Photo By: Christine Moore/Special to the Town Crier
For years, I bought from basically the same two shelves in the wine aisle at my grocery store. I did this in part because I knew what I liked, but primarily because I was too intimidated to try other wines. I imagined a perfectly good summer’s evening ruined by having spent my wine dollars on a poor choice.
Then I started learning more about wine and trying new things. Wow – a revelation. I reflect on the one-trick wine buyer I once was and can’t help but feel some regret. Sure, my standard Chardonnay was great with the Thai coconut shrimp, but what if I had known to try Viognier?
When it comes to the vast world of wine, ignorance most certainly is not bliss. Following is a foolproof plan for expanding your wine-aisle horizons.
Our neck of the woods is extraordinary in terms of wine choice, accessibility and information. I was reminded of this fact on a recent trip to Draeger’s Market in Los Altos. It’s not in every part of the world that you can pick out a head of organic lettuce and get lost among nearly 2,000 bottles of wine in one convenient stop.
The grocery stores in Los Altos, Mountain View and Palo Alto have incredible wine selections ready for you to explore. Plus, the folks working in said sections are interested, approachable and knowledgeable. They want to help their patrons make great choices, so ask away. Stacy Ahrweiler, wine department manager at Draeger’s Los Altos store, said spending time talking about wine is a pleasure.
“The thing is, everyone working in our wine department loves wine,” she said. “How can we not be happy sharing that passion with our customers?”
Of course, there are the moments when you just need to fly in and out of a store and stopping to ask for guidance is not a possibility. Or, perhaps when you ask for a recommendation, the associate responds with, “What are you looking for?” Ummm …
Whether you’re in a rush or confronted with a question about your tastes, preparation will get you through. Take the time to think about what you do and do not like. Are you a big-bold-red-with-heaps-of-tannin kind of person? Or do you prefer something soft and subtle? Make note of what it is about the wines you are buying that appeal to you.
Finally, and somewhat paradoxically, if you want to have the confidence to try different wines, you need to try different wines. I’ve developed a cheat sheet of sorts that does just that. It’s an “if/then” approach to wine that will help you choose wines based on what you already appreciate.
If you love Sauvignon Blanc, then try:
• Albarino: Creamy white with peach, lime and honeysuckle
• Pinot Gris: Kiwi and honeydew abound
• Semillon: Grassy with stone fruit characteristics
Note that sometimes California producers call their Sauvignon Blanc “Fume Blanc.”
If you love California Chardonnay, then try:
• Viognier: Aromatic and peachy
• Pinot Blanc: Apple and citrus notes
• Chenin Blanc: Hints of pear and peach
Also, look specifically for an un-oaked California Chardonnay – there’s a big and delicious difference between the oaked and un-oaked versions.
If you love Pinot Noir, then try:
• Gamay: Juicy red wine with cherry and red fruits
• Grenache (or other Rhone blend): Raspberries and a bit of spice
• Pinotage: Earth driven with abundant berries
If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, then try:
• Bordeaux: 2009 and 2010 vintages are stellar; black currants with dried flowers
• Zinfandel: Jammy fruit like blackberry
• Tempranillo: Plum and oak with tart berries
Explore the wine aisles of your local grocery store and let me know what you discover.
My column will return next month with more of my thoughts on wine.
Mountain View resident Christine Moore is learning more about wine every day. To read her blog, visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com.