To help you better appreciate and enjoy wine, we went straight to the experts
Buying and drinking good wine is a luxury, albeit one that can be intimidating. To make the topic—and the act—less formidable, we sought insight from five certified and/or master sommeliers at golf communities known for their wine selection and service: John O’Farrell, sommelier at Desert Mountain in Arizona; Ryan McLoughlin, head sommelier at Sea Island in Georgia; Alexandra Hackett, senior beverage & service director at The Cliffs in the Carolinas; Carey Vanderborg, wine director at Mayacama in California; and Andy Myers, wine director at Kohanaiki on the Big Island of Hawaii. So savor a glass of your favorite vino as you drink up their expert advice.
WHAT TO TELL YOUR SOMMELIER
O’FARRELL: What flavors are you looking for—do you want an Old World, terroir-driven wine that’s more acidic, or do you want a New World style that’s fruitier? Also, what’s the best bottle of wine you’ve ever had? That’s a good barometer for me.
McLOUGHLIN: American consumers are scared to say they like fruit-forward wines because in their minds fruit means sweet. But for a sommelier, we’re asking what do you want to taste first? Cherry, blackberry, etc? Or tobacco, soil, etc.?
VANDERBORG: If you enjoy wine at home, I’ll want to know what producers you’re fond of. Then I’ll want to know if you’re looking for something similar or something different.
MYERS: Talking about wine intimidates most Americans. They’re terrified to tell you what they like and why because they think they’re going to look stupid. But they’re not afraid to tell you what they hate, and I can learn so much about what you’ll enjoy if I know what you don’t like drinking.
UNCOVERING THE BEST VALUES ON A WINE LIST
McLOUGHLIN: Your best value is probably going to be from a region that you’re not as familiar with. There are still places in Spain and parts of Australia and Chile and Argentina that can deliver so much value.
HACKETT: A lot of wineries these days are making sister labels—in Europe they’re making declassified wines—that are true to the winery’s style, but they’ll be reasonably priced.
O’FARRELL: There are wonderful apps out there that I use as barometers for my buying. Vivino in the United States is a good one; that’s the one I tend to cross-reference against.
MYERS: The first place I hunt for value on a wine list is side regions—Quincy instead of Sancerre, for example, or Rheinhessen instead of Rheingau. If somebody put a wine from one of those areas on their list, it’s because the sommelier believes in it and loves it.
WINES TO ALWAYS HAVE AT HOME
O’FARRELL: Try a cabernet sauvignon by Moret Family Vineyards or an estate red by Robert Foley—they’re outstanding. Ovid in Napa Valley has an experimental series where they’re tinkering with the blends. These wines are passion projects and can be some of the best that they make, but a lot of them are one-offs, so you might never see them again.
McLOUGHLIN: You cannot go wrong with an entry-level Chablis. It’s clean with a lot of citrus notes and great acidity, but it will equally please someone who likes the roundness and richness of chardonnay. As for reds, pinot noirs from Oregon or Burgundy can be paired with a variety of foods and won’t overpower a dinner.
MYERS: Louis Michel Chablis is affordable, it’s accessible, and it’s a fresh example of great wine grown in great soil. I’m also a massive fan of Riojas, particularly the old-school style like Marques de Murrieta. They’re beautiful wines that go with everything.
VANDERBORG: Sauvignon blanc speaks to the person who wants a white wine that’s bright, fresh, and vibrant. Chardonnay is more of a chameleon. Once the fruit is harvested, there’s a myriad of ways that the wine can be treated, so you can have 10 bottles that will all taste differently based on the winemaking style.
EMERGING REGIONS & WINES
O’FARRELL: Patagonia doesn’t get the sunshine to grow grapes with a really expressive fruit style, so wineries there are going for an acid-driven style, making amazing white pinot noirs. These wines have the crisp minerality of a white but with the undertone of strawberries, cherries, and a floral component.
McLOUGHLIN: Chianti Classico is having a bit of a renaissance. In the past five to 10 years, young winemakers at older wineries are trying new things and creating new styles at a higher level and with a cutting edge.
VANDERBORG: Napa Valley has been the go-to region for cabernet sauvignon for the longest time, but the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County is having a moment right now. There are also many high-quality wines being produced in northwest Spain—reds from the Mencia grape and whites from Albarino.
HACKETT: I used to find Australian wines to be too herbal for my liking, but as climate change is taking place, there are many great wines now being produced there.
MYERS: You see a lot of the same type of soil in southern England as you do in Champagne. Now, thanks to global warming, it’s warm enough to ripen grapes there, so if you dig Champagne—but don’t feel like paying for it—sparkling wines from southern England are offering good value. But they won’t for long, so buy ’em now.
O’FARRELL: Helen Keplinger first studied at UC Davis and then traveled to Spain and trained in the Priorat region making red blends. When she came back to the United States she bought property in the Sierra Foothills and is now producing high-end wines that are getting extraordinary ratings.
VANDERBORG: Jesse Katz from Aperture is doing an incredible job highlighting single-vineyard sites within Alexander Valley. He’s making wines that are approachable in their youth but will also do well in the cellar.
HACKETT: Round Pond Estate in Napa Valley is always a go-to for me. They’re making varietal-correct wines at different price points.
MYERS: I’ve been so excited with the new direction of Heitz Cellar in Napa Valley. Heitz was a bit of a dying dinosaur when the new CEO took over, but suddenly it’s got life and vibrancy and it’s exciting again.
DECANT: YES OR NO?
McLOUGHLIN: I recommend tasting a wine right out of the bottle, then decant it and taste it 30 minutes later, an hour later, then two hours later to track the wine’s transformation as it continues to open up. If you have a wine that’s high in alcohol and tannins, it can probably hold up to a few hours of oxygen.
VANDERBORG: As wine is exposed to oxygen, it’s going to release new flavors and aromatics. It’s amazing what a wine can do in an hour or two. So I don’t believe there’s any harm in decanting. The one exception is if you’re dealing with a wine that’s upward of 40 or 50 years old.
MYERS: I’ve never met a red wine under 10 years old that didn’t benefit from decanting. But I almost never decant red Burgundy. It doesn’t like it. I actually do decant some white Burgundies—powerful producers like Meursault or Coche-Dury, for example. Those are wines that benefit from some air.
O’FARRELL: If you’re creating a cellar for investment purposes, you want to keep the temperature in the low 50s, but if it’s going to be a drinking cellar with wines that will be approachable quicker, I’d keep that space in the high 50s or even low 60s.
McLOUGHLIN: Not everyone at their house has a perfect, temperature-controlled wine cellar, and that’s okay. The cooler you can get a wine, the more shelf-stable it’s going to be and the longer you’ll be able to keep it; however, 70 degrees isn’t going to ruin a bottle of wine. Find a dark area with a sustained, constant temperature and don’t rotate your bottles—that’s an old wives’ tale.
HACKETT: To determine if a wine has cellaring potential, I’ll pour a glass and sample it over two or three hours. If the wine is changing often over that period of time, I tend to say “Let’s drink it now.” But if the wine remains the same over those few hours, I know I can cellar it.
MYERS: My first advice is don’t cellar. Most people don’t have the proper facility. If you’re rich enough to buy wines to cellar, then just buy [older] wines that are ready [to drink now]. That being said, with red wines, I’m looking for a wine that’s in balance. Does it have a certain level of tannin balanced with fruit and acidity? If a wine is balanced within itself, it will age gracefully.
WHAT’S IN A GLASS?
VANDERBORG: A wine glass matters more than you think. A cabernet sauvignon poured into both a Burgundy glass and a Bordeaux glass will taste notably different. It feels different on the palate and has different aromatic expressions in terms of its intensity.
O’FARRELL: Wine is very much driven by your sense of smell. For wines that are much more aromatic, you’ll get more ex-pression out of them using a bowl-shaped glass. For wines with bigger, dense structures, you’ll get more out of a taller shape. And if I have a wine that’s super tight and young, I might use a Burgundy glass to soften it.
McLOUGHLIN: High-quality, thinner, crystal-style glasses are going to help the wine breathe. They’ll also help with the aroma and flavor of the wine.
HACKETT: The thinner the stem of the glass, the better. A thin stem won’t act like a conductor moving the heat from your hands to the glass. It keeps whites at the proper temperature and better allows reds to come up to temperature when you take them out of the cellar.