Buying, Tasting, and Talking about Wine: An Honest Amateur

If I wanted to be super saccharine and romantic about it, I could say that tasting wine, or writing about wine, is like writing poetry.

I know, I know. You’re done with this post already.

But it’s true!

It requires an abstract thought process, considering the “body” of something bodiless. Trying to put solid description onto something fluid. It also requires a knack for choosing sexy adjectives, words, and comparisons. It is the writer’s job to provoke a response from the reader; distaste or desire for the wine in question. Is your sensory little poem making them salivate at the thought of tasting that bottle? For a good wine, it should be.

Similarly, you can’t write a poem, or a wine review, that’s wrong. It is simply your individual experience with the taste that is being considered. It is an opinion, and a creative freedom to feel out the correct wording for whatever is happening in your mouth. Take that as you will.

Currently in Wisconsin, we are under a “Winter Emergency.” Negative temperatures with a heap-load of snow on the way, and I just went to buy a bottle of wine to keep me warm tonight. In fact, I had the opportunity to try out my newly downloaded app, Vivino. While I love nothing more than shopping for the prettiest label paired with the most tantalizing prose on the back of a bottle, today money was tight and I wanted to find something worthy of writing about. Or, try to at least. I’ll pretend it is for the sake of my “readers” (all five of you) and not just for me.

With Vivino, you can simply photograph the label of a wine bottle and you’ll be gifted with an overall review rating, individual tasting notes by other winos, an average cost, and main flavor profiles. You can even compare bottles side by side! After skimming the clearance bottles (no shame, no judgement), I left the store with a bottle of Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon. However, before we talk about taste, I’d like to address the subject of price.

Working at a wine shop, I had the opportunity to taste a wide variety of wines. I can tell you from experience that impressive price tags don’t always equate to impressive taste. Many of my favorite bottles have been between $15-30. Today I brought home a $7 find. Seven dollars! To be fair, the bottle usually goes for $10-$15 but was on sale. My advice? Decide how much you’re willing to spend on wine, then work within that boundary to pick out something new that catches your eye. Allow yourself to be drawn to labels, and to read the sexy little descriptions on the back. You’d be doing yourself a disservice by consistently buying the same bottle. Believe me, you’ll get a few duds, but you’ll also find new treasures that you can brag about to all of your friends in conversation.

For example, the bottle I picked out today.

It isn’t a dud, however but it certainly isn’t a treasure, either (I say “isn’t” in the present tense as I’m currently drinking it and will probably finish off the bottle this evening). For $7 it’s totally drink-able. Would I buy it again? Probably not. I’ve found a few treasures at that price limit that I’d return to before the Concannon. I will say that my dark chocolate macadamia bar is a delicious match with this cab, though.

So, then we taste. Actually first we smell. Smelling the wine may not be as important as drinking it (duh) but it does help us pinpoint which flavors and wine varietals we prefer. You probably know that most taste is a consequence of smell. This means that by smelling our wine and taking the time to consider it, we better understand the onslaught of flavors we’re experiencing. When it comes to smelling wine, often the strongest fruits will be detected by resting your nose toward the bottom rim of the glass. The tertiary aromas (from the aging/oxidation process, such as oak, spice, or smoke) can be detected by smelling the top half of the glass. Go ahead, try it.

For this Concannon, the initial nose is a bright red fruit; the kind of tart scent that makes the tongue salivate. Cherry. Raspberry and cranberry following behind. At the top of the glass, coffee and cocoa. After taking a sip and rolling the wine over the tongue, traces of vanilla are noticeable, and gentle tannins prickle over the taste buds. Vanilla and oak are two things that I seek out in wine. Cab and Chardonnay - the oakier it is, the more I love it. While the oak in this wine became more evident the longer it sat in the glass, it was not a satisfying, oaky cab for me. The taste fell flat very quickly; not a good quality in a wine.

I’ll give the Concannon this - it’s certainly smooth. Maybe a bit thin to be referred to as velvety, however easy enough to drink. Yet something falls short in the way of flavor. Even for the price point, I’ve had more interesting cabs. So far, for a bottle of wine falling around $7-10, I’m never disappointed by 19 Crimes red. But where’s the fun in grabbing the same bottle every time? I’d rather use this blog as an excuse to try more and tell you about them. Maybe you can use it as an excuse to try a new bottle and tell me what you think in the comments! Remember, this is simply my opinion. If you’re a fan of a soft, gentle Cabernet, I’d suggest trying the Concannon out. However, stay tuned. I’m planning to seek out and gush over some of my very favorite wines in upcoming posts. And the yummy Mediterranean foods I’ve been making to go with them!

Thank you for reading. Go find yourself a good bottle of red wine, roll it over your tongue, and write a poem about it. I’ll read it.

Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015, Paso Robles 👍