I recently had a language epiphany, and it led to some New Year’s thoughts about wine. Although I’ve spent about 12 years living in foreign countries (10 in Japan and nearly 2 in France), there was something native speakers would do which would drive me crazy. Even after I’d achieved intermediate-level communication ability in the other language, I experienced many occasions when a native speaker would interrupt our conversation to translate a truly basic word into English for me. I wanted to scream, “I know that one, you dolt, it’s the complicated words I need you to translate for me!” I felt insulted that they thought I didn’t understand such basic words.
Then it came to me; they weren’t insulting me, they were just translating the words they knew, i.e., the easy ones!
So how does this relate to wine?
Many wine lovers stick to “what they know” and avoid dipping their toes into the vast rivers of unknown wine out there. It’s one thing to put down a fiver to try something new, but a bit scary to spend 20 or more on a totally unknown wine. As we’ve just begun a new year, I’d like to encourage each of you to step outside your wine comfort zone and try something different. To aid you in your wine adventures, I’ve offered several suggestions at each risk level. Since I’m living in France, I’ve focused mainly (but not exclusively!) on French wines, and included many links for further information.
The next time you find yourself in a conversation about wine, don’t hesitate to “translate” your more complicated wine adventures for your listener! Be sure to tell me about your forays into the great unknown in the comments below!
- “grower” champagne instead of Veuve
- Viognier instead of Chardonnay (hey, they rhyme!) – Rhône Valley whites, exceptional ones come from Condrieu
- Saumur-Champigny instead of Merlot
Going Out On A Limb
- Extra-Brut champagne, dry and crisp
- Pinot Noir from Alsace – a lighter style of Pinot Noir
- Arneis from Italy, a “little rascal” of a white wine
Who Needs A Parachute?!
- Brut Sauvage/Brut Nature for a truly bracing champagne experience (no added dosage*)
- “vin jaune” from Jura, France**
- “orange” wines from Slovenia or Italy***
*dosage: the addition of sugar and base wine in the final step of making champagne (for more info, look for my next blog post)
**vin jaune: dry yellow wine, intensely flavored and reminiscent of sherry but unfortified
***orange wine: a type of unusual rosé, in colors ranging from orange/peach to tawny light brown due to prolonged contact with the skins; sometimes aged in amphorae