Getting Into Wines – Positives & Negatives

Let’s talk about wine.  As with any subject, there are usually two sides to any topic – a negative side and a positive side.  On the negative side, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you, for any reason, intimidated about wine tasting or drinking wine?
  2. If you know very little to nothing about wine, and if you aren’t familiar with wine “lingo”, are you worried about appearing or feeling foolish around people who are more experienced with wine?
  3. Have you previously tried wine and hated it?
  4. Have you had a bad experience with wine or with some arrogant wine snob who tainted your enjoyment of wine?
  5. Are you concerned about the cost of wine? If you spend too little, you might not get a quality wine and you might be unhappy by its taste.  If you spend too much on a wine but still don’t enjoy the wine, you might be reluctant to buy wine in the future. 

These are just some of the issues people have raised when I’ve discussed wine with those who are very new to it.  All of these questions are 100% valid and all are questions that I asked myself (and answered YES to) early on as I became more engaged in the world of wine.  More often than not, there are some simple solutions to these questions that we can address fairly easily.  So let’s crush each of these questions here.

  1. Wine is no different from any other food or beverage in our lives. Let’s stop treating it as if it’s only for the upper-class or only for the crusty snobs of society who think their “poop” isn’t aromatic!  (Ha!  My attempt at a wine pun!).  Like, soda or beer, burgers or pizza, you’re going to enjoy some and despise others.  Why?  Because it’s all based upon your own personal preferences and how YOU perceive the experience of drinking or eating them.  Who cares if somebody else loves or hates it?  It’s what makes you happy that’s most important when it comes to the wine experience.  Maybe you don’t like the smell or taste of onions on your burger, or the flavor or bitterness of a dark “hoppy” beer?  Perhaps you don’t like the taste or texture of mushrooms on your pizza?  On the flip side, we all know there are so damn many “types” of burgers, pizza and beer that it’s highly likely you know EXACTLY what you do like and why you like it, right?  How did that happen?  By trial and error.  You didn’t know until you tried it.  And it was totally OK to not like something right?  Also, when you’re with your family, friends or even colleagues, how often have you been intimidated or reluctant to say, “Oh sorry, but I don’t do mushrooms on my pizza”, or “No onions on that burger please”, or “I’ll take a light beer…can’t do the bitter dark stuff”?  It’s easy to address the variability you encounter with other foods and beverages right?  Why is wine so different?  Newsflash – IT ISN’T DIFFERENT AT ALL!!!  It’s only because we have this pre-conceived notion in our heads that wine is deeply steeped in tradition and culture, and somehow intimately tied to our knowledge (or lack thereof) of the world in which it is made and tasted.  This is simply a lie.  Don’t be intimidated any longer.  Try as much wine as you care to try.  Time and experience will eventually allow you to become your own personal WINE EXPERT.  Eventually you’ll discover exactly what you love and what you don’t, and you’ll have a blast doing it!  Be open and honest with yourself and others around you and don’t be ashamed to simply say, “Sorry, but this wine just doesn’t agree with me.”  Wine should be as fun and accessible as ice cream!
  2. Wine lovers, wine connoisseurs, and wine experts come in all shapes and sizes, ages and ethnicities, levels of education and socio-economic backgrounds.  So do beer lovers.  Pizza lovers.  And burger connoisseurs!  As with anything, it takes time to learn the language or “lingo” of any area or subject you decide to take on.  Are you a sports fan?  Let’s take football for example.  When you first decided to watch a football game or pay attention to football, it was highly likely you didn’t understand various aspects of the game, like penalties or downs.  As a matter of fact, the language of the game and what the TV announcers were saying may have gone over your head.  However, the more you watched, the more you talked about the game with others, the more you engaged in the world of football, the easier it became and the better you understood the lingo.  It’s the same with any subject, including wine.  Yes, the lingo of the wine world is unique and possibly unfamiliar, just as it was with football, but you didn’t stop enjoying football or going to superbowl parties just because you may not have understood the lingo right?  Again, with time and experience, the language of wine will become familiar and easier to navigate.  You didn’t need a PhD to become a football fan!  You certainly don’t need one to be a wine lover!  You’ll likely be surprised by how many people in tasting rooms are eager to help you understand the language and terms of wine.  And you can always turn to the internet or websites like mine to help you learn about wine lingo.  A quick review of the Glossary of Terms will certainly help.  You really don’t have to know ANYTHING about wine to talk about it, to describe it (from your own personal perspective), or to drink and enjoy it.  There’s no right or wrong.  There’s only what your senses tell you when you’re experiencing a wine.  That’s what counts.  You can express that in terms of whatever makes you comfortable.  So don’t feel foolish, don’t be scared, and certainly don’t be ashamed for expressing yourself however you like.  It’s only wine.
  3. Of course I’ve tried wines that I couldn’t swallow! Of course I’ve had wine that made me question if there is a God or not!!! However, like most anything in life, there is so much variety out there, you are bound to discover something you absolutely love!  My analogy here is a significant other.  Have I had relationships that didn’t work out?  Um yeah.  Have I met people that I ended up having serious issues with? Of course I have.  We all have!  But did I give up and quit my search for a significant other?  Did I quit engaging in new relationships or meeting people in my life?    Just the opposite.  I found the love of my life in my wife Gabriela (MomentsbyGabriela).  How did that happen?  I just never gave up.  I never quit.  There is someone out there for everyone.  The same goes for wine.  There is a wine out there for everyone!  And it’s highly likely there are MANY wines out there that will resonate nicely with your palate.  Click on the thumbnail from Wine Folly (an excellent resource for all things wine) and this graphic will help you understand just how much diversity the wine world has to offer!  So go out and explore, adventure and taste.  Drink wine alone or with food.  Don’t let one bad experience kill your appetite for wine!
  4. Everybody has met that person who “knows it all” or is a self-proclaimed expert in something. I certainly don’t want to be that guy!  I want to be the person who “makes wine fun” for people.  Who facilitates people’s interest and engagement in wine, and who helps people learn how to enjoy wine and all it brings to our lives!  It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in, who you hang out with, or where you live, there will always be that small percentage of people who are insecure or otherwise not balanced who need to feel more knowledgeable or who get on their soapbox and attempt to “elevate” themselves over others.  I’m a scientist by trade. A physicist actually.  And in my 3 decades of working as a scientist, I’ve encountered a few snobbish, elitist, arrogant, “over-educated” folks who seem to always make an attempt to pump themselves up at the expense of others.  Or to make it clear to others just how much they know and how smart they are.  The world of wine is no different.  My advice, “Fuh-get about it!” (using a Tony Soprano accent).  Don’t let one or a few encounters with the wine snob deter your motivations to experience and enjoy wine.  Life is too short to let these poor souls have a negative impact on such a happy and positive aspect in our lives – WINE!
  5. Finally, we talk about the cost of wine. Depending on your preferences and tastes, the relative cost of wine in comparison to most other beverages can have an impact on your experience. Especially early on in your wine life, when you might not have an idea as to what types of wine you enjoy most.  Let’s face it.  We all know that very cheap wine can be had at nearly any grocery store or 7-11.  On the flip side, if you’ve ever examined a wine list at a high-end restaurant or steakhouse, you will quickly come to appreciate just how expensive wines can be (even accommodating for the markup in price).  Some quick research online will show you there are some wines that can cost thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per bottle!!  Those are obviously way out of my league and most other normal humans I know.  Regardless, one can spend pretty much whatever they’d like on a wine.  But before you do, here are a few general tips.  White wines are generally less expensive than red wines.  Everyday wines that you might pair with everyday types of food (burgers, pasta, pizza, etc.) are generally less expensive than elegant, smooth, mature wines with a lingering finish that you’d serve for special occasions with gourmet foods.  Also, you need to consider the motivation for why you are buying the wine.  Before I actually began building my wine collection, I spent a few years simply tasting a wide variety of wines and only purchasing wine for specific events or on a 1- or 2-bottle basis for my immediate needs.  I did this because I was in a trial and error phase of learning about wine.  I didn’t know enough about wines to really appreciate or discriminate really nice elegant wines from everyday types of wines, so I was very reluctant to spend too much on something I might end up throwing out.  Also, over time, I noticed that the more I tasted wines and experienced wines (both ala carte and with food), the more my wine preferences began to evolve and expand.  In addition, my palate became more sensitive and I became more proficient at understanding what I liked in wines, and conversely, what I didn’t like in wines.  As my confidence in my own sensory abilities began to grow, I became more confident in my decisions for buying wines.  Over time, my collection of wines started in the 5’s to 10’s of bottles to eventually fluctuate between 500 and 600+ bottles of wine, ranging in price from $10 per bottle to around $400 per bottle, with the average being around $50 per bottle.  This process has taken approximately 20 years for me personally.  But everybody is different and at some point you will develop criteria for better understanding your own personal Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR) where you can effectively gauge whether or not it’s worth it (for you) to pay a price for a given wine.  I will say, from a cost perspective, I cover the lower range of the spectrum pretty effectively, and am really happy with the diversity and quality of wines I’ve been able to collect, drink and share with friends and family.  So my suggestion/advice to somebody just getting started is to try as much wine as possible, better define your personal preferences and sharpen your sensory skills before diving in too deeply and investing too much in wine.  Once you build your confidence and you understand what you like, then it’s time to take the wine world by storm!

So…there’s a recurring theme here.  Don’t let others negatively impact or bias your wine experience.  You certainly wouldn’t let someone bias your pizza or beer experience!  In discussing the negative issues associated with wine, a great deal of the intimidation factor or fear of not knowing enough about wine can be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether if you simply apply this one Golden Rule:

There’s no right or wrong!  Wine is a very personal experience and it’s here for YOU to enjoy the way YOU prefer to enjoy it!  Cheers!!!

Now let’s focus on the positive aspects of wine and ask ourselves these questions:

                    1.  What makes wine so popular?

                    2.  Why do people enjoy drinking wine so much?

                    3.  Are there benefits to drinking wine?

  1. There are many reasons why wine is so popular. For me, wine is food.  There is a universal appeal for wine as a libation to be celebrated and something that literally brings out the best in people, in food, in conversations, and in thought.  It comes from the vine.  It is born from the earth.  It takes years to create and is a living (and some would say “breathing” – pun intended) liquid that starts out young and ages as we do, evolving and maturing.  Along the way the various characteristics of wine change and temper themselves.  In many ways, a wine’s life parallels our lives in some respects.  Much like the diversity of the human race, there is so much diversity in wine it’s mind boggling.  Wine is so much more than simply a bottle of white or a bottle of red.  There are so many variables and parameters that play a part in the final product that every wine is much like a fingerprint or strand of DNA.  Wines are crafted by nature, growers, harvesters and winemakers combined.  It’s the complex interaction between all of these components that are unique, creating a process that is based in both science and art, and that has continued to evolve over the centuries.  Wine is made in many many countries around the world, and comes with its own set of traditions, customs and distinctive characteristics that represent places, styles, people and cultures.  When I’m drinking wine, I’m taking in something holistic that is deeply part of our human history and our traditions.  I love the way wine makes me feel.  I love the experiences I have when pairing wine with food.  I love how I am constantly learning about wine.  Like my uncle would tell me, “The more you know, the more there is to learn.”   Besides the diversity of wines, wine is so available and so accepted in our society that it is easy to fall in love with.  Maybe the question we should be asking is:  “What’s not to love about wine?”
  2. So why is wine so enjoyable to drink? Because it is.  Oh yes…and there are many other reasons as well.  One reason is that wine has literally been the inspiration for so many of the world’s greatest minds and thought leaders.  Here is just a sampling of some of the more memorable wine quotes I’ve come across:

“Wine is life.”
Petronius, Roman Writer

“Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”
Louis Pasteur

“Wine is bottled poetry.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

“Good wine needs no bush.”
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) – As You Like It, Epilogue.

“There is nothing like wine for conjuring up feelings of contentment and goodwill. It is less of a drink than an experience, an evocation, a spirit. It produces sensations that defy description.”
Thomas Conklin, Wine: A Primer

“For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red.”
Psalms 75:8

“Making good wine is a skill; making fine wine is an art.”
Robert Mondavi

“Clearly, the pleasures wines afford are transitory, but so are those of the ballet or of a musical performance. Wine is inspiring and adds greatly to the joy of living.”

“Wine… the intellectual part of the meal.”
Alexandre Dumas, 1873

”Wine … offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than possibly any other purely sensory thing which may be purchased.”
Ernest Hemingway

“Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, makes weariness forget his toil.”
Lord Byron

“Compromises are for relationships, not wine.”
Sir Robert Scott Caywood

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”
Benjamin Franklin

“Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.”
Michael Broadbent

Personally, I feel that wine stimulates and facilitates great thought, great conversation and fosters stronger relationships.  Depending on your family upbringing, your place of origin and your personal traditions, wine may play a role in a variety of events, celebrations or traditional functions that are important to you and your loved ones.  To many, wine supports an array of family, ethnic, religious and community traditions.  From that perspective, wine literally brings people together.  And let’s not forget that wine has a romantic factor to it.  Wine at the table always seems to bring an ambiance of class, sophistication and a little formality to the everyday, average place setting.  Having a glass of wine with dinner brings a feeling of elegance whether you’re having a burger and fries, or a filet mignon with grilled asparagus.  Since wine pairs so nicely with food, it’s only natural that where there’s wine, there’s food.  And another benefit of wine is that it doesn’t “bloat” people like carbonated drinks or beer, when you’re drinking and eating.  From a seasonal perspective, chilled wines are great for hotter months while heavier wines just feel more suitable with colder months and winter meals, allowing people to be comfortable drinking wine year around.  The sheer diversity of wines available to the consumer is also a huge plus when it comes to “drinkability” of wine.  Plus, the fact that wines can store for long periods and even age for many years also is a bonus for many consumers.  For the consummate wine drinker, I believe the bottom line is this:  People who love wine (like I do), drink it because it tastes great and makes us feel good!  Plain and simple.

  1. Of course there are benefits to drinking wine! From my own personal perspective, I think wine is much healthier to drink than most other “vices”.  It seems as though every time I turn around there’s another study that’s been conducted stating that red wine has some added health benefit for people who drink wine in moderation yet consistently.  While I’m sure that I drink wine consistently…I must confess, I don’t always drink it in moderation!  But for those who are seriously health conscious and who monitor their intake of food and drink, I would think a glass or two of wine a day would certainly support a healthy (and happy) lifestyle.  So let’s dive a little deeper into this.  The medical community generally defines “moderate” wine consumption as a glass per day for women and 2 glasses per day for men, where a glass is estimated as a 5 oz. pour.  As you may have heard, red wine typically contains a variety of known components that have been studied and shown to support health in some form or fashion.  How does wine support health?  Here’s a short list, with brief descriptions of how moderate wine consumption has been determined to be an essential part of a healthy diet:
  • Wine contains antioxidants. Antioxidants support the body’s ability to fight off free radicals which in turn can lead to various health issues and even cancer.
  • Wine boosts the immune system. The alcohol in wine (for those who drink in moderation) can help fight infections and support a healthy immune system.
  • Wine increases bone density. The high levels of silicon in wine supports healthy bone mineral density and can help fight off osteoporosis.
  • Wine reduces the risk of stroke. Alcohol in wine (in moderate amounts) acts as a blood thinner.  Phenols in wine (in particular resveratrol) are natural blood thinners and can prevent strokes.
  • Wine reduces the risk of heart disease. Tannins found in red wine contain procyanidins.  These compounds are phenols which neutralize free radicals and have been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease by supporting healthy blood vessel cells and improving blood flow.
  • Wine reduces cholesterol levels. Procyanidins in red wine also promote lower cholesterol.  In addition, resveratrol also decreases LDLs (bad cholesterol) while increasing HDLs (good cholesterol) in turn also helping to support healthy blood pressure levels.
  • Wine reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes. Resveratrol in red wine improves insulin sensitivity.
  • Wine reduces the risk of cancer. The antioxidants in red wine fight off free-radicals that allow cancer cells to thrive, and the resveratrol fights off cancer cells as well.
  • Wine improves cognitive function. Wine has been shown to be “food” for the brain.  Chemical components in red wine help keep neurons in the brain from dying, thereby helping to fend off the onset of dementia, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
  • Wine promotes a longer lifespan. Resveratrol has been shown to activate a protein that acts as an anti-aging agent promoting longevity.

So with all these positive aspects of wine, it should be an easy sell to convince you that it’s in our best interest to drink wine daily and enjoy life in so doing!  Your honor, the defense rests.