Just as winery releases are grouped in the fall and again in the spring, visits from winery professionals seem to be concentrated in the fall and again in late winter and spring. Suffice it to say, we are seeing a lot of friends from wineries near and far right now. As we taste the latest offerings, conversation turns to the wine business overall and trends in consumption and production.
Wine and its enjoyment are viewed very differently here in the U.S. than it is in the old-world countries of Europe. In Europe they rarely drink wine as a “cocktail,” opting instead to have it with a meal. They also look at each vintage of wine on its own — for what it has to offer them and when. It is viewed less as a homogenous offering and is more celebrated for all the diversity that can come from different growing years, growing areas and varietals.
Here in the States the majority of us do enjoy wine on its own, without the accompaniment of a meal. Our expectations are that if we like “Winery X’s” Cabernet this year, we will like it the next, and the one after that and the one after that. In Europe, as they taste a particular vintage or varietal, the tendency is to assess the wine and make the call on whether it would be best to drink the wine now or give it some time in the cellar to see what comes of it.
Our culture is prone to being able to purchase wine and consume it that day, and that is not a judgment, simply an observation, that came from a conversation with a winery friend this past week. We are a consume it now society. But do we need to be? Isn’t it possible to change our perception of wine just enough to make the best of every year and every grape?
Here is a way to do that, and to modify your approach, just enough to consistently keep your favorite producers and varietals in stock at home to enjoy over years instead of days. A great example of when the wine industry in the U.S. was not so consistent are the 2010 and 2011 vintages. Both were very cool growing years with challenges galore. When a year is cool you tend to get grapes that are less ripe with higher acids, and therefore do not drink so well in their youth. These conditions are not without benefit as they give the bottled wine better longevity. We are finding that wines from these years, seven or eight years later, is they are developing beautifully. So much so that a friend and fellow wine professional says that the wines from 2011 are perhaps her favorite ever. A big statement!
For those of us with the most modest budgets, you can accomplish your goal of having some older wines that will ultimately develop into some of your own favorites. Start small when you encounter tough growing conditions. Work with your favorite wine professional or watch the wine press to know of the good years and challenging years for the appellations around the world. Since we work in the business of wine we keep close track of the good years and bad ones and can help you navigate those. We also can help you discern which years are likely to come around and be satisfying for your palate based on what we know of your likes and dislikes. When we find those years that should be saved for a bit before consumption — buy a few bottles. Leave them in your wine storage area and try them over the coming years. You will not only benefit from having some older wines to enjoy, you will also start to build a bit of a collection.
An additional benefit of not having to buy the “consume-it-now” wine off a shelf: you will have some of your favorites all the time to choose from. You will also get to see how wine changes with time and all the joy that comes as it evolves. This slower, methodical approach to your selections will yield many benefits, and with a slower approach to assembling your collection, you can do it while managing your budget.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.