Ten years ago this month, I wrote my first weekly wine column for this newspaper.
Even now, a decade and more than 500 weekly wine columns later – I’ve never missed a week, not even once – I can still vividly remember the first time I tasted wine for this column.
Then again, it was a pretty memorable experience.
My wife, our dog and I were at the Red Lion Inn in the Berkshires. A hurricane had been predicted. The inn gave us candles and a food basket. The wind picked up. We lit a fire in the fireplace. Then we hunkered down and started tasting wine.
The hurricane never came. But the first wine column was born.
Since then, I’ve had a blast writing about wine every week.
I’ve written about all things wine related from A (Argentinian malbec) to Z (zinfandel from California).
There have been columns about low-calorie wines, high-alcohol wines, which wines to drink depending on which sports you like and wine-related movies, including every wine in every James Bond movie ever made.
I’ve also written more personal wine columns about my dad, my mom, my grandparents, how I met my wife while working in a wine store and our dog Grismby, who was often there to help me write many of these wine columns.
The wine column has literally taken me to places I never imagined I would go, including Champagne, Provence, the Loire Valley, the Rhone region and the Burgundy region in France.
And more than anything, I’ve met a lot of great people who make wine and love wine.
Initially, I thought about writing about my 10 favorite wines from the last 10 years. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought about just how impossible it would be to actually do that.
How on earth can I possibly pick my 10 favorite wines out of all the wines I have tasted since 2012?
Besides, even if I could narrow the list down to 10 wines, what would be the point? Most of us – including myself – probably wouldn’t even be able to find most of these wines now.
So instead, I thought I would share some of the lessons I have learned about wine in the past 10 years. I narrowed this list down to 10 things, but I could have easily written about a dozen more wine tips, including “don’t eat grapes when tasting wine,” “don’t serve white wine too cold” and “which wine glass you use is not that important.” (All true, all important.)
That’s one of the great things about wine. The more you learn, the more you realize how much there is still to discover about the wonderful world of wine.
So whether you’ve been there for all 520 wine columns or you’re just joining me for this journey, welcome aboard.
And thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for reading this column. Your comments, your words of encouragement and your enjoyment of this column help fuel my curiosity and keep me writing about wine this week and every week.
Hope you enjoy.
1. Price does not equal quality. I didn’t exactly learn this lesson in the past decade. This was one of the reasons why I first wanted to write this wine column long before 2012 and why I write a column each year about the 10 best wines under $10 a bottle. Since then, tasting wine for this column has confirmed my theory that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to find great wines. There are many, great affordable wines. And I am committed as ever to finding these wines and sharing them with you.
2. Don’t judge a wine by its label. Some wine labels look ridiculous and seem to invite ridicule, especially ones some people derisively call “critter wines” that feature cute animals on the label. I remember one California wine in particular from Hamel Family Wines with a badger on the label. I thought, this wine seems silly – until I tasted this outstanding wine. Then the joke was on me. Just goes to show what’s true about book covers is just as true about wine labels. You never know until you try it.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether you’re in a restaurant, a wine store or drinking wine with friends, there’s nothing wrong with asking someone a question about wine. I will admit that I used to be embarrassed to ask someone a wine-related question. Not anymore. The more you learn about wine, the more you realize there’s so much more to learn about it. So why not ask someone who sells wine or serves wine for a living? They often know more about the wine in their store, on the wine list or in their winery.
4. Wine doesn’t always get better with age. I used to think that many wines get better with age, especially when it comes to higher-priced red wines. While it’s definitely true that some reds – especially ones from France’s Bordeaux region or California cabernet sauvignons – from certain outstanding vintages definitely do get better after a decade or two or more, I have also had many older wines that were over the hill or younger red wines that tasted great after only being bottled a few years before. So don’t judge a wine by its age. Judge it by its taste.
5. Give wine time to open up. This tip has a bit to do with the previous one. If an older or often a younger wine doesn’t taste great straight out of the bottle, don’t give up. Often, these wines simply need time to develop and get better. I’ve noticed this in particular with many young California cabernet sauvignons, including the 2018 Gamble Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($60 Suggested Retail Price) that I tasted just this past week. Initially, the wine tasted a bit too jammy and plum-like for my taste. I put the cork back in the bottle and set it aside for a day. Sure enough, a day later, the wine tasted absolutely amazing – soft, smooth, velvety and understated. Just goes to show it often pays to be patient.
6. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Whether it’s wine or food, television shows or clothes, it’s easy to fall into patterns and go for the same sweatshirt, the same steak recipe or watch the same reruns of “Columbo” or “Inspector Morse.” The same can easily happen with wine. Many of us gravitate towards familiar red wines from France, Argentina or California. But if you try something new, you just might be surprised by how much you enjoy something completely different. I know I have many times in the past decade and that’s one of the great joys of writing this wine column – discovering new wines.
7. Enjoy what you love. While there’s definitely something to be said for exploring and trying new wines, no one says you have to do that all the time. Sometimes, there’s something very comforting about having familiar wines we love, especially if those wines bring back great memories. I especially enjoy having familiar wines I tasted with the winemaker in their wine cellar, one of the things I’ve had the good fortune to do several times in the past 10 years. Drinking these wines, I’m often transported back to a wonderful time and special place.
8. Tasting wine should be fun. This might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised by how some people can treat wine tasting like a chore or a contact sport, especially if they do it all the time. I will confess there have been a few times when I didn’t feel like wine tasting (or tasting hundreds of wines in one day) but I took one for the team and did it for the wine column. But I can probably count those times on one hand, which isn’t bad for more than 500 wine columns. The vast majority of the time, tasting wine has been an absolute joy, whether it’s at home, at a winery or somewhere else.
9. Great wine tastes better with great friends. I used to think a wine tastes great no matter when or where you taste it. But in the past decade, I have noticed that many great wines taste even better when you taste them with good friends. It’s especially fun to watch how people react to drinking wines you love or discovering them together. Seeing them happy often makes me even happier and the wine taste even better.
10. Trust your taste. There are a lot of wine experts, websites and books eager to tell you which wines are the best wines and which wines you should love. Feel free to listen to them or simply ignore them. Because in the end, it all comes down to what you personally like. So if you love sweet fruity wine, high-alcohol red wines or a wine that got a below-average score in some wine magazine, who cares? You know what you like. If something tastes great, don’t second guess yourself. Trust your taste and enjoy wines you love.
Wine Press by Ken Ross appears on Masslive.com every Monday and in The Republican’s weekend section every Thursday. Older “Wine Press” articles can be found here. Follow Ken Ross on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook.