Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray

For those who followed my column in 2016, thank you. It was an honor to be able to connect with you in print, and for many we continued that relationship via email and in the store. For me, wine is, and always has been, something that triggers curiosity. As such, I wonder and ask you, where will your (wine) curiosity take you in the New Year?

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you have a genuine interest in, and maybe even love for, wine. Whether you’re an at-home aficionado, bartender, server or a 21-year-old about to take your first sip, my intention with this column is to suggest five goals that will cause you to explore the world of wine in a way that will create deeper understanding, appreciation and fun.

1. Visit a winery. Wine can be intimidating, and understanding its “source” can be the single most important lesson on your journey. Now, before you roll your eyes about the likelihood of traveling to Napa Valley, consider this: New Jersey is home to almost 50 wineries and more than 90 varietals. Remember, the goal is to understand how wine is made, and most everyone on the Garden State wine trail will be happy to show you. Try Plagido’s Winery in Hammonton, which won 2016 Winery of the Year at the annual New Jersey Wine Competition.

2. Go to a wine dinner (with a winemaker). Wine is meant to be enjoyed with food and friends. There’s no better place to experience this pairing than at a reputable foodie and wine restaurant. Lucky for us in Atlantic County, we have plenty of choices. Be sure to monitor The Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City and Steve & Cookie’s in Margate. One of the many reasons I love these restaurants is because they will always have the winemaker and/or proprietor present. Talk about an awesome opportunity to connect and converse with people who spend their existence making, studying and tasting wine — this is it! In addition, those in the wine business are some of the most hospitable folks I have ever met. The chance of receiving an invite to visit and tour their winery, especially after breaking bread with them, is not uncommon during such an encounter.

3. Go to (or create) a wine tasting. I’m asked all the time, “What’s the best way to learn about wine?” My answer, with a smile: “Open multiple bottles at the same time.” It’s amazing what happens when your mind and palate have something to compare and contrast. It’s here where you can discern between high acid and low acid, high tannin and low tannin and earthy and fruity. If you’re not feeling adventurous at home, I highly recommend you visit us at Passion Vines Somers Point. You can go to PassionVines.com for a full event listing, or take my word and sign up for The Great Bake-Off, where you’ll experience homemade baked goods paired with wine. Mmmmm.

4. Get vertical. The term “vintage” refers to the year the grapes were harvested. There is a remarkable lesson to be learned upon tasting three or more vintages of the same wine. This is considered a “vertical tasting.” Not an easy task, as most wine made today is meant for immediate consumption, but I never said exploring your wine curiosity would be easy. Ask your local wine merchant or restaurant what they could put together in terms of a vertical tasting. Trust me, this will be well worth it.

5. Make wine. You may not think you’re ready, but with the help of Gino’s School of Wine in Hammonton, you’ll be crushing, pressing, racking and bottling in no time. In 2016, my wife and I made wine with four other couples. We had a blast. From beginner to novice, we were doing and learning together. Call 609-561-8199 and let them know I referred you.

Remember (with a slight abbreviation of a rather famous quote): The way things are within the world of wine cannot be defined, but they can be experienced.

Drink passionately.

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