© iStockphoto.com/Kirby Hamilton

Sweet wine of youth

DO YOU remember your first taste of wine?

I have a recollection of being given a sickly wine cooler with Christmas dinner and thinking it was the height of sophistication, before youthful misadventures meant cheap and often not so cheerful products regularly passed my lips.

Not an auspicious start to what was to become both a passion and profession, but one shared by many whose first taste of wine is not such a sweet experience.

I have to admit that reflecting on my early imbibing makes me feel quite queasy. One of my favourite brews was a foul fortified called Thunderbird, which a hilarious retro ad that's now on Youtube, has a brave James Mason sipping it without flinching and declaring it had "an unusual flavour".

You can say that again, and it's not one I'd care to revisit. Thankfully my drinking habits developed in a more discerning direction while I was at university.

It was there I noticed that though my peers were still working out the price to alcoholic strength ratio on their drinks purchases, I was endeavouring to try a variety of wines - albeit initially at the cheaper end of the spectrum - that actually tasted interesting rather than "unusual".

Luckily the awful hooch of my adolescence didn't put me off venturing into the wider world of wine and discovering the pleasures to be had from a good bottle.

Others are less fortunate and are left traumatised, abandoning it entirely. Or - and I've happily witnessed some of these marvellous epiphanic moments - on trying a decent drop later in life, some come to realise that it's not that they don't like wine, they just don't like bad wine.

Nowadays, this kind of initial extreme aversion therapy administered by cheap plonk is less severe given that inexpensive wines just ain't as bad as they used to be.

For novice drinkers prepared to venture beyond the sugary premixes and RTDs to which younger people are naturally predisposed, a first taste of wine is more likely to offer a suggestion of the pleasures to come should they decide to move up from "beverage" wine to something with more character.

Like many of us raised in countries without a wine drinking tradition, wine wasn't something that was regularly on our family table, and what was, certainly wasn't the finest Bordeaux or Burgundy.

In contrast, those growing up Europe's traditional winemaking nations often come into contact with alcohol in a far more positive environment, where wine is viewed as an intrinsic part of a meal.

Children are often provided with a modest watered-down glass of wine and a perspective that it's something to be enjoyed in moderation rather than abused as a drug, as has been seen to happen more readily in cultures where all alcohol is demonised.

Our tastes also change over time. Adults come to appreciate drier styles, while interest and experience leads motivated imbibers to more complex wines. That's not to say sweet is unsophisticated, a misapprehension that's caused a backlash against sweet wines across the board.

Though I've certainly moved away from the insipid sweeties that lubricated the 80s, I have come to appreciate a good sweeter riesling, in which sugar is juxtaposed with acidity. It's a case of balance, which is what good wine is all about.

The fact that the local wine scene has become more refined has also helped wine drinkers move away from of the more shocking sipping of the past in favour of higher quality quaffing. So I'll raise a glass - which I can guarantee will not be filled with Thunderbird - to developing a taste for good wine.



Delegat's Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $20.99
Our success with sauvignon has turned a new generation on to the pleasures of decent wine. This is an attractive Awatere Valley sauvignon made in a ripe, weighty style, combining punchy green herb notes with hints of smoke and flint. (From major supermarkets and liquor stores.)

Domain Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 $40
Domain Road's is an impressive and elegant Central Otago pinot that delivers a silky mouthful of ripe berry fruits and savoury notes layered with hints of floral and spice. (From Glengarry, Primo Vino, Scenic Cellars.)

Two Rivers Of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $22-$24
A refined sauvignon that combines fresh notes of lime, with blackcurrant leaf and savoury herbs over an exhilarating undercurrent of mineral. (Stockists include Accent on Wine, Manly Liquor, Bacchus, New World Devonport, Eastridge & Victoria Park.)

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