Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fear—Or Why I Say, “Bring on the White Zin!

What are the three words that make wine enthusiasts all over the world shudder? 

“White Zinfandel, please.” 

The response to this is only rivaled by the similar phrase, “What is your sweetest wine?” 

Let’s admit it, we have all been there and judged that.  But should we?
Before you tar and feather me…with wine, of course…hear me out.

I have often said that wine drinkers are made not born.  And when it comes to wine, the biggest obstacle to making more wine drinkers is fear.
People fear looking stupid, and wine is an incredibly intimidating subject.  With labels in French, Italian, or Spanish, it is hard to know how to even pronounce some wines on a list.  Then when the expert swirls the glass around, inhales deeply, and names off numerous fruits (and sometimes vegetables, minerals, or animals), most have no clue what all this means, let alone how it is done.  It is daunting.  Really daunting.

In order to make a wine drinker, drinkers have to first find a drink they like.  Honestly, few people are going to begin with a dry, tannic wine.  Most need a “gateway wine” to get their feet in the wine door.  In my very scientific poll of wine drinkers (aka my Facebook friends and followers), many started with “wines” like Boone’s Farm, Annie Green Springs, or Wild Vines (gasp!).  Mogen David, Blue Nun, white zinfandel, moscato, moscato d’ Asti, and fruit-based wines were the most common training bras for the big bosom of the wine world.  Many that started with these wines—like me—now drink dry, tannic, serious wines.  But to get over the trepidation of the unknown world of wine, concessions must be made. 
Wines like white zin, moscato, and Blue Nun should be considered training wheels for wine, the practice sips preparing future wine connoisseurs for other wines.  These wines play an important part in the development of taste and knowledge.  (They also play important roles in the bottom lines of some liquor stores; the sales from these styles often allow for the ordering and sale of other, more expensive wines.) 

Our job is not to belittle others for their choices and attempt to make ourselves feel more prestigious based on the wines we know and drink.  Our job as wine lovers, educators, and sommeliers is to move drinkers to other wines they may like, and then keep exposing them to different wines, expanding palates one person at a time. 
So pour the Beringer White Zin, pour the Barefoot Moscato, pour the Ruinite Lambrusco!  The only word that should make the wine industry shudder is the word “No” when answering the question, “Would you like a glass of wine tonight?”

Wines to move beginning wine drinkers away from the “gateway wines”:
Moscato d’ Asti—a gateway wine itself, but it is less sweet than many other moscatos, and at least consumers see the DOC/G label on the Italian bottle.  Asti Spumantes can also fit in this category.

Riesling…any riesling—German, Oregon, Washington, New York.  My favorite producers of semi-sweet rieslings at great prices are Chateau St. Michelle, Starling Castle, and Polka Dot. 

Gewurztraminer…any gewürztraminer—similar to rieslings in body and style, this aromatic wine is a palate pleaser.  Though harder to find than a riesling, many more producers all over the globe are producing this varietal.

German wines…anything German—look for the words spatlese and auslese on the labels; these terms designate sweeter wines of higher quality.

Italian pinot grigio—generally more supple than New World pinot grigios, these are often slightly softer and fruitier than bitterly acidic.

Prosecco—some bubblies like Champagne and Cava may still be too dry and acidic for a beginning palate, but Prosecco is an Italian sparkling that is creamier and less tart than many others.  A great starter sparkling!