In the past two decades, Zins, Cabs and Chardonnay have soared in popularity among imbibing Americans. Wine, the preference of just one in four in 1992, is now the alcoholic beverage of choice for 35 percent of us, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. At the same time, beer has taken a tumble, from the favorite of nearly half of us to just 36 percent.
“Wine is an adventure in a glass – something other cultures have recognized for centuries,” says Howard Kleinfeld, author (as Howard K.) of “Dial M for Merlot,” www.DialMforMerlot.com, a fun novel about a lovelorn nerd whose world snaps to life with his first wine tasting.
“For a long time in this country, we viewed wine as an elitist beverage. Just to be eligible to uncork a bottle required a scary level of sophistication. I have great respect for connoisseurs and the sommeliers, but if you’ve ever attended a wine tasting, you quickly see wine is actually the great equalizer.”
For those who’ve never visited a vineyard or sipped a Gewurztraminer, Kleinfeld offers these tips to free up your palate -- and your psyche -- for a full-bodied experience.
1. What’s the best wine?
You’ll find all kinds of lists purporting to distill the top 10 or top 100 best wines of the thousands upon thousands of new releases each year. They are a wonderful resource for information and a great starting point, but there is no substitute for personal exploration.
“The best wine is always whatever’s in your glass at the moment,” Kleinfeld says, “unless whatever’s in your glass makes you grimace, in which case …”
2. Don’t drink it if it doesn’t make you happy.
Life really is too short to not make the most of every moment – and every sensual experience.
“I learned that in 2007 when I was diagnosed with throat cancer at, what I felt was, a very young age,” Kleinfeld says. “I got through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation with the love and support of my family and friends, but I lost my sense of taste for a few years
Cancer-free and with all of his senses intact, Kleinfeld says he has resolved to enjoy every sip of life.
“Don’t waste your time on wine you don’t enjoy. Save it for cooking,” he says. “Drink something that puts a smile on your face. And remember – there are all kinds of smiles.”
3. Go ahead and shell out $50 or $100 on a wine you just have to taste again.
A lot of us think California and Napa Valley when we think domestic wines, and while The Golden State is the No. 1 producer in the country (followed by Washington, Oregon and New York), every state now has wineries. That means that wherever you are, there’s a wine tasting room within driving distance.
“If you go to a wine tasting and you sample something you absolutely love, something you know you want to taste again – maybe with a steak, which they don’t usually have at wine-tasting rooms, go ahead and buy it,” Kleinfeld advises.
“Forget that it costs three or four times what you (might) usually spend for a bottle of wine. Splurge. See tip No. 2.”
4. Forget the red with meat, white with fish and chicken rule – unless it works for you.
The idea of pairing red wines with red meats has to do with the bolder flavor of both. Fish and chicken tend to have milder flavors, as do many white wines.
“But there are so many exceptions to those ‘rules’ you may as well just toss ‘em,” Kleinfeld says. “They don’t take into account the range of flavors of meat, fish and chicken, especially when you consider all the different ways they can be prepared. And if you’re not a fan of Riesling, for instance, you won’t like it no matter what you pair it with.”
Be an adventurer, he advises. Open a few different varieties of wine when you sit down to eat and explore different pairings.“The entrees and wines you best enjoy together are the perfect pairings for you.”