We’re right in the middle of an annual tradition that’s part of a class I teach at Ithaca College all about pop culture and running conventions.
Each year, I ask the students to submit a column on pop culture as if they were the author of this column. Our crack editorial staff has poured over the submissions and selected our winners.
Our first runner-up of this year’s column contest is Ellie Aliperti and her thoughts on Wine and wine lovers as a fandom.
Congrats to you, Ellie.
How Wine Lovers Geek Out
By Ellie Aliperti
There is a stigma around wine. It is often thought of as a sophisticated person’s drink, and to many, it may appear intimidating. I, however, happened to grow up in a family that owns a winery and with a father who makes wine. So, I know the story of wine before it’s poured into your glass at some fancy wine bar.
To me, it has always been a part of my life. While for some people wine can be intimidating or exclusionary, others (especially many in the food and beverage industry) really “geek out” on it! A wine geek can be best described as an individual with an eccentric devotion to alcoholic beverages created by fermented grapes. One should not confuse the Wine Geek with the Wine Snob (though there can be a crossover).
In my opinion, the “wine snob” believes they know everything about wine. They tend to have the loudest voice and the strongest opinions about any given bottle or glass. They make a lot of general statements about what makes for a good wine and often limit themselves to that particular style. Many are happy to demonstrate their knowledge” to others, talking about body and legs, vintages, and varietals.
“Wine Geeks,” on the other hand, are almost the opposite. They love trying unique and unusual varietals. They are not attracted to one style or price range. A true wine geek has an immeasurable passion for all varieties of wines. Their willingness to try all kinds of wine and dig deep into the winemaking process of natural yeasts, wild fermentations, lees contact, and more, is what truly defines their geekiness.
Selecting Wines Like a Geek
Wine Geeks are less likely to attribute quality wine to a specific appellation or varietal. They are open to tasting wines from a variety of regions, instead trying to uncover the many distinct traits that characterize certain varieties and styles of specific wines. Wine Geeks love trying the same wine from different regions. Comparing different styles of winemaking, soil types, and winemakers’ choices, are what they love. Wine Geeks want to know how different climates affect grapes, and where specific grapes have higher success rates in producing quality wine.
For many years you would hear that Finger Lakes wineries can’t produce a quality red wine (and some wine snobs still believe that), but multiple 90+ scores in national and international magazines show that is not true. Wine Geeks understand that terroir, soil, and climate are what make the wine unique and reflective of the environment where it was grown.
These are the nitty-gritty details that a true wine geek loves to read up on. How ripe were the grapes when they were picked (brix level)? What type of soil is in the vineyard? What was the weather like during that vintage? Was it rainy? A drought? And of course, there are stylistic choices a winemaker must decide during the process. Would this wine taste better if it were aged in oak or stainless steel? Barrel-aged wines tend to have stronger notes of toastiness or vanilla. Wine Geeks may even want to know where the oak comes from France? America? Hungary? Is the barrel new, imparting a lot of oaky flavors and textures, or older–giving off less oaky notes but still allowing the wine to oxidize a bit? Or is the wine aged in stainless steel where the result is just the flavor profiles of the grape varietal? When does the winemaker stop fermentation? Should they stop it sooner, with more residual sugar? Or does the wine need more acidity to balance too much sweetness? These are the burning questions a Wine Geek may ask while enjoying their wine.
Tasting Wine Like a Geek
The typical Wine Geek feels very comfortable in a winery’s tasting room. Understanding the 5 S’s.; the 5 S’s are a standard way for a customer to get the most out of the tasting. The first of the 5 S’s being sight, what color is the wine, is it a robust deep red or is it a bit more of an opaque dulled color? For a wine geek, this is where they will tap into their knowledge and make conclusions about the wine just through the color. Is the wine darker in color? Clearer? Is there a rusty color around the edges? These clues can tell the Wine Geek something about the age and varietal of the wine.
Next, swirl. The process of swirling your wine in a glass is to open up the wine and allow oxygen in, this brings the wine to its full potential opening up all aromas and flavors. Another thing wine geeks may note during this stage is the “legs” of the wine, noting how long or short it takes for the wine to fall down the glass. The longer it takes for the wine to fall down the sides of a glass typically the higher the alcohol content and higher viscosity. This may indicate the ripeness of the vintage.
Following the swirl, is sniffing. This step is very subjective to the individual smelling the wine. As a beginner, you may get slight notes of certain fruits or spices, but once you reach the level of Wine Geek you begin to associate the aromas with more descriptive thoughts and may be able to identify if the wine was aged in oak, or possibly even the wine varietal. As a Wine Geek, you want to fully embrace all those aromas–no fear about really getting your nose in the glass and inhaling deeply.
Finally, the most exciting part: sipping the wine. This is where a Wine Geek analyzes and identifies flavors such as similarities between smell and taste. The Wine Geek will try to identify the wine’s profile, its varietal, and how it is made. Is there oak, or is it a natural fermentation? Is it from a warm climate or a cool climate? Was this a warm vintage? Or rainy? In white wines, Geeks often look for balance between acid and pH. In reds, they may notice the tannins, and how they affect mouthfeel, (does it leave your mouth feeling dried out). Or they may look for the balance between oak and fruit. Wine Geeks use all their senses to understand what they are tasting; Is it full-bodied and textured? Or crisp and acidic?
The Wine Geek will savor the wine. One can tell a wine geek from one who is not by the way they savor their wine. A Wine Geek does not simply swig and gulp. No, the Wine Geek lets that wine sit in their mouth and be absorbed by their taste buds allowing the flavors to further develop on their palate. They will think about the wine’s finish, for example, is it balanced, did the flavors linger? Lastly, the Wine Geek reflects on the tasting experience. Was this wine enjoyable? Would you go back for seconds? Practice and repeat these 5 steps over and over, and you too might become a wine geek!