Hey Wally, when did you learn so much about cars?
Gosh Beav, don’t you know as soon as a guy turns 16, he automatically knows everything about cars.
I never got the “car bug.” Not in a big way, anyway. Had slot cars as a pre-teen (although our cars didn’t go NEARLY this fast) and loved them. Around 15, I tried to get into all the arcane differences between The Judge GTO and a blown 426 hemi , but I never really “got it.”
I even remember pouring over Car & Driver and Road & Track mags (with my best friend Tom Gandy) like they were engineering porn. (This was a year or so before girls’ breasts became the only headlights of real interest.)
The thing was, I never really understood a 4-barrel carburetor, and didn’t care to learn. I faked my way through a few years of high school pretending to be like Wally Cleaver debating the merits of STP (remember Andy Granatelli?) radial tires or Hurst shifters, but fundamentally, I knew I was out of my league with the guys (like Tom and my brother Brett) who really loved deciphering what was going on (good or bad) under one of those giant metal hoods.
Funny thing though, even though I’m a mechanical bozo, cars always did fascinate me. I love the look of a vintage Corvette (yep, my dad even owned one at one time), and remember the thrill of working through the gears of the XKE Jag the old man brought home for an entire weekend test drive. (Do they still do THAT anymore?) He bought the Vette instead.
My mother’s 1970 Chrysler Imperial was the Queen Mary on wheels, and I loved everything about it, too, from the insane oversteer, to the 8-track tape deck.
Another oddball admission: I love the SoCal Mexican-American/Chicanx car culture, and consider it one of the most thoroughly American forms of artistic expression. I am constitutionally incapable of seeing a lowrider without being awestruck by all their religious, cross-cultural and candy-colored majesty. I look as out of place as a hillbilly in a synagogue when I’m walking among them, but to me, a Chicano car convention is as interesting as the Louvre.
So, I guess I’m conflicted about automobiles. I know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to call myself a car lover or “enthusiast.” But I’ve never cared enough to attach much importance to the ones I’ve owned. And I still wouldn’t know a four-barrel carb if it bit me on my manifold.
THE CARS I HAVE OWNED:
1969 JAVELIN 3-speed manual – bought brand new for me by my folks — similar, but not as racy as the one above. I thought I was quite the stud in high school when I drove it. Totaled by my brother within months of me going off to college. The first car I had sex in. On December 31, 1969, if anyone’s interested.
FIAT 128 (Fix It Again Tony) – (Pictured at top of page as I was about to drive it from Winter Park, Florida to Danbury, Connecticut, in August, 1972.) l loved my little Fiat…I loved it even though it was about as reliable as a slot junkie with a drug problem. I loved it even after it caught on fire, in the middle of the night, on a freeway, at 70 mph, with my wife and baby inside. I think I had sex with my first ex-wife (pre-baby) in this car at a drive-in movie theater. As usual with sex in cars, it was an awkward but totally satisfying three minutes of my life.
CADILLAC Sedan de Ville – 1963 powder blue – totaled by an old fart who drove into it while it was parked on a street while I was in a library studying for law exams. (This is a recurring theme in my life with cars, as you’ll see below.) Sold for junk for $500 – and I had to drive it seven miles in first gear (top speed: 10 mph) to get it to the junkyard. You could’ve had sex with 15 people in the back of this beast, but alas, I was too busy with law school.
Absolutely shitty 1971 CHEVY Truck – the body literally was decomposing as you drove it. No sex. Not in the truck anyway.
Even shittier 1969 pale green FORD Galaxy 500 sedan – nicknamed “Lurch”, since you could read War and Peace between the time you pressed on the accelerator and it staggered forward.
DATSUN Maxima Diesel – solid car, engine sounded like a hamster on a flywheel with a 3 pound bucket of bolts. Generic Japanese but reliable.
PEUGEOT 1985 505 – best car I ever owned (above) – light in the ass but handled great, also had the most comfortable seats ever. The car in which I drove baby Hugh – #2 son Alex Curtas – home from the hospital.)
PEUGEOT 505 Station Wagon – lost in a divorce (sigh). For what this ex- had to put up with, she deserved more than just a car.
Some big ass MERCURY sedan that looked like a cop car and handled like a tank that I took off my partner’s hands because I couldn’t afford anything during the aforementioned divorce. Nailed in a parking lot where I was either grocery shopping or trolling for sex in a nearby tavern (forgot which). Whatever….the repairs weren’t worth it so traded it in for a…
Dark brown MERCURY Cougar – WTF was it with me and Mercurys in the early 90s? Was the color of shit. Looked like shit, drove like shit, too. The doors were the size of an airplane wing and took a weightlifter to open. Still remember chopping cocaine on the console with whatever bimbo-du-jour I was dating back then.
VOLKSWAGEN Passat – bright red, sorta cool and very quick, all I remember about it was the automatic seat belts, and I thought I was hot shit for the three years I drove it. (I wasn’t.) Memories are vague of front-seat diddling with some den mother of my son’s Cub Scout troop who was cheating on her husband. Good times.
Some 2-door, 2-tone, low-profile, piece-of-shit CHRYSLER Sebring that pretended to be a sports car but wasn’t (the closest I ever got to a car as a penile extender). This is the car I was driving when I went through my last divorce and partied like a rock star for a couple of years. No sex in it that I can recall, which is odd since I would’ve had sex with a mailbox in 1999.
CADILLAC Catera – nice when it worked; heavy small sedan; went through 5 batteries in 4 years. The Food Gal® and I had some great early necking sessions in the front seat, but I don’t think we ever drifted into horizontal mambo territory.
ACURA – the early Acuras (late 80s to early 2000s) were almost perfect cars…then they started making them in America. Hit in parking lot without me in car, minor damage. My 94 year old mother is still driving her 1990 Acura Legend (below).
ACURA – rear-ended once…with me in the car, minor damage; great for first 3 years; once it hit 36,000 miles everything started falling apart (overheated, brakes, fuel pump). Actual, driving proof of how much better Japanese cars were when they were made in Japan, not Alabama. Creamed in a parking lot while I was getting a pizza….sold to CarMax for $4,000.
HYUNDAI – 4-door generic sedan with all the sex appeal of Tilda Swinton – sold to CarMax 3 years ago for what I paid for it.
The Tally Sheet
50 years of driving
1 speeding ticket (in 2014)
2 fender benders (one my fault, bumped a car in front of me, while depressed/stressed out over pending divorce – wrote him a check on the spot)
3 cars creamed while parked
4 sexmobiles, maybe more
Drunk drivings avoided? Too numerous to count.
(There’s an old saying in the law: The only people who’ve never driven drunk are those who either don’t drive, or don’t drink. I’ve never had a drinking problem, but imbibing to excess was a semi-regular thing for me in my 20s-40s – like it is for a lot of people. How I never got busted for being over the limit is a miracle, or just dumb luck. Either way, my drinking and driving days are in the rear view mirror.)
I haven’t owned a car in three years. Don’t anticipate ever buying another one. These days, I walk or LYFT it everywhere. Work is 2.4 miles from my house and I spend between $100-$200/month on LYFT rides. Even with that, The Food Gal® calculates a savings over around $6,000/year over what a car was costing us. Do I bank those savings? Hell no. (Remember: I’m the guy who used to chop lines of drugs on his dashboard. I may have grown up, but I’m still a sybarite at heart.) These days, I use the money to buy wine and plane tickets to Europe — much more fun and less overall aggravation…not to mention paranoia.
Do I miss having a huge, planet-killing hulk of a machine taking up space in a garage for 90% of its life? Sometimes. Cars are convenience; cars are freedom, whether for a jaunt to the store, or cheating on your spouse. But they’re expensive, time consuming and wasteful, and our planet can no longer afford them.
Cars can also be beautiful feats of engineering. But most of all, cars are fun, to drive, and..ahem…to do other things in.
But they’re also ecological nightmares, so it’s time we figured out another way to get where we’re going — whether it’s getting to work, getting the groceries, or getting your rocks off.
Take us home, Lou:
Every few months we publish “The List” for two reasons: 1) to keep a constant update of our research for the next EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants edition; and 2) to brag to you, our loyal readers, about how we eat in more restaurants, more often, than anyone in Las Vegas — now or in the history of our humble burg.
This list is a bit incredible, even by our trencherman standards — over 50 places in a little more than two months, many of which we’ve been to more than once. It is one of our biggest blitzes ever, all brought about by an invasion of good taste the likes of which we haven’t seen around here in thirteen years.
I thought 2018 was a watershed year of good restaurants arriving on our shores(?), but from the looks of things, 2019 could top it.
All of it makes for a lot of mastication…all in the service of determining who will be new to our top 52 come this fall…
As usual, all restaurants are randomly listed and come highly recommended unless otherwise noted (an asterisk means I’ve been there more than once recently):
Manzo – Don’t call it Carnevino-lite. It’s its own thing (above) and that thing is a world-class Italian steakhouse.
Bajamar Seafood & Tacos – When you need to inhale a little Ensendada.
Soho Japanese Restaurant – Serious south side sushi + amazing omakase.
NoMad* – I shall return to NoMad one of these days to see if the service has improved…after I figure out a way to sneak in.
NoMad Bar* – That hamburger and that hot dog.
Andiron Steak and Seafood – Fun brunch, fun making fun of all those self-impressed Summerlin-ers. “Oh look, honey! They have FRENCH champagne here! I hear it’s good!”
Other Mama – Can it get any better? (see sashimi above)
Honey Salt – Holding its own against an ersatz Italian (North), that’s packed with SUV-driving, vapid Summerlin saps (but I repeat myself) all day long. P.S. I’ve eaten at North too, but I’m too embarrassed to talk about it.
Mabel’s BBQ* – I find myself craving Mabel’s ‘cue…and I haven’t craved Vegas ‘cue in a coon’s age.
Mott 32* – So much cleavage is on display I’ve taken to calling it Mott 32D. (This is not a bad thing.) Right now, might be the best Chinese in town. Correction: right now it IS the best Chinese restaurant in town.
Lamaii* – Two pre-opening visits have me hungering for more.
The Factory Kitchen* – Been twice, need to get back, love everything about it except the industrial decor. Superb pastas and a winning wine list.
Saga Sandwiches + Pastry – Scandinavian sandwiches in Henderson? Yep, and they’re great. Chef Gert has a tough road to hoe, competing with 3,000 other places to eat on Eastern Ave., but this natty little Norwegian is very very nice.
China Mama* – Praise the lord and pass the xiao long bao! This place has returned to its former glory.
Scotch 80 Prime* – Barry Dakake puts out a menu of classics backed up by a whiskey bar par excellence. The decor is also a vast improvement over the previous steakhouse-which-shall-not-be-named.
Fat Choy – Congrats to Sheridan Su on his James Beard nomination!
Lawry’s The Prime Rib – The name says it all. Old school in all the best ways. With service that never misses a beat.
BBD’s – Burgers, Beer and Desserts* – Best. Burgers. In. Vegas.
Spago* – It may sound like heresy, but Spago might be a better restaurant now than it was at Caesars Palace. The people watching isn’t as good, but the view is better and the menu is tighter.
Sparrow + Wolf – Better than ever.
EATT – New decor now fits the consistently excellent French food. A neighborhood gem from top to bottom with nicely priced wine, and oh those desserts!
John Mull’s Meats and Road Kill Grill – Never again. You have been warned…even though it doesn’t do any good to warn you because you (the slack-jawed hordes) will still flock here (because Guy Fieri), but the place is terrible.
Esther’s Kitchen* – I’ve lost count of my meals here, and it’s only been open a little more than a year. The bar, those amaros, Sonia, the pizzas, the sandwiches, Paul, James….it’s pretty much become a semi-private club for me and a few hundred downtown foodies.
Siam Square – New Thai downtown; the food was good, but not good enough to lure me away from Ocha Thai or D E Thai Kitchen.
Aloha Specialties – Hawaiians eat so much white food it’s a wonder their bowels ever move. Belly bombs like Kahlua pig and Loco Moco won’t help, either, but they’re damn tasty…as are the bento boxes.
Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar – There’s not a better off-Strip Italian in town, and very few on-Strip that measure up.
Yui Edomae Sushi – 1-2 with Kabuto for local sushi superiority.
Wing Lei* – I’ve had two meals here recently and three at Mott 32. There’s no denying the beauty of Wing Lei, but the Beijing duck is better at Mott.
Vetri* – Philly’s best is now our best. And oh that view. (Look closely at the pic above – it’s a reflection of me taking a snap out the window.)
Jammyland – Come for the rum, stay for the Jamaican food.
Carson Kitchen – May have lost its edge, but can still stun you with an occasional special.
Pop Up Pizza – A great, simple pizzeria (serving nothing but slices and garlic knots) in search of a hotel that appreciates it.
PublicUs* – Great coffee, wonderful bread, so so food (there, I said it). Those cream cheese scones, though.
Vesta Coffee* – My coffee hangout.
Desert Wind Coffee Roasters – My coffee hangout outside my ‘hood.
Them’s a lot to chew on…but does that mean we’re done?
Gird your loins, pilgrim, we’re just getting started:
Delices Gourmands* – My go-to for croissants, baguettes, pistachio rolls, and canelés de Bordeaux. (above) There ought to be a line out the door for these baked goods.
Delmonico – Still humming after all these years (20 to be exact). Hasn’t lost a beat, or the best Caesar in the business.
Strip Steak – I’d eat at SS once a week if it was easier to get to and didn’t feel like a bus station.
Charlie Palmer Steak – Just nibbles at the bar, but they were a cut above.
Le Pho – Le ginormous bowls of beef noodle soups are boring to me. But the rest of the menu, and the bánh mí, are not.
D E Thai Kitchen* – Street Thai in a teeny tiny space that I’ve now been to five times in three months. Yes, it’s that good, as you can see above.
Cipriani* – Another place I consistently crave.
New Asian BBQ* – Good not great dim sum, a nice additional option when you’re craving a quick lunch on Spring Mountain Road. So full of fellow travelers (Asians) gwailo (you) will feel like a rabbi at an Arkansas pig roast. Which is as it should be.
Ocha Thai – Old-style Thai the polar opposite of teeny tiny DE down the street (large, big menu, booze) but always satisfying, and the house-made sausages alone are worth the trip.
The Goodwich* – I love the sandwiches here but I wish they were on better bread.
La Comida – Doesn’t have the verve or the consistency it once did. Feels like it’s just going through the motions. I fear I have had my last meal here.
Raku – If Raku were located anywhere but Las Vegas, it would be considered the best izakaya in the country.
White Castle – Because even snooty food critics go slumming once in a while.
Shake Shack – Because it’s better than In-N-Out. Don’t argue with me about this.
In-N-Out Burger – I still love my double-double, but the fries do suck.
Del Taco – The Double Del is one of the great, unsung fast food burgers in America. A guilty pleasure.
POTs – Egypt goes vegan, and it’s good….if a bit limited. Have owner Iman explain the name. A charming little addition to our food scene.
Nuro Bistro – The Hainanese rice is even better than the chicken, and the chicken is spectacular. You’d better like chicken, though.
Shang Artisan Noodle – Hand-pulled awesomesauce.
La Cantine – Serious sandwiches in the northwest.
New York Bagel N Bakery – Some of you may remember the Montesano family who operated a quality Italian deli on Sahara back in the 90s. I don’t know where they went, but they’re back and they’ve given this sad little bakery a serious upgrade. Everything is baked on premises and the bagels kick the ass of whatever you think is good.
I know what you’re thinking: Did he go to 48 restaurants or 54? Well to tell you the truth, in all the excitement, I sorta lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 caliber palate, the most powerful mandibles ever made, and could blow your mealy mouth clean off, you have to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?
Well, do you, punk?
“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” – Aristotle
The famous 20th Century British wine writer Harry Waugh was once asked, “Have you ever mistaken a Burgundy for a Bordeaux?” “Not since lunch,” was his answer.
POMPOSITY AND PLEBES
Until it was withdrawn from the market as the worst idea since New Coke, the actual label description on the bottle of “The Handmaid’s Tale” wine read: “Completely stripped of her rights and freedom, Offred must rely on the one weapon she has left to stay in control — her feminine wiles. This French Pinot Noir is similarly seductive, its dark berry fruit and cassis aromatics so beguiling it seems almost forbidden to taste. But it’s useless to resist the wine’s smooth and appealingly earthy profile, so you may as well give in.”
And you wonder why people find wine pretentious?
It is pretentious, and at its upper levels, insufferable.
The only thing more pretentious than a person who knows a lot about wine is someone who knows a little.
Just as a little learning can be a dangerous thing, so can a modicum of wine knowledge/vocabulary turn an otherwise likeable person into the world’s biggest buffoon.
Many know this, which is why pricking oenophile pomposity is practically an indoor sport for some writers. It’s the food writing equivalent of shooting fish-faced drunks in a French oak barrel.
The easiest way to pander to the plebes is by knocking wines and wine snobbery.
“Most people prefer cheap wines to expensive ones!” the article blares. “Expensive wine is for suckers!” is always the subtext.
That’s true — in the sense that most people prefer a cheap, fast-food hamburger to a custom-made one, and any Taco Bell outsells my favorite hole-in-the-wall by 100-1 on any given day.
But the more you learn about wine (and tacos, for that matter), the more you come to appreciate the taste of an authentic, small-batch one.
A better example might be music. Everyone knows what they like, and a lot of people like really really shitty music. If all they’re doing is mindlessly enjoying some stupid pop tune, leave them to their ignorance. But once you know something about good music, your tastes expand beyond bubble gum, the enjoyment of what’s being listened to deepens.
Still, there’s no doubt that wine has brought a lot of this opprobrium on itself with its history of pretension, and all the currency it gives to arcane language, one-upmanship, and hi-falutin’ “experts” reciting laundry lists of scents and flavors.
The good news is: things have improved immeasurably over the past two decades. As new sommeliers, wine sellers and writers have entered the field, they’ve brought with them unbridled youthful enthusiasm, unencumbered by the elitist language of the past. Wine sellers (both in and out of restaurants) are eager to have you try new things, not rest on the laurels of the tried-and-true. This makes wine drinking much more fun and accessible to the average consumer.
Wine lists up and down The Strip have also become more diverse, and more consumer-friendly. Over-priced bottles of Cali cabs are still everywhere, but there seems to be a downward trend in pricing, with many new lists at places like Vetri and Cipriani sporting a sizeable number of bottles under a hundy. Not to mention places like Mordeo, EDO, Esther’s Kitchen, Partage and Lamaii — all of which are off-Strip with serious-yet-affordable wine programs. This type of competition wasn’t around a decade ago, and all of us are drinking better for it.
Things have also improved because we baby-boomers (who practically made the California wine industry) are getting too old to waste our time showing off about wine. Or maybe it’s because the interwebs have made buyers keenly aware of the real costs of the product. Nowadays, the new class of consumers (Gen-Xers and Millennials) can immediately scan a bottle (or a list) into a website that instantaneously gives you tasting notes, ratings, and the average retail price.
More informed customers make it harder to pawn off crappy $15 sauv blanc on an unsuspecting rube for $60. Yet another reason why sommeliers now take pride in great, unsung bottles at reasonable prices.
(Mexican wine: dusty and dark, needs food)
THE ABSURDITY OF SPECIFICITY
Yes, learning about wine is hard, but everything worthwhile is difficult when you first try it.
The thing about wine is how much fun the learning curve can be….as opposed to things like golf, needlepoint, or mountain climbing.
But once you climb even a small wine hill, you’ll find that the journey was worth it….even if bottles costing hundreds of dollars rarely are.
So it is with wine. You can drink cheap hooch to get drunk, or you can learn to appreciate the way good wine is made and all the factors that go into it.
The problem is: the people who know these things like to lord it over you like some imperious professor pooh poohing your term paper.
I find the whole “I’m getting peach pits, Meyer lemon zest, wet tobacco, gun-flint, hedgerow fruits and forest floor on the nose” nonsense to be a particular affliction affecting (mainly) insecure American sommeliers and head-up-their-ass wine writers. (This disease can be cured, but it takes years of deprogramming to get them out of their snooty little brains.)
“Hedgerow fruits”? Really?
And while we’re at it, how many people do you know who are familiar with 18th Century musketry?
Europeans, by and large, have a much healthier attitude towards wine. To begin with, they dispense with all the “peach pits, lemon zest, sour green apples” folderol, and use more emotional terms when describing a wine. To a Frenchman (or Englishman or Italian), wines may be feminine or masculine. Big and bold or soft and pleasant.
Aromatics might be “earthy” or “spicy” but no laundry list is necessary beyond that. Wine to them is an expression of fruit, and they generally avoid “blackcurrants, blackberries, ripe cherries, spearmint and cocoa powder” conversations…except when they’re talking to Americans.
I hear less lengthy recitals these days, and many more to-the-point descriptors like “grape-y,” “earthy,” “juicy,’ or “dense,” The whole point of those extravagant “smells like” recitations were always more for the professional tasters anyway, not for amateur enthusiasts. A wine tastes like itself, no matter what else it may resemble. Who gives a shit if you detect “hints of new mown hay,” “baking spices” (?), or “dessicated underbrush”?
Using a bunch of hyper-specific identifiers to describe a wine is like trying to describe a finished dish by listing the recipe ingredients.
All those descriptions are just metaphors. You might sense a whiff of strawberries, I might say “red fruits.” No one on earth really knows the difference between “dusty strawberries,” “wild strawberries,” and just plain “strawberries,” but that doesn’t keep those terms from being applied all the time….mainly to impress the listener (and the speaker with themselves).
So forget all that malarkey, and while you’re at it, throw your tasting wheel in the trash.
What I like to do is suggest to novice wine drinkers is that they develop their own vocabulary. Look for things you like in wine (like the fresh fruitiness of Gamay Beaujolais, for example), and use that as a benchmark to evaluate other reds. You’ll soon find that Cabernet Sauvignon has a muscularity that Gamay can’t match, and that those two wines hit the palate in a whole different (and darker) way than Pinot Noir does.
Once you learn a little about wine, drinking it becomes a lot more fun. Even if all you know is the difference between an oaked v. un-oaked Chardonnay, once you can make the distinction, your enjoyment is enhanced in the same way it is if an art historian explains Degas v. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to you.
Keep certain things in mind:
- Wine tasting is the opposite of drinking wine.
- Drinking wine is about overall aromatic impact; tasting wine is about breaking down its components.
- Wine has a greater variety of styles than any other agricultural product.
- All you’re looking to do is decode a few essential elements of the wine.
- There is no right or wrong, there is only the tastes and aromas you are experiencing. The fact that you can’t immediately put a label on those sensations is of no consequence.
- Tasting wine is about sharpening your senses, and about finding words that convey the heightened information you are receiving
- It is perfectly possible to enjoy all wine – from the cheapest swill to the rarest bottles – without knowing or caring how to describe the sensations you experience.
- There are no right answers, and no matter how good you get, you will get things wrong. All. The. Time. (See Harry Waugh quote above.)
HOW I TASTE
Rather than tell you how to taste, I’ll tell you what I do. I’m no wine expert, even though I write about it, and have been reading, studying and drinking wine seriously for forty years. The experts are the wine makers and the professional tasters. To equate my talents with a sport: If wine tasting/appreciation were golf, I’d carry a low handicap, but there’s no way I could compete at the Masters.
First, look at the color – Bright? Dull? Sparkly? Dark red? Deeply colored, like blackberry juice? Squid ink? Or lighter, like raspberries? Some white wines are as yellow as the sun; others can resemble a crystal clear mountain stream. German Rieslings almost appear grey in the glass sometimes, Chablis gives hints of green. Color isn’t something you can taste, but the range of hues of red, white and pink wines are so vivid, and so beautiful, you should never ignore them.
Then, swirl and stick that schnoz of yours deep into the glass – exception: sparkling wines – never swirl a bubbler.
(Remember: when you’re tasting wine, what you’re really doing is smelling it. Mouthfeel, bitterness, sweetness, grip on the side of your mouth (tannins) all play a role, but the nuances of grapes come through much more in their bouquet than in how they lie on your tongue. The previous sentence can be true, or completely false. Some wines taste like they smell, and some do not. Others emit wonderful aromas and go flat in the mouth. Like I said, there are no hard and fast rules, just individual sensations.)
Finally, take a small sip and hold it in your mouth and breath through your nose whilst sucking in a little air through your pursed lips.
Think to yourself: Is it strong? Weak? Intense? Flabby? Does it linger in the mouth? Pucker your tongue (that tannin thing again)? Does the flavor remain all the way to the back of your tongue? Or does it disappear quickly? A great Chardonnay (e.g., cru Burgundies) have a finish that lasts until next Tuesday. Great Rieslings literally sparkle on your tongue from their face-slapping acidity.
Don’t search for highly particular descriptive similes! Just think about what is pleasant or not so about it. Does it remind you a fruit pie? Of licking a wet rock? Do you like its sweetness? Is it too tart? (You may not like it at all. Wine is, in essence, spoiled, soured grape juice — preserved through fermentation — and not everyone’s cup of tea.)
Is there something unappealing about it? This may or may not be a flaw. I love German and Alsatian Rieslings, but they can give off strong whiffs of petrol or kerosene. Cabernet Franc can smell like green bell pepper? Some folks like New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and their cat pee aromas: I find them ridiculous. Some Central Coast Pinot Noirs give off a slightly smokey nose. I love them; my wife (the long-suffering Food Gal®), does not.
Now comes the fun part, the most important part: Does your first sip make you want to keep drinking it? The priciest wine in the world isn’t worth it if you don’t want to have another glass. Some white wines have fruit so elusive you’d think the winemaker infused his water with iron ore. (These are some of the most expensive ones, BTW.) Huge Cali cabs can wear your palate out after a few sips. It’s all very personal. Go with your gut….or actually, your mouth.
Compare, compare, compare. Grab a glass of Central Coast chard, then make your next one a Chablis. Tasting them side by side will teach you a lot, even if you know nothing about how the wines are made.
Think about what you’re drinking. Is it in balance? Do fruit, bitterness, acid all knit together into a seamless whole? Or does one of these predominate?
The point is: Don’t try to dissect it; just try to identify what you like (or don’t like) about it.
TWO ESSENTIAL WINE WORDS
Use either of these the next time you want to watch the room empty after you take a sip of wine:
Organoleptic – aka “mouthfeel” – as in, “The organoleptics of this 1976 Fritz Blitzkreigmeinkampf Guttenjingleheimerschmitdtz Trockenbeerenauselese do not match those of the Layer Cake chard I polished off last night.”
Sapidity: defined in the dictionary as deliciousness, but used by (mostly Italian, some Spanish) winemakers to denote certain saline-mineral notes in a wine, such as, “Only a sap wouldn’t notice that the sapidity of this wine resembles licking an oyster shell dipped in potato chips.”
Finally, try to ignore the super-annoying voice of the narrator and you’ll find some useful information in this video: