|Tuesday| Shayn Bjornholm
First, have faith in your own taste. Look, the minute you bite into a burger, you know if you like it or not. Doesn’t matter if Guy Fieri made it or Daniel Boulud. Wine’s the same.
Start with the classic regions— they’ve figured out their identities over hundreds and hundreds of years. So learn about Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Napa, and the Mosel in Germany. That gives you parameters so you can say, “OK, this is the standard. If I taste the rest of the world, I have these as a yardstick.”
Bordeaux from the Médoc gives you the epitome of Old World Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a leaner, more elegant, more restrained style, versus, say, big, ripe Napa Valley Cabernets. You learn the European take on one of the world’s most popular wine grape varieties—which is a pretty big chunk of the history of wine in the world, too.
The wines of Volnay, in the Côte de Beaune. They show people the elegant side of Pinot, but they also have the underlying structure and power people don’t really realize Pinot Noir can have.
Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, the Cabernet family (starting with Cabernet Sauvignon) and Chardonnay. Then throw in Riesling, because of its pure deliciousness, and one wacky grape: could be Trousseau, Grüner Veltliner, Grenache—there are lots of options.
The fact that it should be a tad green! A little bit of green pepper. People assume vegetal flavors and wine don’t really go together; they think, “Oh, fruit, that’s it.” But fruit alone doesn’t taste like Cabernet to me. The wine should have a little greenness, too, to balance the oak and the fruit. That’s the secret of great Cabernet.
Grüner Veltliner, only because it perplexes me! It can be powerful and rich, austere and stony, you name it. It’s one of those varieties that I don’t always identify when I’m tasting wines blind.
I always say, if you don’t know anything about wine, pick up a glass, swirl it, say, “Yes,” sort of thoughtfully, swirl it again and say, “Hmm—no,” then swirl it again and say, “Well, maybe.” Then put the glass down and walk away.