André Simon Awards: Wine Simple
Why Do We Need Another Book on Wine?
(And why from a sommelier?)
Because so many of the books out there – and you’ll find some of my favorites on page 242—are by professionals, for professionals. The language can be intimidating to someone who’s just starting to learn. But I’m not writing for my peers or for seasoned collectors. I’m writing for those of you who would love to know what (or where) Burgundy is. I want to teach you how to form your own strong opinion about wines. By the time you’ve finished this book, you’ll be able to look at a wine list with your eyes wide from the excitement of possibility, not from fear.
Unlike many of the great wine writers I admire, I’m not at a desk all day, typing between tastings. Every working day for the last twenty-five years, I’ve been on the restaurant floor, helping diners decide what they should drink with their meals. I’ve opened thousands of bottles and listened to many more questions about the hundreds of bottles on my lists. I’m constantly being told what intimidates and frustrates people about wine as I try to coax out what guests have liked in the past so I can guide them to the best bottle for their food. It’s these hands-on experiences that have given me a unique perspective. My dedication to service and hospitality is what this book is all about: making sure you end up with a glass of wine you’re happy with, whether it’s from a restaurant or the dodgy-looking liquor store you stopped at on the way to your friend’s house for dinner.
The world of wine is constantly expanding, and it’s important to me to stay ahead of the curve—especially when it comes to finding hidden (affordable) gems. I’m constantly searching for new bottles to add to my lists. Based on the economy and the global price of wine at that moment, that often means that I’m diving into regions like Portugal and Greece, where I can find a beautiful bottle for $20. I’m here to help you look for undervalued alternatives to the classics.
I make wine, too. I realized that I could no longer criticize wine without knowing how hard it is to make it. So I partnered with Gerhard Kracher, a renowned winemaker in Austria, to create our own label. This incredibly humbling project has given me new respect for every bottle I pour, as well as a better understanding of how it’s made, which I hope to communicate in these pages.
I want to help people build a base of knowledge that guides them in restaurants and wine shops. More important, I want to open their minds. I’m lucky that I get to work with millennials. Every day, I witness not only how good they are at quickly researching whatever questions they have about wine on their phones. (I have to admit, my inner twenty-five-year-old, who had to mail-order books, is a little jealous.) I also get to experience their rawness and curiosity around wine. They’re not easily starstruck, and they’re really open. They’re looking for coolness and craftsmanship, for wine that has a story behind it. They want the producer with dirt under her fingernails, not the expensive bottle that’s associated with the fancy château. When I looked around, I didn’t see many books that really spoke to them. Because while Google can instantly answer a wide range of questions about wine, it can’t teach you how to develop a palate.
Wine is constantly changing, with regions and grapes becoming popular that even I had never heard of. While wines from the Jura might have seemed edgy a few years ago, today we’re seeing amazing offerings from the Canary Islands in Spain and Douro, Portugal, and the Auvergne region of France, just to name a few. There are new wines popping up all over. This book will cut through the boring, wonky stuff to give you the essentials you need to know to be able to form an opinion about wine, I hope; but more important, it will also instill the curiosity to keep learning.
And finally, there are so many myths that can make wine feel stuffy and intimidating. My aim is to demystify it for you. Because what is wine really about? Enjoyment.
How This Book Works
Rather than write a textbook, I’ve put together easy-to-absorb hits of information – though you should still read it from start to finish! Use it to learn the basics, then go back and thumb through it after you’ve tasted your way around a bit to see where you can learn more. Maybe once you know that you like light, aromatic whites – rather than fruity and full-bodied ones, as you originally thought – you can discover new varietals to try. Then, after you’ve figured out that Grüner Veltliner is your thing (I’m Austrian – I can dream), you can flip to Wine & Food (page 245) to figure out what to serve it with at home. Later on, use it as a reference resource for when, say, you’re ready to splurge on a birthday wine (page 167), or now that you’ve gotten into Champagnes (page 40), you want to see what’s beyond the extra-brut style.
Wait, how will you know that Grüner is your favorite? By drinking a bunch of different wines; some you’ll love, some you won’t be able to stand. Books are great, but experience is the true teacher. So let this be your guide to getting out there to buy, taste, and learn with confidence.
You’ll come across a lot of technical terms on these pages. The first time a word is introduced, you’ll find the definition at the bottom of the page, as well as in the glossary on page 262.
Most important, have fun, don’t get intimidated, and keep an open mind. That’s key! Never lose your excitement, and remember that nobody knows it all. I once asked Jancis Robinson MW*, the world’s foremost expert on wine, a question about a grape variety, and she said, “Wait a moment. I have to look.” I was so surprised, and yet it was an excellent lesson: There’s no shame in researching; the shame is in not asking questions.
Aldo’s Wine Rules
Taste. Taste. Taste. It’s the only way to learn!
There’s a lot to be learned from a great bottle of wine. But there’s even more to be learned from one that you didn’t like.
Be open, be curious, and let your enthusiasm show. If the people selling you wine are still snobby, they’re in the wrong business.
Always ask the person who’s helping you what he or she is most excited about. You get the best recommendations this way.
Just because a wine is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. Many of the wines I drink on the weekend cost less than $25.
If you don’t like the bottle you’ve opened at first, taste it again every thirty minutes or so to see how it’s evolved. Or even try again the next day.
Don’t wait for a special occasion to open a special bottle.
A great winemaker is more important than a great vintage.
Wine’s number one job is to bring us together.
In the end, there are no rules when it comes to wine.
Abbreviation for Master of Wine; a highly regarded qualification given by the British Institute of Masters of Wine.
“Reprinted with permission from Wine Simple: A Totally Approachable Guide from a World-Class Sommelier by Aldo Sohm with Christine Muhlke, copyright © 2019. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” £25.00
Wine Simple has been shortlisted for the André Simon Food & Drink Awards 2019.
About the André Simon FOOD & DRINK BOOK awards
Founded in 1978, the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards are the only awards in the UK to exclusively recognise the achievements of food and drink writers and are the longest continuous running awards of their kind. The first two awards were given to Elizabeth David and Rosemary Hume for their outstanding contribution in the fields of food and cooking. Other winners include Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein, Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke. andresimon.co.uk/