With the recent conclusion of Seattle International Beerfest at the Seattle Center, I started thinking about all of those beer drinkers and how to get them interested in drinking wine. There has even been a book written on the subject: “A Beer Drinker’s Guide to Knowing and Enjoying Fine Wine,” by Jim Laughen.
I remember a job I held as an operations manager at a small local café. Part of my duties included participating in menu development. The menu changed seasonally, and I was involved — along with the chef, sous chef and general manager — in trying out potential new menu items.
Having worked in restaurants for most of my adult life, I have always had someone else far more talented than myself cook for me. I told the chef that I did not have a palate and didn’t know why I was being included. She responded that I did, indeed, have a palate (for more than just wine) and to buck up and join in. That statement has stayed with me all these years. I started approaching food and other alcohol (beer, cocktails) with my wine palate: Is it balanced? Do the flavors work well together?
It was like a new door opened up to me.
Similar to beers
With 146 breweries in Washington state ( 15-plus in Seattle alone), there is an active beer culture here. So why can’t all of these beer drinkers start drinking wine? They have developed their palates for certain beers and that can be easily transferred to wine.
There are two different types of beer: ales and lagers. Ales, the older of the two, are made with top-fermenting yeast. Its production can be traced back more than 5,000 years.
Like red wines, they are fermented and served at warmer (room) temperatures, usually yielding more intense flavor profiles. Depending on the brewing style, they can be their best when very young (a couple of weeks) to very old (several years).
Lagers have only been around for several hundred years and were not even fully understood until after the invention of the microscope. The yeast strains that make them were originally propagated by accident.
Like white wines, they are fermented and served at cooler (cellar) temperatures. This limits the formation of esters and other fermentation byproducts, producing a clean flavor.
If you typically drink lagers, I would start with some lovely whites, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Rieslings (if you tend toward the sweet), and you can work your way up to a big, old, buttery chardonnay.
If ales are your thing, start with red wines. Once again, I would start with a lighter style, such as a Pinot Noir, and work your way up to a big, old, Cabernet Sauvignon.
As you taste wine, remember how you taste beer: Think of weight, flavors, acids, finish, etc. It is really easy to enjoy wine if you just keep in mind that you already have a palate (much like me with food).Who knows? You may end up enjoying wine more than beer.
JEFFREY DORGAN, the Washington Wine Commission’s 2009 Sommelier of the Year, is the wine director at the Space Needle. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.