This month, we’re introducing a new columnist, The Reluctant Sommelier. Nina, a professional wine educator, has offered to share some of her thoughts about, and experiences in, the world of wine. We’re thrilled to see her here. -Ed.
By Nina Sventitsky
In this, my first wine column for Part-Time Audiophile, I’d like to get something straight from the start.
I have the title of Silver-Pin Sommelier, but I will not be reminiscing about the fantastic Chateau Laf—- or Domaine La——- that I had back in ’97 … we’ll have none of that here, ever. It’s boring and you can do that on wine-iocircle.org with all of those other guys who refute your love of Cabernet Sauvignon because no one has proven scientifically that your $46 bottle is better than their $6 plonk. Which they made, in their basement, using Welch’s, tartaric acid and some old 2 x 4’s.
Taking the somm course(s), passing the exam, and hanging the certificate (I have one, and a cute little silver tastevin pin for my lapel) makes me expert at nothing. It just says I’m curious, and it’s just one of the milestones I’ve taken in my journey with wine. There is always so much to learn and there is always someone who knows more than me, at any given time and place.
I will add that I am not a wine fanatic. I am known to be exuberant and enthusiastic in general, and maybe a little frenetic in personality. I simply don’t go bonkers over that last wine I had; maybe I am not a big believer in the ultimate anything. Expect down to earth advice here, fun facts, and some cool ideas to train your appreciation of wine, and help you buy/order it better.
But first, the RULES.
1. Don’t ask me what my favorite wine is. Who cares what my favorite wine is, it surely won’t be yours. I don’t have A Favorite Wine; I have wine style preferences that line up with what I’m doing/eating/in the mood for.
2. Let’s use terminology that actually means something. It’s fine to be colloquial, but not lazy. The word ‘sweet’ should only be used to refer to wines with residual sugar in them. Moscato d’Asti, dessert wine, Porto, etc. If you refer to a fruity wine as sweet, I’m gonna bonk you over the head. Do you mean “fruity and smooth”? Then say that. Do you like “powerful, full-bodied tannic reds”? Say that, instead of “I only drink Cabs.”
3. Please don’t say “I only drink Cabs”. Be open to the world of other red varieties. More on that later.
3. Please don’t say you don’t like white wine. Pity, as whites generally have great aromas — it’s easier to get the floral and exotic aromas of white wine than reds. Spices, “ethereal” scents like beeswax, florals like acacia and orange blossom, that’s what’s to like with whites. 90% of what we TASTE in wine is actually olfactory, but you knew that already. If you are a provenance snob, some of the world’s best wines are whites. Chateau d’Yquem or Meursault anyone?
4. Use ratings and reviews as guidelines, not gospel. Some of this stuff is driven by advertising and the economic model to be sure — but then again, you’re getting free advice so take it and use your judgement.
5. Price is NOT indicative of quality, but it is a reality. I will not entertain arguments or comments about the criminality of high-priced Napa cult wines. Go make the wine yourself, take $10M and turn it into negative $500,000 and then you can complain about what’s shiite and what’s not for $100. It’s a ridiculous train that I’m sending to another depot. No defense, no apologies.
6. No such grapes as Barolo, Brunello, Chianti Classico, Rioja, Burgundy. Those grapes would actually be (take this down, you’re gonna need it if you don’t want to sound like a fool): Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Sangiovese (mainly, with a few others), Tempranillo (again, mainly T, with sometimes a few other varieties) and Pinot Noir.
7. Use “variety” to name a grape, and “varietal” as an adverb or adjective. “The varieties in Bordeaux include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc …”. “This Pinot Noir is varietally correct — it tastes of mushrooms, fresh berries and dirt.” Okay to exchange conversationally, but train yourself now, I had to change an entire course book last year for this.
So, with a modicum of humility, a maximum of curiosity, and the patience of a five year-old — let’s get to it with the subject of my next column, answers to Ask the Sommelier. I’ve got resources, a bunch of somms and wine educator friends from many different regions, and my own common sense. Silly and dumb questions welcomed, and this time snark will be at a minimum. Wine can be confusing, let’s clear it all up!
Leave your comments and questions below, thanks!
-The Reluctant Sommelier
About the Author
Nina Sventitsky has been “into wine” for the last 20 years. She serves as the Secretary General of the North American Sommelier Association (NASA) and is the brand ambassador for the wine region of Rioja, Spain. She is also a professional wine educator, focusing on US varieties. Her professional certifications include: WSA/NASA Silver Pin Certified Sommelier, NASA American Wine Specialist, NASA Italian Wine Specialist, WSET Advanced Certificate, and the Court of Master Sommeliers Level 1.
She’s also a partner at WyWires.