March 05, 2008

Fruit of the vine ripe for picking on the Web

The Web has become a powerful tool for wine lovers. You want a bottle from that little winery you visited in Michigan last year? Order it online. You want to know more about that great bottle you bought last night? Google it. Wondering what to drink tonight? There are endless ways to find inspiration. All it takes is time and an Internet connection.

The only disadvantages with the Web are that 1.) it can suck you in so thoroughly you might forget wine’s main purpose, which is to enjoy with friends (real friends, not just the ones you have on Facebook), and 2.) it can eat into eating, sleeping and working if you’re not careful.

So, to save you time, here’s a short list of some of the sites I wouldn’t want to live without (without even getting into wine blogs, which we’ll cover another day). This is still in beta stages, but this Google-like wine-specific search engine works impressively: Not only does it turn up only wine-relevant information, but it can be filtered to show only, say, tasting notes, or mentions by wine retailers. Finding wine to go with cheese is pretty hit-or-miss unless you know the cheese intimately well. Few people know as many cheeses and as many wines intimately as Max McCalman, maître fromager of Artisanal Cheese in New York. You can search for his wine recommendations for hundreds of cheeses here. For Coloradoans, this is an essential tool for planning wine tasting trips around the state. Download wine trail maps, find out about wine events across the state, and do your background research on the state’s 60-some wineries and tasting rooms before setting out. “Rude almost acidic Port. Throws out coconut suntan oil, open-ended taco sauce and light lime zest. Drink now through Friday.” Whenever the wine geeks get to be too much, Greg Sumner’s Silly Tasting Notes Generator puts everything back into perspective. Keeping track of Italy’s wines is like herding cats; as soon as you’ve nailed one area, the rules change, or some other region has shot ahead. Surprisingly, the Italian Trade Commission keeps track of it with impressive zeal on this highly informative site. There are tons of wine writers with very good web sites, but none are as vital as this one, maintained by the editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine. The free parts of the site always offer interesting tidbits on wines or news; subscribers can access the entire Oxford Companion, plus Robinson’s pithier opinions on many developments in the wine world and the members forums, an extremely active corner frequented by many top wine professionals and extraordinarily knowledgeable amateurs. Want to taste wine? Search by date or city (worldwide) to find out what’s being poured where on this site run by former Coloradan Eric V. Orange. Wine generally doesn’t make for good television; unlike cooking shows, wine shows don’t tend to have much action. That is, unless the hyper Gary Vaynerchuk is in front of the camera, tasting and talking wine in Winelibrary TV’s daily videos. There are plenty of social networking sites that let you find and talk with other wine lovers (like Cork’d, Snooth, and Vinorati), but more fun is the Wine Century Club, which requires you to turn off the computer and go out and actually taste wines: To become a member, you have to have tasted 100 different grape varieties. Forget about chasing 95-point bottles. How about tracking down a nice little cserzegi fuszeres? So far, Colorado has no members. Coloradans, get to work! That bottle of fancy cabernet your boss kindly gave you but that you really don’t like? Someone wants it, and will even pay you for it. Find them on winecommune, the Ebay of the wine world—and find something you like, too. The best way to buy wine is to find a local store you like and get to know the salespeople, who can direct you to wines you might like. When that’s not in the cards (or if you’d just like to comparison shop), will tell you what retailers around the US carry the wine you want, and at what price.

This article first appeared in the Denver Post.

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