My mentor in the wonderful world of wine is Jim Crum — make that Dr. James Crum — a retired college professor whose eyes would absolutely light up when he was waxing poetic about wine.
Actually, Jim wasn’t so much a poet as he was a scientist. He loved the chemistry of wine, and could go on for hours about how we perceive aromas and flavors in the glass, and why different people might have very different perceptions about the very same wine.
I met Jim when Chardonnay was the darling of the wine world. It was the early 1980s, and when you asked for a glass of white wine at a bar, you’d probably get Chardonnay — as opposed to the generic plonk that typically had served as a bar’s “house wine” up until just a few years earlier.
I must admit that I had jumped on the Chardonnay bandwagon at that time. A “good” Chardonnay had to be big and viscous — the more buttery, the better.
It was Jim who taught me that when I was smelling and tasting butter, I wasn’t smelling or tasting Chardonnay at all. Malolactic fermentation and aging in new oak barrels were winemaker practices that actually masked the real flavor of wine, he explained.
Prior to hearing his explanation, I was astounded one evening when he told our class that Chardonnay was not his favorite white wine. No, Jim’s wine of choice was Sauvignon Blanc — a variety then perceived by the fickle wine press as being somehow inferior to Chardonnay.
But tasting was believing. As Jim guided us through a half-dozen bottlings of Sauvignon Blanc, each distinctive and packed with personality, I began to realize that the most important trait a lover of wine could possess was an open mind.
So, when you have the opportunity to taste a type of wine that you’ve never had before, I have three words for you: Go for it! You just may discover a new personal favorite.