimov, on Twitter, I knew he recently launched a new book, “How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto.” Through the same means, I also was thrilled to learn he’d be conducting a #WineWednesday reading and wine tasting event at a local Chicago shop, The Book Cellar. As a burgeoning wine blogger and taster, I was eager to hear this longtime professionals’ perspective on honing one’s palate, as well as his candid personal accounts of sampling wines from around the world. He recalled a trip to Paris at age 14 that initiated his interest in food and led him to become a restaurant critic. He followed with wine in his late teens/early 20’s.
Mr. Asimov kicked-off his talk by saying, “this is the greatest time in history to be a wine-lover…there are more great wines coming from more parts of the world than ever before.” (I’m sure we would all agree with this!) He then reinforced that wine drinking should be more focused on love rather than what he refers to as “appreciation.” Curious, entry-level wine consumers today are faced with wine appreciation seminars, complex tasting language and scoring systems that could potentially intimidate them from entering the fold. He suggests all of this should really be put on hold for the simpler initial pursuit of building an emotional relationship with wine. Once this “love” is established, then reading, classes and in-depth party conversations can follow. And, as with any hobby or foreign language, one must immerse themselves in it for many years before they might feel fluent. Ultimately, wine is not something to feel embarrassed about; if a wine tastes refreshing, that’s a great start.
I felt reassured by Mr. Asimov’s down-to-earth approach. Sometimes, I’m a bit hard on myself for not being able to pick up every aroma or flavor of a wine, or even to name the varietal correctly in a blind tasting. My “love” began a while ago, but I really began taking wine seriously within the past four or five years. I’m slowly easing into the “appreciation” or sophistication phase.
At this point, attendees were presented with a series of four wines. I believe Mr. Asimov strove to highlight some of his newest unique, affordable and off-the-beaten-path finds:
- Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2010, Campania, Italy. This was my first time tasting a Fiano and, as our host might’ve hoped, I did find it refreshing. This tasty white had subtle, neutral flavors of mineral, nuttiness and fruit.
- Enrique Mendoza La Tremenda 2009, Valencia, Spain. A 100% Monastrell, it was exhuberant, spicy and juicy. Another first for me.
- Ravines Cabernet Franc 2010, Finger Lakes, New York. I was really happy to try a Finger Lakes wine after receiving several recommendations from colleagues and friends. Asimov praised these vintners for working to create the best possible wine they can make with the resources they have.
- Paul Achs Blaufrankisch Edelgrund 2009, Burgenland, Austria. The boldest wine and 100% Blaufrankisch, it was drinking quite young and displayed velvety tannins. I really favored this one.
While he certainly gives attention to Napa in the course of his column writing, Mr. Asimov suggested that sometimes it seems there’s a larger effort around making “great,” chart-topping wines there than “good” wines. I also found it interesting that he usually drinks wine with food and not so much on its own. Though I do drink wine with food, I would say we find it more satisfying to consume it solo in an effort to experience and learn each bottle inside, out.
Lastly, he offered a couple of tips for finessing a palate and finding pleasurable wines:
- Identify a local wine shop owner you trust and feel comfortable asking questions about their personal favorites.
- Tell the shop owner what you like and what you don’t like. Give him or her a set budget – say $20/bottle – and request that they fill up one case with a variety of selections.
- After trying the wines, come back with notes on what you liked, as well as what you didn’t, and have the shop owner try again. If budget permits, continue this process.
- When dining out, do not feel ashamed about tapping a restaurant sommelier for recommendations. They take pride in ensuring you have a great experience with wonderful wines.
Mr. Asimov was very gracious and spent time signing our books. Since I purchased my copy at the shop, I have not yet read it. I do look forward to sharing a review once I’ve had an opportunity to do so.