Wine & Beer

Don’t be afraid to try new wines

As 2015 draws to a close, I’m pouring a glass of wine and musing on the past year and what 2016 may bring. I’ve often written about trends or New Year’s resolutions, but I’m feeling a little more reflective this year.

Wine consumers have more choices than ever these days. Everything from mass-produced California chardonnay to smaller-production, sometimes-quirky wines from here and many corners of the world. But it’s not unusual to see hand-wringing about the “battle for the soul of wine,” laments about Big Wine forcing us to drink homogenized wine that could come from anywhere.

It’s true that there’s a lot of, say, merlot from Chile or Italy that is virtually indistinguishable from California merlot. But as I travel to wine regions here and abroad, I have the opportunity to taste all kinds of interesting wines that defy the cookie-cutter mold. If you want to drink old-vine cinsault from Lodi or sparkling wine from the country of Georgia, it’s available.

Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with large-production wines. I’m as interested as anyone in wines with a sense of place — what some people call “authentic” wines. But such wines often come at a price. I think wine should be an everyday pleasure, and well-made, modestly priced wines — which often are made in large quantities and sold in supermarkets — are an important part of the picture.

As U.S. wine sales increase, wine is indeed becoming an everyday pleasure, which is great. But when wine becomes an everyday thing, it’s easy to get into a rut. Which brings me to a couple of suggestions for 2016.

You don’t need to know much about wine to enjoy it. Mostly you just need to know what you like. That said, some knowledge can greatly enhance your enjoyment. You can read about wine, and that’s helpful. But there’s really no substitute for tasting and curiosity.

When people ask me how I got into wine writing, I often give them the flip answer that “I drank a lot of wine.” That’s true, but it’s only part of the story. I tasted a lot of wine in a focused manner, really thinking about what was in the glass — not just the flavors but also the weight, texture and complexity of the wine.

Taking notes is important, too. Over time, that approach helps you to understand and remember the wines you’ve experienced. Eventually, you start to see the broader picture and develop a deeper understanding of what you’re drinking.

As people learn more about wine, they almost invariably become more curious about what else is out there.

But even if your knowledge is relatively limited at this point, don’t be afraid to try something new every couple of weeks. The staff at a good wine shop can be enormously helpful, or you can sample something unusual at a wine bar.

And drink a toast to the wine discoveries around the corner in 2016.

Pick of the week

Wild Horse 2014 Viognier ($17) This racy viognier would be the perfect partner for a festive, year-end seafood dinner. It’s leaner than many viogniers: fresh and just a touch floral, with pretty white stone fruit flavors.