Janine Aquino of Camelot Cellars offers some tips to help wine beginners get started
You've had wine before, but it never really captured your fancy so you gravitated toward other alcohols. Or you're a box-wine regular who figures there has to be more out there. Or you're just a complete wine noob who would like to give the grape a try but you're not sure how to get started.
It's easy, but it's not simple.
“There are thousands of combinations that make up a wine,” said Camelot Cellars owner Janine Aquino, a fourth-generation wine professional who grew up on a vineyard in the Hudson Valley region of New York, in a recent visit to the Olde Towne East shop.
Type of grape (varietal), where on the globe the grape was grown, the container in which the wine is made, whether grape skins were added to the juice after pressing, how long the skins were allowed to steep, whether other flavors were added during the winemaking process — all of these factors play a part in the flavor of a wine.
The good news, said Aquino, who has owned Camelot Cellars since 2011, is that you don't really need to know all of that stuff to get started. All you need to do is taste.
“For the novice just starting out, you just need to try different things to see where you gravitate,” she said. “We also often ask a non-wine drinker, ‘When you have had wine, what have you drank and what have you remotely liked?' We also ask what other kinds of alcohol — beer or liquor — they like.”
Whatever the answers, Aquino said, a sampling should begin with more dry wines and then move to sweeter flavors. And every tasting should always be preceded by the swirl, which itself has rules, and sniff.
“You always want to swirl. It opens the wine up and allows the aromas to be released,” Aquino said. She added that the swirl technique matters. Wines intended to be served chilled should be swirled by the stem of the glass, so your body heat doesn't warm the wine as you swirl, which can actually change the flavor. Aquino also said the sniff is important, as the aroma can affect the taste as well.
“Swirl and sniff before every sip. It enhances the wine tasting experience,” she said.
In all, I sampled eight of Camelot's wines. I've tried some wines before, mostly white, but was never impressed, as I'm generally a Scotch and beer drinker, tending toward stouts and other heavier ales. We started with a sauvignon blanc, which Aquino described as more fruit-forward but still dry and less sweet, and a chardonnay, which was drier and had been aged in oak, with a buttery or creamy finish. I enjoyed both for different reasons, but would choose the sauvignon. (Here, Aquino noted I might prefer grapes from warmer climates, as they produce more full-bodied wines than cooler climes. Look up “terroir.”)
My tasting also included a rose, which Aquino called a “good sipping wine,” although I was less than moved by the flavor, and a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon, a red wine with an oak-y, toasty aroma, which was very tasty, and which Aquino said many beer and bourbon drinkers prefer.
Aquino said don't be afraid of feeling like a deer in headlights, and don't be afraid to ask questions, or answer them honestly, when navigating the wine selection process.
“Everyone's palate is different,” she said. “And it should be fun.”