a guest post by Greg Corbin

This past weekend I attended the wedding of two of my close friends. They had what in many ways could be described as a ‘traditional’ Jewish wedding. The couple were married under a Chuppa (Canopy) and the ceremony featured readings from the Torah, which was followed by a reception featuring kosher food and wine (yeah!) and hours of dancing.

One part of the ceremony really caught my attention — a ritual called the ‘Seven Nuptial Blessings,’ which offered blessings to the newly married couple and were recited by those they wished to honor, such as grand-parents, aunts, uncles, etc. As for the blessings themselves, they offered thanks for things such as the creation of humanity and of the world, and the ongoing joy and happiness of the new couple. All pretty heady stuff, but what surprised me most was the first blessing: the giving of thanks for the ‘fruit of the vine.’ When I heard that I thought, here’s a wedding ritual that’s possibly two-thousand-plus years old, which saw fit to acknowledge the gift that wine is to the world and our lives, first and foremost before all else. Pretty amazing!

Mulling all this over, post ceremony, I worked my way to the bar with the intent of toasting those wise ancestors who had it so right. Wine is something to be thankful for. It is after all an agricultural product and which is by no means guaranteed year-in-year-out (as hard as that is for those of us who live in sunny California to believe). While waiting at the bar, I overheard a woman comment to a friend about a recent party she threw. Apparently, this woman loves wine and throwing parties, yet admitted to her friend that she never knows what kind of wine to serve. And I thought, wow, we just came from observing an ancient blessing that originates from a time when just having wine, any wine, was something to be thankful for. And yet contrast that with today — a time when people can actually be intimidated by the variety and number of wine choices available to them. Do we have too much wine, are there too many choices? Barolo, Chardonnay, Burgundy, Port, Cabs, Pinots — Gris, Noir, Grigio… do we need this myriad of wines when our ancestors would have been thankful for a glass of plonk?

Back when I was a wine buyer for a restaurant group in New York, I regularly observed a phenomenon that I called ‘wine fright.’ This would occur whenever a normally rational and intelligent human being would open our wine’ tome,’ aka wine list, and start perusing. Financiers, doctors, lawyers, fashion designers, old, young, wealthy, working class, none of these descriptors were any indication of a person’s ability to navigate the list with real confidence. Of course that’s what my job was–to provide assistance to our guests–but very often there was a mild subtext of embarrassment and fear of not being able to pick the ‘right’ wine.

I’ve always been an advocate of discarding rules when it comes to wine and instead promote a ‘drink what you like’ philosophy. Sauvignon Blanc with steak, why not? Cabernet with that tuna steak, sure! Who am I to tell someone otherwise? Which brings me to my point (finally!)… how does one overcome their ‘fear’ of choosing the wrong wine or knowing which wine to pick? And the answer is… by continuing to try new wines. Sounds simple enough, no? And yet is often something few of us practice. We as human beings are creatures of habit as we tend to stick with things that work. But if you want to learn about wine and expand your knowledge and improve your palate, you have to keep tasting new wines.

Think about it. Inherently, we all seem to know what types of entertainment we prefer, whether it be music, TV or film. And why is that? It’s because by the time we’re young adults we been exposed hundreds if not thousands of hours of entertainment which serves to develop our tastes. And the same must be done with wine. The best way to expand your palate and knowledge is to seek out opportunities to try new wines. Tastings at wine shops, visiting wineries, joining a wine club where people meet weekly or monthly to try new wines, are all great ways to explore.

Once you’ve begun this journey, all you need are a few catch words to describe what you like, and you’ll be able to walk into any wine shop or restaurant with confidence. If you like ‘earthy’ red wines, then something from Provence or Southern Italy could work. If ‘bold tannic’ wines are your thing, then a California Cab or Bordeaux. ‘Fruity and delicate’ might lead you to a Riesling from Alsace or Germany. Just having these catch words ready will allow you to ask questions — which is one of the reasons I prefer privately owned wine shops as opposed to chain stores or supermarkets to buy wine. I have nothing against the chain stores as you can often find great values, but when I’m looking for something new, that’s where the privately owned shops shine as they are staffed with people who can offer quality advice.

After you’ve caught the bug (and you will!), you can continue your journey by digging deeper into the subject by reading. Between the major wine publications and thousands of websites dedicated to the subject, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy. In the end I’m sure you’ll agree as I do, that we are indeed very lucky to have such an abundance of wine in our lives and that really is something to give thanks for. Happy tasting! I want to thank Andrea for giving me the opportunity to post on her Andy’s Goode Life Blog. If you have a second, please check out my video entry for the Really Goode Job here:

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No, Greg, it is I who has to say thanks to you!  What a beautiful observation as well as simple truth about discovering wine.  Thank you for taking the time to offer my readers this side of you! One of the aspects I love about this whole wine web2.0 gig with Murphy-Goode is the simple burst of creativity in many of the videos!  I find I am really starting to think in 60 sec. spots.  What wonderful story telling to be seen thanks to Murphy-Goode and all who have joined the team of applicants.

You can connect with Greg on Twitter:  @GregCorbin