I love a good hamburger, but it’s not all I eat. Imagine how humdrum life would become if my sole source of sustenance was ground beef on a bun. Yet, for so many, this is exactly the approach to wine. They have one wine of choice, be it Cabernet, Chardonny or Pinot Noir, and they rarely venture away from the one prized varietal. With more than 10,000 different wine grape varietals across the world, and between 1,000 and 2,000 of them made into commercial wines, it’s a shame how much they are missing.
In most cases, the rut masks a comfort zone. These wine drinkers have learned a few things about the chosen varietal along the way and are content to stay where they feel safe rather than risk making a bad choice, and spending hard-earned money, on something they don’t understand as well. And I don’t blame them; in too many cases retailers and restaurants don’t help. The immediate motive in stocking a limited number of same-old, same-old varietals may be because that’s what sells, that’s what consumer’s buy. But it pains me to see how few retailers or restaurants take a vested interest in helping educate consumers or give them a reason to try something new. Going rote is just easier for them. For many, providing alternative options is as much out of their comfort zone as it is for the consumer.
So, how can you break out of your wine rut and discover something new to try? Here are four ways to start:
START WITH AN ONLINE SEARCH: Hundreds of wine writers and bloggers have taken the time to offer their advice on what kinds of new varitals you might want to try given what you already like. Madeline Pucket at Wine Folly has one of the best charts to start with here: Discover New Wines to Try (She also has a amazing book worth getting as a resource). Other good lists include: WTSO, Real Simple, and Coastal Living. If you don’t see what you are looking for, just Google “Wine alternatives to (the name of the wine you know you like).”
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK: This is actually a two-part process. The first is to go to a reteailer or restaurant where they employee people who know their stuff. Then the second is to abandon your fear of asking. You don’t need to know anything other than what you do like to start this conversation. For me and others here in Dallas, there are a number of fantastic wine stores where you can find outstanding advice (Pogo’s Wines near Highland Park, Dallas Fine Wines near downtown, and Corner Wines in Plano are great places to start). At a restaurant, ask your waiter or waitress if they have someone on duty who specializes in the wine list who you can ask. I don’t recommend Total Wine or other big box wine stores, here’s why.
GET TOGETHER TO SPREAD THE DISCOVERY RISK: If you are afraid of spending $20 on a bottle that you might end up not liking, then spread out that risk by getting together with friends who want to do the same. Have each person bring one new varietal to try. That way, each person gets to try a number of new wines but only had to pay for one. This is certainly something you can do for yourself, but if you’d like to do this, but would like help, there are people in your area who facilitate wine tastings and can customize the expereince for you (here is what I do: Wine Tastings).
JOIN A REPUTABLE WINE CLUB: Wine Clubs where you receive a number of bottles at home on a regular basis (that are not from one specific winery) come in two flavors: curated or bulk. The wine clubs that are curated by someone reputable can be a great way to experience a variety of new varietals and regions. Curated clubs I recommend for a combination of quality and value include The Grand Tour, Plonk Wine Club, and SommSelect. BEWARE the wine clubs that appear to be dumping wine that can’t be sold elsewhere. These are often poorly made examples of a varietal or region and not worth the cost. If the wine club offers you a initial deal so good it’s hard to be true (like 15 bottles for $69.99), your best bet is to pass.