Long before the recent deluge of Hipster beers swarmed bars to confuse simple beer drinkers the World over, there were only about 4 beers you could buy in a pub. In Ireland we had old man/Irish man favorite Guinness, highly recognizable Heineken, and masochist’s fizz water Budweiser. The only time you bought a weird brand was when you were going to a house party and the booze emporium was doing a deal on some exotic tinned slop like Dorfmeister, Dutch Gold or Oranjeboom. If you were completely uncouth, you brought a giant 2 litre bottle of cider with you to the party. Nothing screamed degenerate more than standing around a party swigging directly from your giant plastic bottle of Linden Village…
My point is, with the sudden explosion of craft beers, what was once a relatively simple world has now become a minefield of guesswork. No one knows what the Hell they are looking for, or what they should be buying. Companies and Breweries seem to come and go every week. Sure it’s great to get a selection of strange named beers with ultra hip names and logos, but once you find one you like, who’s to say it’ll be there for you to buy next week? I have some friends who are becoming connoisseurs, and who actually enjoy a good beer safari. It’s almost like their hobby. These types rarely have a single tipple they imbibe. They become booze prospectors, drinking through the swill to get to the gold.
Nevertheless, as complicated as beer has become, I find it’s only as complex as learning the Alphabet when compared to decrypting the Algebra that is wine.
It’s a fucking nightmare trying to get your head around wine. And like Hipster beers, everywhere you go will have different bottles, names and varieties that you have never encountered before. So, unless you plan on going to the same two booze shops and restaurants for the rest of your life, you can disregard the idea that you’ll be able to pass off that local wine knowledge you amassed in an attempt to look cultured when you stray into unknown neighbourhoods.
Look, in order to really know your stuff you need to build up a ludicrous cache of information. You can only do this through drinking wine all over the world. And who has the time or money for that? There are around 60 countries that produce wine. Did you know that? Zimbabwe is one of them. Also, did you know that China is the 6th largest wine producer, putting itself ahead of Australia and Argentina? There are New World Wines (Presumably The US) and Old World Wines (Presumably Middle Earth). Then there are grapes. So many damn grapes.
Everybody knows what I’m talking about when I mention Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, but talk to me about that cheeky little Nebbiolo on the menu, or the Carménère the waiter suggested. What about acid? Should you have a lot of acid in your wine? Surely that sounds like something you should avoid entirely? How many tannins do you want. Is 6 a good number? What’s the collective noun for tannins? A bed of tannins? Where is the wine’s ”body”? Is it dead? Or worse, alive?! And did some peasant’s nasty foot actually crush all these grapes? And if so, why is that still a thing?
You can do wine tasting classes, where they spit the wine out, because that’s a thing to do. They teach you how to look at wine, how to analyse its “body”, and its “legs” by how it clings to the side of the glass. Seriously. They tell you how to drink, sucking in air as you gulp (they wouldn’t use a word like gulp). Then they ask you if you can taste the earth it grew from, or the wood of the barrel it was stored in. You’ll find yourself making things up to sound clever like “I’m tasting stones? Is that correct? It tastes almost angular, chewy, flabby and jammy…” (all of these descriptors are real things that people say by the way).
Here’s how hard being good at wine is: since 1969, when the very first Master Sommelier Diploma was awarded, there have been only 230 people in the world that have passed the exam. To put that into perspective, 549 people have ever been in space. Less people know a lot about wine than have been in space. Outer Fucking Space!!! You’re not going to meet any of them going to regular people restaurants. They’d spit at you if you told them the wine you selected when you last went out for a meal.
So how on Earth is one to get one’s head around the complexities of wine? Well I’m here to let you in on a little secret – It’s all bullshit. A fraud, dipped in contrivance, deep fried in a conspiracy and covered in the Emperor’s new clothes.
They want you to think it’s difficult, and it can be, for wine nerds with more money and free time than sense. But for you and I, the regular folk, it’s simple, and you shouldn’t allow your scant knowledge of terroir to make you feel inferior.
Here’s all you need to know in very simple terms. It is also all that overbearing douchebag at your dinner party who talks a great game actually knows.
A waiter is not a sommelier. Most waiters know as much as they are told regarding wine. (The fancier the place the more he will know). Don’t let them talk down to you if they get uppity. A sommelier, however, is Mr. Wine. He is the wine man. He knows wine. It’s his job to know wine. It’s his fucking job. So do not be intimidated by his broad knowledge. For example if you are a mechanic, make yourself feel better by asking him if he knows how to rebuild the gearbox on a BMW 3 Series, and you will see him look as sheepishly as you do when reading a wine list.
Don’t try to bullshit this person; you’ll just end up looking like an arse. Tell them straight up you know nothing. If they suggest something that your budget/conscience will not allow, simply point at a cheaper wine and say “what about something like this” while giving them the crazy eyes. He’ll understand. It’s his job.
However, while the sommelier tries to bamboozle you with nonsense descriptors like “oaky, earthy, fruity, burnty” etc. just switch off. There has been many times where I’ve been promised “notes of chocolate”. And did it taste of chocolate? Did it fuck. It tasted like wine.
The only thing we want to hear coming out of the sommelier’s mouth is some variation on the phrase “very drinkable”. That’s it. Take your acid, tannins, grape, bouquet, terroir and stick it. Here’s how to do it:
Waiter – Very good Sir. And some wine?
You – Yes. Could you tell me what is the most drinkable wine for around $20.
Waiter – I’m sorry Sir?
You – Drinkable. Which wine goes down easy, doesn’t make me make a face…
Waiter – A face?
You – Yes. You know… (You sip some water, then slightly recoil, turning your head whilst making the “Whoa! I put too much vodka in this vodka & tonic” face). The Face.
Waiter – Ah I see. Of course. Would you like a drinkable red or white?
They know. Everyone does. Why pretend? Can’t we all just say what we really mean?
Red Wine – As the name suggests this wine is Red in colour. Red wine tastes like red wine, which is different to white wine. Red wine is the fattest wine. The only type of red wine it is acceptable to abbreviate is Cabernet Sauvignon. You may refer to this wine as a “Cab Sav”, and only because it spares you the indignity of possibly trying out a French accent in front of your French waiter. It is not acceptable to call a Merlot a “Lo”. Red is the only wine to have with steak. It is also the perfect compliment to a drunken dinner at home, which consists entirely of chocolate.
White Wine – This wine is actually yellow, but it is definitely not red. Even a child could tell the difference, so you won’t get confused. This is the skinniest wine in your mouth, and as such this is the wine to drink if you are concerned about your figure. You can drink this wine with lunch and easily lie to yourself that you’re not really drinking alcohol during the daytime. It is often said that this wine goes well with fish, but I have also found it also goes well with Jelly Babies, or sandwiches.
Rosé – This has a sort of translucent pink hue. It is not a bottle of red with half the grape calories. It is also not a bottle of white that’s turned bad. I recently joked to a friend that this wine is a suitable breakfast wine. Then I realised I wasn’t joking. I drink very little Rosé so my knowledge of it is very limited. From what I know, it’s good to have it in the sunshine, and I don’t think you can get drunk on it. I assume it goes with steak and fish, being a combination wine. Anyone who tells you different is talking through their hole.
Prosecco/Champagne – This is the fun stuff. The fizz. This all tastes the same. It’s grand. But there are bubbles, and you will only be drinking this on joyous occasions. For example, while both are ever present at weddings, it is less conspicuous at funerals. The difference between Prosecco and Champagne is the price. The upside of this wine is that it elicits the very best happy drunk money can buy. 80% of the champagne you will drink in your lifetime will be bought by other people, at various events/celebrations, which I also believe aids the “happy drunk” result.
To finish, here’s a Kickstarter I designed to lure people into buying you lots of wine. Anyone who has read down to here may use it. Happy Drinking.
Rewards For The Kickstarter I Set Up To Buy Myself Wine.
$5 – I will send you a thank you text featuring a wine emoji. The number I text from will be a disposable pre paid phone.
$10 – I will call you on Skype and you can watch me drink a full glass of the wine your contribution allowed me to buy.
$20 – I will pour a thimble full of my wine into a plastic pouch and mail it to you, with a note saying thank you, typed by my secretary. The wine you receive will not be very good, but you will love it.
$50 – A signed photo of me drinking the actual bottle of wine you paid for.
$100 – I will mail you an empty bottle of half decent red wine, unwashed, for you to smell/turn into a French restaurant candleholder.
$500 – I will go to your house and you may watch me drink the wine you bought.
$1500 – I will buy a 1965 Chateau Mouton Rothschild and send you a video of me drinking the wine while wearing a Top Hat.
$10,000 – I will travel to Napa Valley and spend a week drinking at multiple vineyards like Caymus, Chateau Montelena and Opus One. It will be amazing. On my return I will go to your house and talk about all the wines I drank.
$50,000 – I will build a proper wine cellar, populate it with my many, many wines, and you may work on the construction crew at my house. I will also allow you to choose the wine I drink each day you are there.
$100,000 – I’ll pay off my student debt and call around to your place to celebrate by sharing a bottle of wine with you. It will actually be a box of wine. To amuse myself I may pay you $50 to drink it straight from the tap on the side of the box. Or not. I will decide on the day.
$250,000 – I will pick you up in my new Ferrari 488GTB, and you can then drive me around the countryside as I drink wine in the passenger seat.
$1,000,000 – I will hire Kanye West to give a private concert at my new house, to which I will give you exclusive access via a live internet stream. I will also send you a signed photo of myself and Kanye, drunk and pouring expensive wine into the pool while laughing.