It goes without saying that we are living in a different world whose ever-changing landscape is what stress is made of. In Los Angeles, where hospitals are at their capacities, we are told to stay home. Staying home for this duration has become quite boring and we all miss seeing friends, going out and doing things. I miss enjoying wine at restaurants quite a bit and also sharing wine with guests probably even more. As a certified sommelier, I thought I might share some safe and fun wine ways to continue your enjoyment of wine without the restaurant folks and wine aficionados that you haven’t been able to visit for months.
If you are consuming all of the TV that is of interest and running out of things to watch, you may consider a movie about wine. There’s the 2004 classic Sideways. This comedy celebrates pinot noir and the Santa Ynez Valley. Also, Paul Giamatti notoriously pounds a spit bucket like a champ. Napa Valley is at the heart of Bottle Shock (2008) where Chris Pine delivers as a young Bo Barrett and California wine aims to be taken seriously on the global stage. The documentary Sour Grapes (2016) chronicles the wine counterfeiting story of Rudy Kurniawan who was arrested in Arcadia in 2012. This absorbing local story involves wine collectors, millions of dollars, hard to find and non-existent Burgundies and prison time. Wine Country (2019) is a grape-soaked feel-good comedy about a girl’s trip to Napa. Amy Poehler directs and stars with an ensemble cast which resembles an SNL alum field trip.
For those who really want to binge, SOMM TV streams a variety of documentaries and films celebrating all that is Oenology from series like A Closer Look, which explores wines and wine regions around the world, to films like Decanted, which dives into what it takes to sustain a winery in Napa Valley.
While I own shelves of wine books and many read like reference and text books, there are several introductory books I find myself repeatedly recommending to motivated servers and enthusiastic guests. A Perfect Glass of Wine: Choosing, Serving, and Enjoying (Brian St. Pierre, 1996) is an uncomplicated look at the often-intimating subject. Here, St. Pierre takes a sensible approach and features wine by variety with easy-to-understand maps. This book is not insanely dense but instead inspires one to continue pursuing wine as study.
Windows on the World – Complete Wine Course (Kevin Zraly) was the first wine book I ever purchased. Originally published more than 30 years ago, it still provides the fundamentals like few others. The World Trade Center restaurant is gone forever, but its former wine director keeps it and his eight-week wine course alive through the pages. It’s an intense but fun read with quirky sidebars, recap quizzes and producer recommendations.
While endlessly trolling social media or just one more news story, take a second to buy yourself something nice. Online wine shopping has never been so easy. You can search by producer, region, grape and price. This takes away some of the fear of whether “it is good.” You can rest your searches with things that you already know you like, and branch out slightly without breaking the bank. Many online retailers offer free shipping, discounts at volume and custom recommendations once the site knows you a bit. One thing to note: The driver may need to see you and your license, likely in your PJs, upon delivery to verify your age.
You could also shop locally. Just ring your favorite bottle shop or winery and have them put together a wine box. Tell them your favorites, interests and budget and let them find your next favorite wine for you. This is an easy way to support a local business and start building up your wine vocabulary. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and journal the things that you like and don’t like once you dig into your picks.
While you sit in front of that lifeline of a computer, consider using Zoom for something other than another meeting that could have been an email. Set up a virtual tasting or happy hour with friends that you unfortunately haven’t seen in some time. You can build a theme to the tasting like a region or grape but also something more personal like “my favorite bottle” where each person can bring their favorite and share a story about that bottle, where they had it or who they were with. If your friends do not share your enthusiasm for wine, you can attend virtual tastings with pros on sites like wine.com where you can select a tasting that speaks to your preferences.
Celebrate Black History Month by booking a private virtual wine tasting with Phil Long, founder and winemaker of Longevity Wines. Sip, chat, and learn about his award-winning wines and the Longevity story, with a spotlight on Black winemakers.
If your at-home collection is collecting dust, pull out a bottle or two, wrap in foil and then put it back. Once you have forgotten what the wines are, crack them open and test your blind tasting skills. An at-home tasting can be a fun way to put all of those newly learned facts to the test. Walk through the steps of deductive tasting and make an educated guess as to what the bottle might be. Is it red or white, light or full, what types of fruit do you smell and taste? What could the wine be or easier, what could it not be? You can also play this game with friends and each person brings a bottle in foil or a brown paper bag.
Savor your wine. Take a moment to forget about that last Zoom meeting and note the color. Slow down, decompress from home-schooling your children and really smell the wine. Forget about the arduous trip to the grocery store and sip it, noting the complexities on the palate. Turn off your current Netflix binge and think about the finish and how it makes you feel. Despite how crazy the world is, and how thirsty it makes us, gulp water and sip wine, you’ll feel better if just for a moment.