Ask a Winegeek

So, you Groupthinkers probably know me as the gleeful purveyor of gummi reviews and baked goods, but in fact, the field I'd dare to claim any kind of expertise in is the vast consumption of the fermented juice of the grape.

I've been drinking wine, tasting wine, writing about wine and scratching my head about wine since the mid-90s. I dislike the culture of "connoisseurship" that leaves what ought to be a simple pleasure in the hands of high priests. Wine should be a democratic beverage; there's never been a time like today when so much good wine is available to so many. My house red right now is a $4 Argentinian red blend, and it's pretty damn tasty. But it's good to know the classics, the Bordeaux, the Burgundies, and the highs that can be achieved in the right hands and the right growing conditions. It's good to know the parameters: acidity, tannin, glycerine, oak, the things that make you either like or dislike a glass of something.

The world of wine is very much like one of my other great passions, the world of baseball: when you engage with it you step into a deep ocean with a great deal of history, geography, botany (well okay, not so much botany in baseball). And it's helpful for any new fan to at least have an understanding of what came before, and who did what, and where the tides crest and where they ebb. And you can be very happy just playing by the shore, or you can load up your bathysphere and head for the Marianas Trench. Neither approach is more or less virtuous or more or less fun.

I came by my love of wine from my parents, my mom mostly, who always loved a good glass of something white and cold and slightly sweet. I drank Champagne at Easter brunch when I was nine and thought "Hey, this is fun!" Many decades later I have some fun bringing home my new favorites and pouring them for her, and she always makes a fuss in order to be polite, but in the end she just wants a glass of her favorite Pacific Rim Riesling. This, to me, is a beautiful thing. Knowing what you want and what you like, that's what it's all about. We don't all need to be unsettled questers.

Yes, there are insufferable people who use wine as a kind of dick-swinging contest. I've met a few of them, but in my experience they're a vast minority. Winegeeks are, in my experience, some of the most generous, convivial people in the world. I've had internet friends from as far away as South Africa lug special bottles to me here in New York because they were excited about them and wanted to share that excitement with an internet pal they'd never met. Yes, we can be long-winded—asking us about wine can be like asking those nice people who knock on your door with pamphlets, "So, what's this Jesus guy all about?" We can yammer at you about batonnage, rootstock and fermentation temperatures until your eyes glaze over, but we only do it because we love.

So, if you're an aspiring winegeek or just a curious dabbler, ask away. I'll try and help anyone who wants to walk the path with what little wisdom I've gleaned from my years in the winegeek trenches. Just don't ask about Italy, Italy is a mystery to me. Mostly.