Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wine every day, part two (coda)

A valid criticism of the previous post was raised: there was a lot regarding what not to drink or what not to do, but what about some affirmative advice on what to do? Sometimes, it feels like there is so much to fend off and prevent from interfering with wine enjoyment, it is too easy to get caught up in negativism.

So here’s a follow-up to provide some positive advice. Where should you start drinking? Riesling. That’s the simple answer. Riesling is lower in alcohol, refreshing, and similar to other beverages you probably enjoy, like soda or iced tea -- a bit sweet. Riesling won’t overwhelm you with tannins, like Cabernet, or too much burnt-tasting oak, like many red wines. It is the polar opposite of such wines. It is light and eminently drinkable. The wines are clean, crisp, and mineral-driven. Riesling comes in any number of styles, from bone dry to sappy sweet and pairs phenomenally well with an array of foods, from spicy to dessert.

Another positive aspect of Riesling is its price. It’s relatively inexpensive. Top-notch German Riesling, which is now much more widely available in Houston thanks to the passion of Scott Spencer at Houston Wine Merchant and Zachary Pearson at Spec’s, will cost you $12 to $25. That gives you a lot of wiggle room to experiment. Look especially for producers such as J.J. Prum, Selbach-Oster, and Dr. Loosen here in town. (A quick note: German wine labels are notoriously confusing, so just ask for help to be steered in the right direction.)

Of course, Riesling isn’t in vogue. You aren’t going to find it at cocktail party fundraisers about town. So you might be hesitant to stray from the red-wine-drinking herd. Okay. Then Pinot Noir should help ease you into wine. It’s still hip from the Sideways bounce, but it also happens to be the most versatile of red wines and one of the most approachable.

Like Riesling, Pinot Noir is generally fairly light (particularly compared to Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot) and is an exceptional dinner table companion. In fact, between Riesling and Pinot, you can probably find a good pairing to any dish that makes its way onto your plate. Pinot also comes in myriad styles, from dark, jammy wines that can make a decent impersonation of Zinfandel or Syrah to very light, feminine wines that remind you of cherry pie and a bouquet of roses or violets.

Pinot, however, has a bit of a downside. It is a difficult grape to grow, leading to many watery or poor examples of the wine. More relevant is that it is extremely difficult to grow Pinot cheaply. You’ll be hard-pressed to find quality Pinot for less than $20 a bottle these days. But the good news is that quality and variety is better than ever. For $20 to $25, you can find terrific bottles from Burgundy, California, Oregon, and New Zealand. For example, check out the current release Bourgogne bottlings from Albert Bichot (a real steal at about $10), Faiveley, and Louis Latour. There’s also the delicious Joseph Swan Cuvee de Trois (actually about $30) and Calera Central Coast, two California wines routinely available in town. And the best Oregon value Pinot is made by Texas-native Adam Lee at Siduri. Available from the winery’s mailing list, their Willamette Valley blend sells for $20. From down under, both Oyster Bay and Nautilus are making solid Pinots that deliver quality at a value price.

These are merely a handful of tangible starting points. Maybe you go try one of these bottles and think they’re terrible. That’s cool. Wine is all about personal taste -- not points awarded by critics or impressing people. There is so much quality wine out there these days, it won’t take you long to find something that suits your taste. Before long, you’ll be jumping into wine with both feet.