Bill Zacharkiw: Simple, nuanced wines should be savoured

As I become a jaded and crusty wine drinker, I really appreciate wines that are stripped down to their bare essence.

Bill Zacharkiw found his 2015 bottle of Les Domaines Landron’s Amphibolite muscadet matched perfectly with mussels. Bill Zacharkiw

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I was sitting around with a friend a few weeks back and we opened up a Sancerre. I really like Sancerre, except when they get too aromatic. She asked what I didn’t like about it, and I took another sip and levelled my criticism: too much flavour.

I opened up another bottle: the 2015 Muscadet Amphibolite I wrote about two weeks ago. There were none of those heady aromatics or explosive citrus notes, and instead of ending on a long lemon and grassy finish, the Muscadet was all rock and salt. The wine was skeletal compared to the Sancerre. And we both loved it.

As I become a jaded and crusty wine drinker, I really appreciate wines that are stripped down to their essence. It’s why I dislike wood, especially new oak, on my wines. I love caramel, spice and vanilla, but not in my wine. And I think that’s why I love Champagne so much.

It’s also why I love how Italians cook. They use a few great ingredients and don’t mess with them too much. The result is delicious more often than not. But every time I go to Italy, it takes a few days for my palate to adjust. At first, the food can seem almost bland. Then you start looking for the subtle flavours and how those few ingredients come together, and you have that “aha!” moment. Brilliance.

It’s not so different with many wines. Palate adjustment is required, or at least adjustment of expectations. I know many people want “wines that taste” — ones that are full of flavour. If that’s what you’re used to, then my bony Muscadet, or a cabernet sauvignon with little to no oak, might seem a touch bland.

At least at first.

What I challenge all of you to do is embrace the nuance. Try Bernhard Ott’s grüner veltliner, listed under today’s Wines of the Week. Every now and then, drink quietly. Give the wine a swirl and focus. The delicate florals, the subtle fruit, the finish. I guarantee you’ll no longer want anything more to be happening in that glass.

Every wine has its time and place. Sometimes a more explosive wine is exactly what you need. Ribs grilled on the barbecue and covered in sauce? Bring on the zinfandel. But I find those times are fewer and farther between.

Is this the next step to becoming more of a wine expert? I’m not sure. But it’s where this critic has gone after 30 years of drinking.