This Beer Drinker’s Palate Is Starting To Adapting To Vino
I’m a beer drinker who is learning about wine.
And two things I have learned of late have nothing to do with what I know about the taste and quality of beers. Oh, these wines are indeed so complex!
One has to do with corks. And the other is the oak barrels in which the wine is stored. One I inquired about and the other just presented itself to me. By way of Trader Joe’s, no less.
First, the corks.
I was at the Scheid Wineries tasting room in Carmel – it’s part of the Carmel Wine Walk; click here for details – when I brought up the question of corks.
I was curious, because I know from recent wine drinking experiences that the corks on the lesser expensive bottles of wine – I’m talking Two Buck Chuck here from Trader Joe’s – seem to fight their way out of the bottle. The corks of nicer wines slide out as if they were greased.
When I asked the Scheid rep about why that is the case, he told me that less expensive wines use cheaper cork. And the cheaper cork allows in air than can expand in the bottle.
Well, that made sense. And, with the great knowledge that makes wine tasting rooms so fascinating to me, he further explained that the best corks are not corks at all, that a screw-up cap is actually the best protection for wine. Air, it seems, is the big enemy of wine over time. Corks, no matter how high the quality, let in air. Synthetic corks are the best of the corks, but are still not as good as screw-on caps.
Of course, a lot of the enjoyment about wine is its presentation. I’m in PR and marketing as well as journalism and fully understand the value of sitting tableside and having the waiter or waitress take out an old-fashioned corkscrew and hearing the “POP” as as the cork escapes the bottle. There’s a certain romance in wine and this plays right into the script.
The bottom line is that even the cheap corks are fine, but drink them within a couple weeks of purchase.
The second thing I have learned of late about wine concerns the oak barrels. And this bit of information is courtesy of Trader Joe’s.
Their wine guy caught me searching for a cheap bottle of chardonnay, I have no problem drinking the Two Buck Chuck reds, but when it comes to whites, I’ve learned you can’t get away with spending $2.50 on a bottle. Even on the cheap end, you’ve got to use 5 bucks as your starting point.
And that’s what I was seeking, a $5 entry point chardonnay, just for drinking at home with dinner.
The Trader Joe’s wine expert – and trust me, these guys really know their wines! –asked what I like and don’t like in a white. I told him I can’t stand the buttery taste of cheap whites. I don’t use or eat butter (too fatty) so I certainly don’t like to taste it in my wines.
He then stunned me by saying, “well, that’s not due to any cheapness in wines. It’s the oak barrels they use in California. If you don’t want that ‘oaky’ taste, then go for a French wine. They use different barrels.”
Without even looking, he pulled out a $12 bottle. He knew exactly what my palate desired. But I wanted something less expensive so after he disappeared, I reached to the bottom shelf and pulled out a bottle of Le Ferme Julien for $4.99, gambling his philosophy would hold true no matter the price.
And, indeed, that proved to be the case.
Although, as is the case with all wines, this needs considerable more research.