Cassie's 5 Things: March
This post is the first instalment in our '5 Things' series, a journal of sorts where we take a moment to ponder five boozy topics that we've been thinking or learning about lately.
1. Escaping a Wine Rut
I always thought "good" wine drinking was finding a variety or winery you liked and then only drinking that wine. While there is something to be said for this, and when you find a particular wine you absolutely love it’s easy to only want to drink that all the time, it does shut you off from completely new and different wines that you might also happen to absolutely love.
I was brought up on red wine, so to speak. That doesn’t mean my parents were adding it to my bottle as a toddler of course, more that because they only drank reds, I only drank reds. My palate adapted to being able to differentiate between a Cab Sav, Shiraz and Pinot Noir pretty easily and understand what I liked about them, but that was basically my wine world. When it came to white wines, I had next to no introduction – unless you count drinking from the proverbial goon bag in late high school, and I certainly don’t!
While I still love red wines, sometimes you just don’t feel like a glass of Barossa Shiraz when it’s a hot summer afternoon and everyone is drinking beer and cider. In order to drink wine all year round, I slowly developed my palate to discover which white wines I actually liked and didn’t remind me of that Year 11 goon bag that tasted the same coming back up as it did going down.
I transitioned via rosés, because I thought that would taste more like a red wine, being a similar colour, but it wasn’t until I tasted my first oaked, buttery Chardonnay that my mind was blown. White wines could be complex too! For some reason many people aren’t into Chardonnay, but I am and in a big way. By now my repertoire included four varieties, plus Champagne of course, because who doesn’t like Champagne!?
And I thought that was it, I thought I was now done with the world of wine. Wrong! Luckily for me and my taste buds, Terri told me about this great book she was reading called Wine. all the time. by Marissa A. Ross and it opened my eyes up to all the varieties I’d been missing out on: Gamay, Pét-Nat, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier and so many more I’m still yet to try.
And you know what? It’s made my wine drinking way more exciting. I still gravitate to varieties that share similar profiles to the wines I know I already like – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy a Sauvignon Blanc (Grass! Passion fruit!) – but I feel free of this wine rut that I didn’t even know I had created for myself.
Now when I’m in the bottle shop or looking at a wine list I don’t just search for a Yarra Valley Chardonnay that’s in my price range. I look for something different that I’ve vaguely heard of (that’s also in my price range) and I give it a try – and nine times out of ten it tastes damn fine too!
2. Natural Wines
The most exciting thing about escaping my wine rut has been exploring the world of natural and minimal intervention wines. These wines are made using more traditional methods, are usually produced in lower batches, and have a whole lot going on in each bottle; they really pack a punch.
There is so much complexity in the few I have tasted, every mouthful is interesting, different, tasty and exciting. So far, I’ve tried quite a few varieties from Latta Wines, all of which have been absolutely delicious, and I’ve now had to stop myself drinking only wines that Owen has crafted, because remember: avoid that wine rut! But seriously, I have returned to them a few (or more) times and each tasting has been just as good.
Terri and I have also discovered the wonderful world of Pétillant Naturel sparkling wines, affectionately known as Pét-Nats. These wines are bottled at a different stage of fermentation to more traditional sparklings, making them a little more unrefined and unfiltered, but damn tasty all the same. I tried Owen Latta’s on New Year’s Eve and it was probably my highlight of 2017. Since then, I’ve also drunk quite a bit of Noisy Ritual’s sunshine-in-a-bottle Pét-Nat and it would be something I’d happily drink a glass of every day.
Once you discover natural wines, you really fall down a rabbit hole. There are so many small-scale wineries specialising in them, a whole festival dedicated to them in Sydney, and countless wine bars and bottle shops that only select these tasty little tipples. Expect to hear a lot more about them from Terri and I as we do our best to visit them all.
3. Good Equipment
One side effect of natural wines is that they are mostly all bottled with a cork and wax; cute to look at but super frustrating when you own the world’s worst bottle opener and just trying to get the thing open is as challenging as sending a man into space for the first time (I’ve watched Hidden Figures a lot OK).
When the Booze Hags was in its infancy, I invited Terri around for lunch so we could brainstorm a few ideas and get our website live – and drink some wine of course. Both Terri and I are huge Mac & Cheese fans and I wanted to show her my discovery of pairing Mac & Cheese with Chardonnay (maybe not so original, but very delicious). She brought the food and I supplied the wine and in the time it took us to cook the pasta, we still hadn’t managed to get the damn cork out!
It’s not like bottle openers are expensive, I was just being incredibly lazy by not going out and getting one that didn’t threaten to fall apart with each turn of the corkscrew or slip off the edge of the bottle every time I tried to yank out the cork. But after the Mac-&-Cheese-lunch-episode, I realised that was enough and my current opener was actually dampening my drinking experience.
I now have a bottle opener that busts through wax and foil – without even having to slice around it beforehand – and grips the rim like a rock climber without a rope, making that cork come out with a satisfying, easy pop every time.
I also splashed out and purchased one of those stoppers you can use with sparkling wines and now I can drink a glass of Pét-Nat every day, and the bottle is still bubbly after three days – that is living!
4. Embracing Wine Snobbery
I wish there was another term for taking an active interest in wine other than wine snobbery. Perhaps we should call it wine aptitude, or wine passion, or wine hobbery? What is it about wine that is more snobbish than craft beer, or gin? OK, so there are a lot of rich white men who drink wine, and there are lots of wines that cost a lot, but that isn’t all there is. I’ve never heard anyone get called a beer snob because they prefer Melbourne Bitter over VB or take their time at a craft brewery working out which style they’re looking for.
With all that in mind, I’ve decided not to shy away from being viewed as a wine snob. If I’m out with friends and the waiter brings over a wine list, I don’t avoid taking control of what we’re going to order when it’s clear that no-one else gives a damn because hey, I do! If I’m spending my money on something, I want to make sure it’s something that I’m going to enjoy drinking, which will suit my palate and the people I’m with, because life is too short to drink bad or boring wine.
Likewise, at the bottle shop, instead of wishing that I could use a self-checkout everywhere and avoiding eye-contact with the staff like crazy, I’m trying to ask more questions about what they’re drinking, what’s new or interesting, or what might work for me because I like big Cab Savs.
That’s still a bit tough for me because my natural, introverted state is to not talk to people I don’t know, especially about such private things like what you’re eating for dinner tonight and what wine might go with that, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the knowledge I’ve gleaned in the process. And it’s not just at fancy boutique bottle shops either – I was at my local Dan Murphy’s recently and chatted to the nicest man about which was the best Chardonnay they had under $20 and as a result I walked out with a nice wine for $11.
5. Mindful Drinking
I know! The world mindful is applied to everything these days – even drinking! And while to a lot of health experts Mindful Drinking relates to being mindful of how much alcohol you are drinking and why, the term means something different to me.
I view mindfulness as being aware of the present: being aware of what you are doing, feeling and thinking in that exact moment. It’s a helpful practice to utilise for anyone who finds their minds constantly racing through what they need to or should be doing or focussing on what is to come in the next hour, day, month or year.
I found myself constantly thinking about and questioning my future and it got to the point where I was planning everything out in my head, then feeling dissatisfied with the present because it didn’t have everything I was dreaming about. To become happier with my current situation, I used mindfulness to focus on where my life is now and stop my mind racing.
Thinking about the same mindful techniques, I found that I wasn’t drinking wine to its full potential. I wasn’t fully tasting what was in my glass, not after the initial few sips anyway. In the past, I would taste my wine, decide if I liked it or not, then guzzle it down (sometimes even if I didn’t really like it).
But since becoming more mindful of what I am drinking, I now enjoy sitting with that one glass, and make notes in my head about how the initial taste compares to the second or third. Using different parts of my tongue to see what different flavours or sensations it picks up. Noticing how the flavours change and develop as the wine warms up if it was chilled.
As a result, I end up getting a lot more satisfaction and value from that one glass than if I had simply drunk it down. Although I have discovered that drinking mindfully gets harder the more delicious the wine gets, after all, I am a Booze Hag at heart.