Understanding Wine 201By
LEVEL TWO “Gathering Information on the Wine”
Understanding wine can be quite daunting. As you know, wine geeks have their own lingo and to complicate things further, foreign languages are often used. So how can we simplify the understanding of the wines on our list… for us and our guest.
Here’s a simple way to break down the world of wine: consider the grape, where it was grown and the winemaker.
PART ONE – Identify the Grape
Let’s consider an example using food. How can I describe the difference between two tomato salads, one by Chef D.K. and one by Alan Wong? First, let’s identify the tomato. Is it Beefsteak, Roma, Cherry or Currant?
It’s the same with wine. Identify the main grape. There are thousands of different grape varietals… and each has its own character. Chardonnay is different from Riesling… and Cabernet Sauvignon is different from Pinot Noir… and so on.
PART TWO – “Where Was It Grown?”
Let’s consider the tomatoes again… are they from Kamuela, Hau’ula or Waialua Tomatoes grown in cool climates are very different from those grown in warm climates. Let’s take a look at greens. Nalo Farms is a flat, hot farm. Nalo greens are firm and pungent. In contrast, Hirabara greens are grown in the much cooler Kamuela micro-climate and are milder and softer. The point is that understanding where the tomato or greens are grown sheds light on the finished dish. The same can be said about grapes and wine. Chardonnay grown in a cool climate is very different from Chardonnay grown in a warmer climate, even though it is the same grape.
Lastly, as I often mention during wine tastings, when it comes to food, I don’t think you can make a great tomato salad without a great tomato. Similarly, I don’t believe you can make a great wine without great grapes. Getting to know which vineyards are the really “good” vineyards and why is most beneficial in finding ‘good’ wine.
PART THREE – “Who is the Winemaker?”
If I cut a fish in half and give half to Alan Wong and the other half to D.K., the resulting dishes will definitely be different. The same can be said about winemaking. I can take two bunches of grapes from the same vine, give them to two different winemakers and the wines could turn out to be very different.
We are looking for winemakers who craft “good”, interesting and unique wines… AND also share the same level of sophistication with wine that we have with our food.
Knowing these three elements for a wine will help us to understand the wine and be able to talk about it with our guests.