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 pretty 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” is for novices, I cringed because that’s how my mom always tells a server what kind of wine she likes. My partner always makes fun of me when I say a wine tastes “salty.”
Dry is cringeworthy. It means nothing, but it’s probably the most common word people (parents) cling on to. When most people use it, they are referring to high-alcohol, bigger California wines.
I’m sorry, but salty is one of my favorite words. In particular, with whites and more natural-ish white wines, they are salty! I use “savory” a lot for reds, which really just means it doesn’t taste overly fruity.
Next to dry, don’t use sweet. It’s confusing because there are actual sweet wines. When someone is describing a normal table wine as sweet, just say fruity. We’ll get it. Oh, and no one should ever describe a wine as “ethereal.” It’s an alcoholic beverage, not Aphrodite.
What are five things every wine drinker needs to know?
- Pinot noir is never a big wine.
- Pinot grigio shouldn’t even be considered wine.
- It’s fine to put ice in your wine, but acknowledge that you’re really just trying to get drunk. Good on you.
- Paul Giamatti wasn’t wrong in Sideways. Merlot is actually a pretty bad grape.
- Don’t buy wines when you’re on vacation and visit some beautiful vineyard. They never taste as good months later, when you’re sitting in your lonely apartment.