Wine shouldn't be work
(FORTUNE Magazine) -- Why is it that wine has a singular ability to reduce otherwise worldly men and women to insecure, stuttering naifs--or worse, swaggering poseurs? It's mystifying, frankly. But as chef Mario Batali puts it, "Wine doesn't have to come out all dusty and musty from some corkdork's cellar to be good." From his shopping list to our five-step tasting primer, we've scoured the wine world for everything you need to know, whether you're buying, ordering, or, best of all, simply sipping.
HOW TO ORDER
Intimidated by wine lists? We asked French Laundry wine director Paul Roberts for a crash course in ordering.
ASK THE EXPERT
Sommeliers have an opportunity every night to try all these wines. See what they like.
PULL A SWITCH
Big fan of Napa cabernets? Check out the Spanish Ribera del Duero and Priorat regions for sensational wines at sensible prices. A great Italian pick, Barberra, has enough body for cab drinkers yet is elegant enough for a pinot lover.
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE
The word "dry" is often misused. Instead, say you want something "full-bodied." Use "silky" for a light to medium wine, or ask for a "rich, thicker wine."
Rather than picking a young name brand, ask for a great older, ready-to-drink-now bottle--you'll get a lot more wine for your money.
Connoisseurs aren't just exhibitionists--to truly experience a wine takes five (somewhat ostentatious) steps.
Swirl your glass. The movement aerates the wine and unlocks the scent. (Note: While swirling, never let the base of the glass leave the table.) As the wine trickles down the glass, watch its tracks--known to enophiles as "tears" or "legs"--for a preview of its texture and thickness, or body. Sniff and inhale. Don't be afraid to stick your nose in your glass and breathe deeply. Take a sip. Once your nose has enjoyed the aroma, sip the wine slowly to give it a chance to release its flavors. Swish. Pros roll wine in the mouth, but merely pausing can accomplish the same objective by giving you time to take in the flavor and discern the wine's body. Spit or savor. If you are tasting several wines, spitting is customary. Otherwise, enjoy the lingering "finish."
THE BEST BAR BOOKS
Whether you're an aspiring sommelier or a novice, your wine library should contain these books: a down-to-earth overview, a survey of regions, and a romp through the Bordeaux industry's upheavals.
Windows on the World Complete Wine Course
Kevin Zraly (Sterling) $25
The World Atlas of Wine
Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson (Mitchell Beazley) $50
(W.W. Norton) $15
BATALI'S SPLURGES & STEALS
We asked master chef and restaurateur Mario Batali (who's also co-owner of Italian Wine Merchants in New York City) to recommend the best vino Italiano for every budget. You can find his picks at wine-searcher.com.
1 Bruno Giacosa, Barolo Rocche del Falletto, 2000
"It's almost burgundian in its finish." $775 (magnum)
2 Dal Forno Romano, Amarone, 1999
"An exquisite wine of meditation, for after dinner." $320 to $575
3 Cerbaiona, Brunello di Montalcino, 1990
"Everything a brunello should be, this wine is." $239
1 Montevertine, Le Pergole Torte, 2001
"A total steal. Well paired with a big bowl of pasta." $70 to $90
2 Planeta, Syrah, 2000
"Delicious. All the pepperiness you associate with a syrah." $40
3 Morellino di Scansano, I Perazzi, 2003
"The great fruit of a chianti without the pricetag." $15
THE NEW NAPAS
Beat crowds to the next hot regions.
Crave a tasting vacation but don't feel up to facing the tourists (and prices) in Northern California? Look to some less polished areas for tasting tours that are affordable and down-to-earth. Here are three to visit now.
Great prices, stunning beauty (the Andes loom over the region's malbec vines), and a sudden turn toward sophisticated wines make this an enophile's paradise.
This province is home to three prime wine regions--the Yarra Valley, the Blue Pyrenees, and Rutherglen--all nestled closely together for easy visiting.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OREGON
The pinot noirs from this fertile valley are well respected; now the tourism industry is following, with inns and tasting rooms sprouting up everywhere.
BUY LOW, DRINK HIGH
Wish you could buy a great wine before it's marked up at your local wine store? You can. With wine futures you pay upfront for a release and get a steep discount (often 30%). The best bets now are from the 2005 Bordeaux. "I've been going to Bordeaux since 1963, and this is the most exciting vintage I've ever tasted," says Peter Morrell of the Morrell & Co. wine store in Manhattan. He picked three favorites--all are available at morrellwine.com.
THE PICK WHY
Branaire Ducru $59.95 Rich, fruity, and ready to age, it's a bargain.
Lascombes $75 It's different: dark, intense, and smoky.
Pavie $325 Similar Bordeaux high scorers cost $600-plus.
GOING ONCE ...
Master sommelier Andrea Robinson--a wine auction regular--offers these tips for bidding with the best.
Start small at local charity auctions, which often feature choice wines under conditions that favor the novice enophile. "The typical attendee is less aware of the level of wine involved and isn't always a high roller," says Robinson. "So you can get a good price relative to the commercial auctions."
Pay attention to provenance, which is described in great detail in auction catalogs. "If it doesn't say the wine was always professionally stored, assume that it wasn't," says Robinson. One warning sign: frequent trades, which suggest inconsistent storage conditions.
Look beyond the buzz. Categories of wine that are temporarily out of favor can be great bargains for the savvy bidder. "At auctions, Spanish Rioja will be a quarter of the price of Spanish Priorat, which is one of the hot regions of the moment," notes Robinson.
A special bottle calls for special tools: Stag's Leap winemaker Kevin Morrisey gives his picks for enjoying "occasion" wines.
Laguiole with horn handle
Morrisey calls it a "sacred tool." $175, laguiole.com
Riedel O series
Decant aged wines just before pouring. $175, riedel.com
Riedel Vinum Bordeaux
From the September 4, 2006 issue