The summer of 2020 is approaching, and with it, the annual plans for family and friends’ get-togethers, travel to nearby beaches, attendance at outdoor concerts and sporting events have been short-circuited.
Adapt we must and adapt we will. We’re slowly and deliberately coming out of three months of sheltering in place, social distancing and the effects of a pandemic seemingly randomly striking family, friends and health-compromised citizens all around us. I hope each of you has been able to cope during these difficult times.
As we move into the summer with due caution and uncertainty, allow me to digress from the tumult by focusing on the subject of my column.
Leading up to these summer months, the state government deemed that wine shops provide an essential service. The general public agreed. Sales of wine increased significantly from March through May, compared to the same 2019 timeframe.
Graeme Goldstein at Art of Wine in Pleasantville has been a direct benefactor of our increased drinking.
“Sales have increased on several fronts. The new normal of customers calling in orders and picking up curbside has been very popular. Folks are generally purchasing their go-to wines, their comfort wines. A few have sought my recommendations to experiment with new wines,” Goldstein told me during one of my recent phone-in orders.
Wine consumers have developed new habits in wine consumption while sequestered. For those with the financial means, earlier and longer cocktail hours have become more popular. Wine with dinner (and lunch?) have become more frequent. Virtual dining with family or friends has created another opportunity to enjoy a bottle of wine.
At dinner tables, home-prepared meals and curbside take-out have become the norm in place of restaurant visits. This has impacted wine sales.
Goldstein tells me “customers are buying higher priced wines at a level that they would normally spend at a restaurant. For some this is a significant increase in their wine shop spending.”
As consumers are now treading into new areas of wine purchasing, I’ve been asked how I approach wine consumption and specific selection criteria. I offer two maxims that I live by to keep my perspective on a practical plane.
First, always view wine as an enjoyable, positive experience. Never elevate it to the status of the Holy Grail. Don’t become a wine snob (or a wine geek, for that matter). Wine is an agricultural product, not a rare gem. It is meant to be an accompaniment to food and enjoyed with like-minded friends in an atmosphere of conviviality. It enhances our dining and social experiences; it shouldn’t be the focal point of those encounters.
Second, the appreciation of a particular wine is an individual experience. A great wine is a wine that you enjoy. Each of us has unique palates, unique olfactory senses and time-tested individual experiences in discerning good from poor. Don’t rely on others for anything more than general guidance. Continue experimenting and finding new “favorite wines.”
I’m frequently asked to recommend wines for meals, for special occasions, for hanging out in the kitchen or sitting in front of the fireplace. My response is always the same. Think of a recent wine that you especially enjoyed, one that stood out from others.
It’s likely that as much as you enjoy a particular producer, your palate was simpatico with the grape varietal or the wine region. Experiment with other wines from that producer (each producer has an individualistic style for creating wines); or other wines produced from the same grape or blend of grapes (chances are your palate is sensitive to a flavor profile that can be matched to other producers’ offerings); or other wines from the same wine region.
In the vast sea of Cabernet Sauvignons, if you find a special bottle from Washington state and prefer it over those you’ve sampled from California, Australia or Chile, explore the multiple Washington offerings currently available.
As we emerge from our current health crisis, an enhanced understanding of your preferences and more refined palate will bode well for a harmonious and socially pleasing lifestyle.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is the co-chairperson of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.