It seems to me there's a wine drinkers spectrum-- on one end you have the people that drink wines like Yellow Tail and Barefoot because wine tastes good, and on the other end you have people like Sommeliers and Paul Giammatti in "Sideways" that need to know every single last detail about wine. I fall somewhere in the middle. Will I drink Cupcake? HELL YEA. But I actually enjoy wine. I enjoy the taste, the bonding that comes with talking about wine, and that feeling of accomplishment when you find a great bottle that perfectly pairs with a beautiful meal you've made.
Enter Lourdes of the Vine, aka Lourdes Arena, a Jersey City based wine educator who also buys for places and people. A New Jersey native, Lourdes previously managed and purchased for the Jersey City wine boutique, Madam Claude Wine. When we had our preliminary conversation I was automatically into this feature. I love any opportunity to talk and drink wine, and Lourdes is just plain fun to chat with! She's made an entire career out of hosting wine events at restaurants, stores and even private parties.
We immediately decide to take the opportunity to break down some of the intimidating aspects of wine: buying it and tasting it. She suggests we film at Madame Claude Wine, and as soon as I walk in, I understand why. The shop is so cute! Firstly, it's just plain pretty inside, the wines are separated by country, and in some case region, and they sell other fun things like Ricard glasses and cured meats.
So what knowledge can Lourdes offer people who are overwhelmed by walking into a wine store? A lot. She breaks down some basic rules for buying:
Rule One: Shop at a good store. Find somewhere that isn't huge but still offers a large variety. Wines should be organized by place. Make sure the store is a nice cool temperature. Have you ever had hot wine? Yuck. Gross. (This is where Madame Claude Wines comes in, guys.)
Rule Two: Determine your price point. I really like to be in the under $10 area for an any day bottle, but can be persuaded to enter the under $15 area for the right accompaniment to a good meal.
Rule Three: What're you having the bottle with? Are you making Ina Garten's beautiful roast chicken recipe? Maybe you're having a cheese and charcuterie board? At a great wine shop you'll often find notes about the wine and what it pairs well with. Sometimes the back label of the wine will have tasting notes and flat out tell you what you should pair it with. And if the store is lacking all of these options, ASK FOR HELP! Any good wine store has clerks that know wine, and that's what they're there for. Don't be intimidated to ask for help-- this is why you went to this store!
Bonus Tip: Keep track of the wines you like. There are apps out there (duh, but honestly I didn't think of it until Lourdes mentioned it) to keep track of what you enjoy. You can take pictures, keep tasting notes, and even MENTION THE IMPORTER ON THE BACK LABEL. You may find that you like multiple bottles by the same importer. And guess what? There's someone who works for that importer that tastes all the bottles, so it may turn out you have the same preferences as that person!
Now we get to the tasting. Lourdes suggests we do a blind tasting to make it the ultimate drinking game. Plus, this is what the woman does for a living! She explains that tasting wine isn't just about taking a swig. To get a full feel and idea, you should use your other senses like sight and smell. I close my eyes and Lourdes goes to pick a wine. She puts it in a brown bag, hiding the label, and pours it. We then proceed with the tasting process:
Step One: Look. This is done best against a white backdrop like a sheet of paper. To properly determine the color, tilt the wine over the piece of paper. What's the color you see? We were having a red, and this particular one looked like Garnet. You may be thinking red is red, and white is white, but not quite. There are varying shadeStep Two: Smell. Swirl that bad boy around, stick your nose in the glass and take a nice big sniff. This particular bottle smelt like cranberries, but you can smell all kinds of things like floral scents, vegetables and even wood and dirt.
Step Three: Taste. The moment you've been waiting for, but don't just gulp it any old way. You'll want to suck in the wine, making sure to take in a lot of air. Swish it alllllll around your mouth, and let it coat every surface in there. What do you taste? Does it burn a little? All these things play a part in tasting and learning.
In this instance we were playing a tasting game, and although Lourdes 100% led me in figuring out what I was drinking, I learned it was Sauraus Pinot Noir from Argentina. I was supposed to determine what kind of wine and where it's from based on all of these details, but Lourdes would tell you that taking note of all of these details are important in learning what you like and don't like.
I enjoyed my time with Lourdes so much I ended our shoot with a "can we be friends IRL?", and a "you should come over for dinner one night", which is exactly what you want from someone you're going to have in your home at parties! For more information on Lourdes check out her website here and her Instagram here. And don't forget to check out Madame Claude Wines here.