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The anyday pleasure that everyday wines can provide
BOOKS have been written about the marvels of Montrachet, the complexities of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and the luscious wonders of Yquem, all remarkable wines that most people can only dream of being able to afford.
Yet the bottles we might open every day are actually the most important wines in our lives, just as the art we live with in our homes is ultimately more meaningful than what we might see on an occasional visit to a museum.
The rare bottled masterpiece may stretch the mind, enlarging our notion of what wine can be and the emotions it can provoke. These special bottles, if we are lucky enough to drink one, occupy an exalted place because they set benchmarks and stretch context as they surprise and astound.
But the simpler pleasures of everyday wines shape our attitudes and desires, pique the curiosity and fire the imagination. They forge our relationship with wine, and ultimately define its role in our lives.
The joys of one cannot be understood without the pleasures of the other. Missing out on either side distorts the whole. But I would argue that for people who love wine or who want to understand it better, paying more attention to everyday wines rather than rare and expensive bottles can improve one's drinking life significantly.
This especially holds true for wine authorities of all kinds. Rather than paying lip service every once in a while to "good values" or "Tuesday night bottles", I would like to see regular, purposeful attention directed at everyday wines, good bottles that are moderately priced and easy to drink in relaxed, casual settings, yet are still interesting enough to inspire wonder and to be deeply pleasurable.
The world is full of these sorts of wines, yet paradoxically they seem hard to come by. How can that be?
Over the last 25 years, an explosion in diversity has blown apart the once-simple framework for getting to know and understand wine. Here in the United States, we now have access to more different sorts of wines than ever before, from more places, in more styles, made often from grapes that were largely unknown at the end of the 20th century.
Even if you would like it to be a more important part of your life, wine still comes in too many varieties and from too many places to comfortably and quickly absorb. So I would like to offer some practical recommendations to make it easier to drink better every day.
Think of wine as food
If you care where your food comes from, how it's raised, grown or made and about its ethical and health consequences, apply that same logic to wine. You will end up with wine that is grown and made more conscientiously, with greater thought and care. Your wines will be less likely to be widgets and more likely to be expressions of culture.
Topple wine off its pedestal
It's just a beverage, a pleasurable drink. It should be thought of as a staple of the table, like bread or olive oil. It's not just for special occasions, it's not only ceremonial, it does not require special tools to enjoy or unusual powers of taste or smell to know what's good and what's not.
We know oysters are wonderful, for example, but some people cannot abide them, and the same is true with certain wines. It's just personal taste, not a judgment of one's personality or character.
Think of the occasion, rather than what's at the top of a universal scale of greatness
Many might agree that grand cru Burgundy or first-growth Bordeaux or older Barolos are among the very best wines in the world. But those might not be the best wines for a weeknight, when you are tired and want a quick bite and an easygoing bottle. On those occasions, the very best wine might be a good Finger Lakes riesling, or a basic Etna Rosso, not a profound Chambertin.
Find a good wine shop
This greatly increases the odds of finding good bottles, because conscientious merchants have weeded out much of the dreck. Avoid supermarkets and other indifferent outlets. Though you may find the occasional decent bottle, they are full of processed wines and vacuous brands that are the equivalent of empty calories.
Rely on merchants and sommeliers
Nobody knows the wares better than the merchants who buy them. In good shops, ask for help. Tell them your budget, maybe what you are cooking, or the kinds of foods you like to eat if you are buying more than a bottle or two. This direct approach is far more useful than looking at apps that aggregate scores or purport to discern your taste.
Merchants want return business. Forging a good relationship will pay off sooner than you think. The same is true in restaurants, where good sommeliers are more concerned with your happiness than in upselling you to more expensive bottles. They want you back.
Spend a little more
For US$10, you can find many sound bottles, but I've long argued that at US$15 to US$20 the potential for quality and excitement increases exponentially. I realise that for many people that is a lot to spend on wine every day, or even every other day. But nonetheless, that's the reality of wine pricing. If it's too much, maybe try it once a week.
Commit to diversity
I don't like to think in terms of house wines, likable bottles that are bought in bulk. So many great wines are available today that it seems a shame for the sole choice to be white or red. This is not to say that you should avoid buying age-worthy wines by the case. It's a great pleasure to drink the same bottles over the arc of their existence, to see how they evolve. That's a lot different from drinking the same wines every night.
If you stick only with inexpensive versions of well-known, high-status grapes like pinot noir, chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon, you will rarely find good value. Many of these cheaper bottles are processed with technology or flavourings to imitate expensive bottles. Instead, you will find better values by seeking out honestly made wines from little-known grapes and largely unknown areas.
Other things can be helpful, like having some decent wineglasses. But nothing is more important than the wine itself. Good wine will still be good consumed from tumblers, but even the best glasses won't help a mediocre bottle.
One more element will help to further the appreciation of everyday wines: Broaden the definition of greatness. Every worthy type of wine has a role to play. Pairing bottles to occasions is every bit as important as pairing wine with food.
For too long, we have thought of great wines solely in terms of their potential to age, to evolve, to be profound and to be complex. These are all wonderful attributes, and they define wine at its highest level.
But maybe we need to think of greatness in terms of how well wines can play their role. If certain bottles are accessible enough to be everyday wines, yet interesting enough to capture our attention while refreshing and delighting, isn't that great as well? I think so. NYTIMES