Taking time out from penning the theories of relativity, Albert Einstein came up with this immortal saying: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
But can Einstein’s bon mots and other famous quotations regarding the importance of expanding one’s horizons be extrapolated to wine? They absolutely can. No matter how much wine one tastes, no matter how honed one’s palate might become, there are valuable lessons to be learned from trying different wines from different regions or countries than what we know (and like) best.
Putting this point to the test, I recently undertook an exercise in which I uncorked or snapped the screwcaps on some of my Wine Enthusiast colleagues’ recommended wines in order to: 1) escape from my “day job” of tasting almost exclusively Spanish, Argentinean and Chilean wines, which I’ve been doing at this magazine for the past 15 years; and 2) glean some knowledge of the qualities and characteristics of wines from countries I’m not as up on, places like Australia, Germany and even the United States.
Take Moss Wood’s 2008 Moss Wood Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River in Western Australia: Prior to drinking this 92-point, $101 wine, my impression of Aussie Cabs was that most were either stewy or underripe and green. However, this well-balanced Cabernet was revelatory, a bit reedy and spicy on the nose and palate, but not at all green. And it was, as noted by Australia reviewer Joe Czerwinski, supple and ripe in feel, not heavy or overdone. In the future, would I drink Moss Wood instead of a similarly priced Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet? For sure!
I love Riesling, not enough to have it tattooed on my forearm or to proclaim it the greatest wine grape in the world, but I do like it a lot, especially in dry styles. Bloomer Creek’s 2013 Riesling called Tanzen Dame Auten Vineyard Clone 10 from New York’s Finger Lakes region ($26, 89 points) proved true to my co-critic Anna Lee Iijima’s tasting note. Full of minerality and acidity, the wine delivered citrusy, green-leaning flavors of lime and Granny Smith apple. Paired with burrata and ripe heirloom tomatoes, the bottle was excellent, a statement-maker for the potential of New York Riesling.
For contrast, I wanted to taste one of Anna Lee’s well-rated German Rieslings, preferably from the Mosel because I’ve long associated the region with the world’s most complete Rieslings. But to get out of my comfort zone, small as it might be, I opted for Baron Knyphausen’s 2011 Erbacher Michelmark Erste Lage from the Rheingau ($68; 92 points). I loved the blend of citrus and tropical fruit flavors along with fine-grained acidity. Drink this and you’ll better understand why German and Austrian Rieslings have such rabid loyalists. It’s a terroir-driven gem through and through.
I used to swear by Oregon and California Pinot Noirs, almost always finding them to be more enjoyable than comparably priced Burgundies. But over the years, California Pinots have lost me. Too much color, too much ripeness, too much candied sweetness, too ponderous in mouthfeel, too expensive. So I asked Virginie Boone, WE’s critic for Sonoma County and other parts of the Golden State, what to look for in Red Car’s 2012 Sonoma Pinot, a blend of fruit from six vineyards ($40, 88 points; full disclosure: I bought it for $32.99).
“It’s not a heavy, sticky Pinot,” she said. “It’s pretty good if you don’t have real high hopes.” Indeed, it was the opposite of the California fruit-and-oak bomb caricature, racy in structure, with a light raspy note of stems and snappy red-fruit flavors.
What’s the moral of this story? While we all have our favorite and/or familiar grape types, producers, regions and wine styles, the wine world is too diverse and intriguing to drink only what you know. Or as Einstein might have said if ever under the influence of too much Riesling from his native Germany: learn something and you’re alive.