Is it time to become a wine connoisseur?

by Eve D.

I’ve never been much of a drinker. If there ever needed to be designated driver, I’d happily take the baton. Over time, that has changed slightly, and this year specifically I have gotten into the habit of enjoying. a glass of wine with dinner. I even started drinking G&Ts, which I at first disliked immensely but grew to enjoy when people wouldn’t stop gifting them to me 🙂

Nevertheless, I know nothing about wine. Beyond the obvious “red or white”, at best I catagorize wine into three groups:

  • 1. Don’t like very much at all
  • 2. Will happily drink, but won’t bother to learn its name
  • 3. Wow! What is that?

The first (“don’t like very much”) is in-theory. I cannot remember the last time (ever?) I disliked a wine, but I’ll reserve my option of this choice, just in case.

Probably 90% of the wine that I drink falls into the second category. Invariably, this is the wine I buy at the grocery store (…I know, yikes! …But bottle stores intimidate the crap out of me), and I am only guided by superficial things like price, label image and corkage-type (don’t ask). So, not ideal, but good enough to have me coming back for more. I doubt I buy the same bottle twice, and wouldn’t go looking for anything specific.

But here is the interesting thing: almost all of the wine that falls into the last category (the “Wow!”) is wine that has been
a) enjoyed with others and/or
b) enjoyed as part of a special day (not necessarily an elaborate day: think “date-night” or “night out with friends” more than “anniversary”).

So…it could be because more care had gone into choosing this wine (not by me, though), or maybe it had been correctly paired to the food, but I suspect it is more to do with the whole ambiance of the occasion. Or a mixture of all of the above. The point is, I doubt that I would classify the wine as falling into the third category if I was drinking it alone. So it’s probably all psychosomatic, no?

That leaves an interesting question: is it worth learning anything about wine at all, or should I just rely on good (fun?) company to perfect the experience every time? or, to put it differently, could I have “Wow!” moments if I choose/drink alone?

And if I should learn…then how do I do that?

Festivals:
I suppose that I could attend wine festivals, such as the WineX in Joburg. or the Expovina in Zurich (seriously…check that out…it’s a wine festival held on about 12 boats moored at Zurich Lake…4,000 vintages…who knew the Swiss produced wine?). On the other hand, wine festivals strike me as the place to go once you already know a lot about wine, so that you can at least speak the lingo and appreciate the variety. Or, as a friend recently suggested, at least go with someone who knows what they are doing. It is doubtful, in any case, that I would remember much…as another friend said recently “I know I’ve attended WineX, but I certainly don’t remember!“. Case in point: That photo at the top of the blog? I found it in my google photo albums when I searched for “wine”.. I kinda remember this champagne tasting…but I have no idea where it was, who I went with etc etc. I suspect a wine festival will not leave me much wiser 🙂

Wine Farms!
Although a tour of the Cape wine farms seems like an obvious option, it is even more problematic that the Festivals. For one, you have to drive between the farms, unless you arrange a tour guide or a designated driver. And although wine farm weekends are amazing experiences, I’d prefer to spend them exploring the actual vineyard and eating the exquisite food.
In fact, I was just at a wine farm a couple of months back, and I ate the food (OMG), and watched the ducks (used for pest control!), but drank/bought zero wine.

Wine Clubs
This is probably the best way to learn about wine: subscribe to a service that will deliver 6 or 12 bottles a month or a quarter, and learn about the wine as I drink it. I don’t really see any downsides to this, and I can already see a lot of advantages, not least of which is that I will get a curated selection of wines that are considered to be exceptional in the chosen price range, and I won’t have to deal with any haughty sales people to get them.

Probably the best would be thewineclub.co.za. A quick look shows that you can order a mixed case of 6 bottles for R550-R1150. They are obviously not operating during the lockdown, and will probably have a backlog once alcohol is allowed to be sold from Monday, but I might just do this!

The Wine Club is an extraordinarily simple concept. Its wine selection is based on the weekly Wine Wizard tastings, where Michael Fridjhon, South Africa’s best known and most highly regarded wine judge, rates wines entirely blind (labels out of sight) and scores them using a 100 point system. He then shortlists a selection of the best (and best value) wines for the Club’s monthly three-tier selection. Norman Goodfellows then procures the wines directly from the producers, negotiating the very best deal.

Signed up members of the wine club receive their chosen monthly selection (together with tasting notes, and suggested food pairings) delivered free to their door. Prospective members may buy whatever stock is available after members’ orders have been fulfilled, and will have to pay an additional delivery charge (R100 per six bottle case, or per quote for remote areas.

Oh, in case you are wondering….all this thinking of wine was prompted by the fact that as we move into Lockdown Level 3 on Monday, we can buy alcohol again. Everyone is salivating at the idea (I think it’s been 11 weeks since liquor shops were last open), and I figured that if I am going to be battling the masses for some good alcohol (I’m being dramatic…I certainly won’t be battling anyone for anything), it might as well be something good. And I can’t exactly take notes as I go out with friends, since there is no “going out with friends” at present. And since I will be drinking alone, I’d like ot make it count! (Although, for the record, I do have a Zoom drinking buddy, but he is in another country and can’t exactly recommend local wines.)

I’ll let you know how it all goes…

Cheers!

Eve Dmochowska

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