Stop Guzzling Wine and Start Enjoying It

As a wine professional, I hear it all the time – “I LOVE wine!” delivered with an excited giggle, and a knowing glance. The sly smile says it all – no explanation required – an abundance of wine is consumed on the daily. This sentiment somehow worn as a badge of honour surely meaning  “I know a lot about wine since I drink so much of it”. 

Yet, after these exchanges, I am always left feeling somewhat hollow – why do we celebrate gluttonous consumption as some type of achievement? Even worse, what kind of wine is being consumed on these savage levels?

Consuming wine regularly, for me, is an invitation to experience wanderlust. It’s an opportunity to learn. Where did the grapes come from? Who tended to the vines? Is the winemaker an incredibly handsome, 6’5 former police officer? What’s the history of the land? Did wars happen here many years ago? Do they have beautiful views of the ocean or mountains? 

I remember the wine that changed everything. It was a bottle of 2003 La Crema Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. Smelling that wine transported me to an intense aromatic fantasy of a cherry orchard that seemed to have rained dried rose petals. It took me to another place, and made me feel things I had never felt while drinking wine before. After that, wine would never be the same for me. 

This seemingly minor shift began to impact everything; I dreaded the lingering of mint toothpaste in my mouth because it could impact the wine I was about to enjoy. I stopped wearing perfume entirely – it overpowered my sensory experience. White became a nearly non existent colour in my wardrobe. 

I started smelling everything. Inhaling the scent of freshly cut grass, lingering in the spice aisles at the grocery store, getting acquainted with the difference between grapefruit peel and orange zest. Wine had suddenly become a newly discovered playground. With one topic, I could learn about geography, chemistry, geology, farming and history simultaneously.

When this shift happens, suddenly the desire to guzzle turns to one of mindfulness. Bearing this in mind then, how do we create a more meaningful experience with each sip?

Paying attention to what you’re drinking is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to enjoying wine. In my personal wine journey, the more books I’ve read, courses I’ve taken, winemakers I’ve spoken to and wine I’ve consumed, the less I’ve felt I’ve known. Wine is an incredibly humbling and enormous subject matter that should leave you feeling small and insignificant (in the best way possible). This realization should ignite an insatiable thirst to never stop learning. 

Have you ever noticed how your olfactories are the most undeveloped of all your senses? That’s because as a society, we’ve evolved with the understanding that our noses are for the most part, useless. In reality, your nose accounts for a staggering 80% of the wine drinking experience, yet most of us ignore this aspect entirely. 

This is easily one of the quickest ways to enhance your wine tasting experience – make smelling a daily exercise. Can’t quite pick up that peppery aroma in your shiraz? Start smelling pepper every day, in short, repetitive bursts. Pretty quickly your nose will make a connection to the chemical compound associated with pepper, and you’ll be picking out syrah, gruner veltliner and blaufrankisch with ease. 

In addition to honing your sniffer – start drinking slower. Seriously. I have missed the most subtle and haunting inflections in wine simply by throwing it back too quickly. Wine is subtle in its complexity – it’s a shame we miss this quiet poetry because we can’t be bothered to just tune into it. 

An often talked about but under appreciated means to enjoy wine in a greater capacity is enjoying it with food. Any time you have a bottle or glass of wine, start tasting it with an array of different foods. The two should work seamlessly together, enhance one another, and perform a beautiful dance on your palate. When paired appropriately together, everything somehow tastes better than it did when enjoyed on its own. 

The biggest change for me aside from working my nose like a muscle, sipping my wine like a lady, and enjoying it with food, was finding out the story of each wine I was drinking. I was baffled at the varied and sometimes wild tales I heard about owners acquiring their land, the many years the winery had been owned and passed down through generations, or the past careers so many winemakers had worked before finally giving into their true passion. 

A belief I’ve heard repetitively when having the privilege of meeting winemakers – it is not a career they wanted to do – it is a career they needed to do. If you choose to take my advice and begin digging a little deeper to find out the stories behind the wines you love – you’ll likely be humbled at what you discover. Winemaking happens in cold and wet cellars, and often over very long days – yet another reason so many appreciate wine at the level they do. 

Put into action these small, yet impactful changes with your approach to wine and you’ll begin to notice things you were seemingly blind to previously. Bulk, volume wine suddenly just won’t hit the spot anymore – you’ll begin desiring styles with more soul, personality and history. 

You’ll look forward to every bottle with excitement at the potential adventure you’re about to embark on. Heading to the liquor store? Plan to leave only after spending a minimum of an hour with the staff every time – chatting and waxing poetic about the endless choice, latest vintages or hot new winemakers.

Opening up yourself to the beautiful world and experience of wine will be akin to tuning into a radio station that once may have sounded like jarring static. Attune your tastes and desires to new wavelengths, and revel in all the wines you’re about to discover.

Laura Milnes is a Kelowna native and local wine professional, operating her own wine and hospitality consulting company. Laura is WSET certified, and continually expands her wine knowledge through education, research and travel. You can find Laura hosting wine related pop up events, and consulting with wineries throughout the Okanagan with a focus on wine education and training. The rare time Laura is not reading about, or tasting wine, you can find her travelling with her partner, cooking or doing DIY projects for her home. To learn more about wine check out her Instagram page @silkandcoupe.

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