ADVERTISEMENT: Infomercial — Wine Without Context… It’s Just Not the Same Thing

We had a first-time customer in the store last week, and as always, we started our conversation by asking them what they liked to drink. Needless to recommend wines that are completely outside their viticultural sphere and it also gives us a reading of what their palate picks up and reacts to. After all, everyone’s palate is different. The really interesting part of this interaction was the new customer’s response. She replied, “Well, it depends on my mood, the weather, what I might eat, and who I’m with.” Exactly, we totally agree! Wine is simply a contextual drink, all of the factors cited by this customer and more affect not only what we might choose to drink, but also our perception of it.

Later that evening we had dinner with some very dear friends of ours. The couple who joined us for dinner are in ‘the business’, so to speak, having owned restaurants and still working in the food and drink industry for a bit. Since leaving their most recent company they have had weekends so close to the end of Friday nights together that we used to joke that Mary and I had to work Saturdays and I had to create a column to write . Our friend had a great suggestion considering we had just enjoyed two wonderful bottles of wine with them, he said, “Write about our wine experience tonight and how much better wine seemed to be enjoyed with good friends.” Once again, we totally agree!

That evening we had started with Brotte’s Côtes du Rhône Dry Rosé and with our meal we had a bottle of the super Tuscan Mongrana from one of our favorite wineries, Querciabella. The two wines that we know very well for having had them several times, in the case of the Querciabella it is the only wine that we have kept on our shelf for the entire 15 years that our shop has been open, yes, it is so good. But, in reference to that night last week, what made these wines so delicious, perhaps even better than we remembered?

We were in an Italian restaurant and in the case of Brotte’s first wine, it’s French so not an obvious choice given where we’re dining, but we know our guests love French wine. In the case of the Querciabella, while our friends love French wine, the husband is half Italian, so he also enjoys Italian wine.

It was a great evening catching up on family news for all of us. Talking about pets and plans about our homes, business, and all the things close friends discuss. As the evening progressed, the wine seemed to continually improve. Sure, part of it is we were drinking wine, but it was mostly the connection between good friends at a fun restaurant on a night when at least half of us didn’t have to work the next day. So the question is, what made these wines so delicious, maybe even better than we remembered? There is really only one explanation, the context!

For all wine drinkers, we encourage you to pay attention to this context of your wine. Some of the best ways to enhance your own enjoyment and that of others with any bottle of wine you choose to share are to pay attention to certain key elements.

If you’re choosing wine, it helps to know what your guests enjoy the most. Focus on wines from areas where you have traveled together, or wines from an area that you know your friends like very much. Weather is a big contextual part of wine, a cold, rainy day will usually lead us to a rich, full-bodied wine, while a warm summer afternoon steers us towards something lighter.

Perhaps most important for all of us as wine consumers is to enjoy the moments of relaxation over glasses of wine with those we are also closest to. On that special evening with old dear friends and loved ones, pay attention to how much better wine tastes and how new favorites can emerge for each of us simply because of context. When that happens, it’s pretty swollen.

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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of Diner, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The diner has won the Best Wine Store in Northern Idaho twice, including for 2018.

George is also published in several other publications across the country. After working in wineries in California and judging numerous wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary over 10 years ago to open the boutique.

You can also follow us on Facebook at!/dinnerpartyshop.

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