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California Wine Guide

Why You Don’t Have to Be an Expert to Appreciate Wine

Photo: Courtesy of Kelsey Knight

David Falchek

Executive Director, American Wine Scoeity (AWS)

Wine consumption in America is on the rise. Recent statistics show consumers drank a combined 949 million gallons of wine in 2016, compared to 769 million gallons in 2009. 

“Each individual person is the captain of their own palette,” said David Falchek, executive director for the American Wine Society (AWS), a non-profit with 180 local chapters across the country. “Discovering wines and tasting wines is a wonderful journey.”

Cheers to fun

For over 50 years, AWS has been helping consumers learn about and appreciate wine.

“Unfortunately, wine is intimidating,” said Falchek, who got started covering the wine industry during his first job as a reporter in New York. Since then, he’s written extensively about wine for consumer and trade publications. His main takeaway: you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate wine.

“Wine is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be exciting,” he said. 

Falchek encourages consumers to host tastings with friends to try different wines and talk about them with others. Everyone has different sensitivities and can pick out different things from the same drink.

“The most important thing is to not be afraid to try something,” he said, explaining recommendations can come from friends, signs in a store, or other sources, like a sommelier.

Pairing and sharing

The wine drinking experience is best when shared with friends and paired with food, said Falchek, who frequently judges regional, national, and international wine competitions.

“You want to taste wine with an appropriate food because the wine is meant to interact with the food,” he said.

Pairings shouldn’t be too complicated. For example, Falchek and his wife often have what they call “Snacks for Supper,” where they enjoy olives, marinated mushrooms, and a variety of cheeses, paired with two to three bottles of wine. They sample the food and wine looking for different taste experiences. In between, they nibble crackers as a palate cleanser.

New versus old 

According to Falchek, Americans see wine as just a cocktail, while in other parts of the world, such as Italy and Spain, it is meant to be enjoyed with different foods.

He said American wines are grouped with New World wines, like those from Australia and South America. He said New World wines try to do it all — be flavorful, weighty, and give drinkers acids/tannins. 

“They try to be all things to all people,” Falchek said, “rather than wines in Europe that in general are made to be supporting players to a certain type of food or dish.”

New World wines tend to have more alcohol because the grapes hang on the vine longer, producing more sugar and a fruitier taste. Falchek said California winemakers are always talking about hang time.

“They want to keep the grapes hanging longer and longer because the longer they hang, the more sugars that are produced and the more fruity the wine gets,” he said.

Great wines come from many of California’s regions, including Napa Valley, Temecula, Livermore Valley, Mendocino, Lodi, and Sonoma.  

Falchek encourages consumers to drink American wines on U.S. holidays, like the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. He suggests red wine from Napa or Paso Robles for a cookout, a Zinfandel for cooking on the grill, and rosé for Thanksgiving.

Above all else, Falchek recommends that you keep sipping until you find the right wine for you.

“Try it and keep trying other wines and, ultimately, you’ll be able to really zone in and put a finger on what you like about wine,” he said. “You have to figure out what you like. You have to taste a lot of different wines and explore on your own.”

Kristen Castillo, [email protected]

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