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Before our current pandemic turned life upside down, I had spent the winter joking with friends that I was ready to become a Wine Guy. And by Wine Guy, I meant to possess the confidence and vocabulary to tell a trained professional what I like to drink, rather than relying on adjectives my parents threw around at Olive Garden in the ’90s.
So I started listening, mostly to my partner, who is smarter than me and explains wine in a fun, approachable manner. It would help if you talked to Grant, she said. Grant, it turns out, was Grant Reynolds, an award-winning sommelier and owner of New York City-based wine shop Parcelle and a partner at the restaurants Charlie Bird, Pasquale Jones, and Legacy Records. He co-wrote a book, out next month, with writer and co-founder of the Infatuation Chris Stang, very conveniently titled How to Drink Wine: The Easiest Way to Learn What You Like.
I tore through the book. It offered very actionable tips, like “Ultimately sniffing is just smelling” and “Body is how the wine feels in your mouth.” As I got more into wine, I realized it was less about ’80s American Psycho excess and more about living within one’s means. For me, that’s a nice $24 bottle of Gamay (light, refreshing) to have on the couch at home. Or bringing a $33 bottle of Montepulciano (juicy!) to a friend’s for dinner (whenever we can go to friends for dinner again). Nice wine. Good wine! Nothing hilariously extravagant or flashy, and no worrying about soil or rare grapes or vintage.
I used my newfound knowledge and sent my sister a box of wine for her birthday in early March when her husband was quarantined with a 100-degree fever; She was teaching her students remotely and taking care of two toddlers (she polished off the box of crispy Txakolina already). I’ve been drinking more regularly, given our current stay-at-home orders. Not in excess, but a glass or two with dinner. It’s an education.
Sometimes you buy a bottle that’s just…okay. And that’s…okay! It’s a process. There are no wrong answers or wrong palates. You like what you like. I called up Reynolds to talk about where to start, words to avoid, what tannins are, a handful of bottles you can have delivered to your doorstep, and, yes, natural wine.
GQ: So, uh, how can I get into wine? What’s a good entry point?
Grant Reynolds: The best way to get into wine is to make sure you don’t get too intense about the “getting into it” part. Unlike with food or cocktails, people can get turbo about their wine learning. Treat it more like a hobby than academia. When was the last time you heard of someone going to a seminar because they really enjoy watching football and want to know more about it? That’d be weird. You don’t need a badge to indulge in football watching–or wine drinking.
To get started, try to drink something objectively better than whatever you drank because it was the cheapest at the grocery store. Go to a wine shop–not just any old liquor store, a wine shop–or a restaurant known for having a strong wine program. [Ed note: During social distancing and quarantine, most wine shops have user-friendly tasting notes online. ]
Ask for a glass of any of these four grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet. If you enjoy any of them, you are officially into wine. Also, you just figured out what grape you should start building your knowledge from. There are different but relatable wines, which you’ll enjoy more than others if you can sort out which basic grape you like first.
What are the building blocks of wine drinking?
There are four flavor zones to start in: two white and two red.
White wine is crisp or creamy. Red wine is light or big. At some point, you’ll find that there are great versions of all of these categories, and each serves its purpose at the right time. But for now, it’s most important to understand that any wine falls into one of those four zones. Think of it like this: You have soup, salad, pasta, or meat. They are different, and usually, you know which one you’re looking for. But it’d be bizarre if you only ever ate one of those things. Figure out how crisp, creamy, light, and big are different. From there, you’ll start to learn when to have which.
What are some words to avoid when describing wine? In the book, when you mentioned saying things are “dry” for novices, I cringed because that’s how my mom always tells a serve.