10 Quick Lessons on Wine-Buying From a Modern-Day Connoisseur

Tasting notes? Pretentious and not very useful.

May 12, 2017 9:00 am

When handed a wine list, do you panic? Are you overwhelmed at wine shops? Do sommeliers intimidate you?

We’ve got a vino for you.

It’s called Alit, and it’s an affordable, delicious Pinot Noir you can order right now. And, in the words of Alit’s founder Mark Tarlov, it’ll unlock the key to understanding all other wines. Which we can explain in under two minutes.

Some background: Before Alit, Tarlov founded the wineries Evening Land and Chapter 24. And before that, he worked as a speechwriter, attorney and filmmaker. Super interesting guy.

Alit is a 2015 Pinot Noir, where the grapes are farmed organically in volcanic soil and then picked ripe before they “conduct an orchestra of wild yeasts to transform them into wine.”

It’s also under $30 a bottle, versatile but not unnecessarily complex, and works well as a gift, dinner vino or on its own. It’s also only available on the internet, utilizing a direct-to-consumer model akin to the Everlanes and Warby Parkers of the world (a first for the wine industry).

We spent an afternoon sipping Alit with Tarlov, and he actually made us rethink wine — which, admittedly, does scare us (yours truly is a whiskey snob, wine novice).

A few lessons from Alit’s founder:

Bring an American sensibility to your wine.
“I have a winemaker at Chapter 24, and his ideas on wine are about excellence and exclusion. I have a more American point of view about excellence and inclusion. We’re a young wine-drinking country; we want to share why we do this and lift the tide of fine wine consumption.”

Make it web-friendly.
“The web is inclusive, and we wanted people to understand why the wine tastes the way it does, why it costs what it costs, and why that all matters. So we use the web.”

Forget smell and tasting notes.
“I need you to like it, not analyze it. If you don’t like it, I’m sad. If you do, I’m happy. I don’t need to know if you ‘smell lavender.’”

Pair it with common foods.
“This is a perfect wine for a turkey club with bacon and a lot of mayo, or a simple meal of roast chicken and potatoes. It also works incredibly well with French fries. Don’t ask me why.”

Wine (3 images)

You’re paying too much for [good] wine.
“We make a similar wine at Chapter 24 for $65. This is $28, but I get the same amount of money. With that [markup], the only person getting screwed is you. And it costs $28 for very specific reasons. Our model is cost-plus-45%.”

It’s all about context.
“Ever been to a pizza place in Italy, and a had a great, cheap bottle of wine? Then when you have it when you get back home it tastes like crap. It’s about context. Sommeliers have missed the boat on this. When you order a wine, you should think more about what you’re trying to accomplish. Is this a celebration? A seduction? A breakup?”

Wine could solve a lot of current global problems.
“Wine allows you to slow down the beat of the world and focus on the thing that’s important. It also lowers the testosterone level — well, Pinot Noirs do. Cabernets do the opposite. I actually want to start a program where we send wine for free to people who should drink more. And he [Editor’s note: you know who we’re talking about] should drink wine, and he doesn’t. And he owns wineries! It’s so weird.”

Wines are asking a lot. Winemakers need to respect that.
“We’re asking people to put this thing in their mouths, this hot, wet environment. Everyone’s mouth is different. We have to somehow align your head and mouth and set expectations. You need to know why good wine is produced this way, fermented this way, brought to you this way. You should have a relationship with me, the winemaker, before we begin.”

Selling wine is about the age … of the buyer.
“For baby boomers, it’s easy: Make it scarce, put ‘em on a waiting list, hope it scores 96 points in Wine Spectator. If you’re going for millennials, it’s a different conversation, and it’s not about scarcity or points. The people in between are interested in the elements of the wine and its intention.”

There’s a good way to order wine in a restaurant.
“People would like wine if they felt smarter about it. They should ask more questions. And you should announce your intentions! If you announce to a sommelier, ‘We’re here for a romantic evening, we want organically produced grapes, a wine that uses wild yeast, and at the end of the night, we want romance, and we want to pay about $50’ … they should be able to deliver! Ultimately, it’s about you.”


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