Most NMU students think of drinking wine as an expensive and sophisticated pastime that is reserved for parents and professors.
However, local wine experts agree that it is never too early (after the age of 21, of course) to begin appreciating wine. And you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to do so.
“A lot of people think you have to spend a lot to get a good wine, and that’s not true. You can get a good wine for $10 to $15,” said Christopher Kibit, a professor of hospitality management at NMU.
While he is a self-professed “beer man,” Kibit knows his wines. He has worked in the food industry for the past 32 years and served as the chef for three presidents at Michigan State University, where his duties included pairing wines with meals. Kibit has taught several classes that feature wine tasting, including his beverage and bar management class.
“I love wine. I still remember way back when I first started to drink, I liked sweeter white wines,” he said. “Now, I prefer the red wines.”
Wine drinking is very subjective, Kibit said, and is dependent on each individual’s personal tastes.
“It’s about what you like in terms of flavor. If you like sweet foods then you would probably like a sweet wine.”
Kibit said tasting and learning about wines is all a part of the wine experience.
“The only way to get to know wines is to try them, and that’s the fun part,” he said.
There are many factors that go into deciding which wines to try. Kibit said the best way to approach a wine is to research it in a wine publication, like Food and Wine or the Wine Spectator, which offer reviews and ratings on wines. When researching a wine, it is important to learn the vintage (the year the wine was bottled) and the vineyard (the producer of the wine). Becoming familiar with vintages and vineyards helps a consumer know what they can trust, Kibit said.
Along with the research, the flavor profile on the back of the bottle should be read, Kibit said. The flavor profile often describes the bouquet (the aroma of the wine) and the different aspects of the taste. Kibit said buyers should be wary of very vague flavor profiles. A good profile will often contain descriptive words like “oaky” and “fruity,” or mention specific tastes like “honey,” “vanilla” or “mocha.”
Also very important when deciding on a wine, is whether you intend to drink it alone or paired with a food. If you are drinking the wine with food, you have to match the weight (viscosity) of the wine with the weight of the food, and your wine has to either match or contrast the flavor of the food, said Kibit.
For example, when enjoying a steak or beef based meal, a wine drinker could enjoy a zinfandel or a merlot, because their consistency and flavors compliment the meat.
According to Kibit, he always knows when he has found a good wine.
“To me, quality wine has a balance of flavors, it kind of excites your mouth because our taste buds are located on different parts of the tongue,” he said. “A good wine will give you an initial taste, and have a lingering aftertaste.”
There are four real characteristics that a wine is rated upon, Kibit said. Those characteristics are the color, the nose/bouquet (the smells released by the wine), the taste and the aftertaste (the lingering tastes left after the wine is gone).
Kibit said wine can become a lifelong hobby and interest, and while it is important to do some research on the wines that you are interested in, it is only through experimentation with different kinds that you can find a great wine.
“It’s the only way you’re going to find one you like and it’s over time that you find the ones that make you say, ‘Wow.'”
Kevin Baker, an employee at White’s Party Store in Marquette, said he agrees that wine experimentation is the most important part of learning about wine.
“You can read every book in the world on wine but without tasting it, you won’t learn anything.”
White’s offers a wide variety of wines, and the employees will help novice wine drinkers find a wine that will suit them.
“Everyone here (at White’s) knows a lot about wine and we help up and coming wine enthusiasts,” said Baker. “It’s a part of our job.”
Baker said it is important for someone who wants to learn about wine to ask themselves some questions, like if they think they would prefer a red or a white wine, or if they are looking for a spicy wine or a fruity one. Knowing personal tastes is important in knowing which wines you will enjoy, Baker said.
“That’s the most important part of the wine experience, being honest with yourself.”