A good white can be lean and austere and it can be lush and full-bodied. It can be Twiggy and it can be Marilyn
Most wine drinkers mature from sweet to dry and from whites to reds. You may recognise this evolutionary progress in your own life.
As a student in London, one of my favourite wines was the hugely popular Blue Nun Liebfraumilch. At a time when every penny mattered, this syrupy German white cost an entire pound more than the other plonk I could afford. But every fluted bottle seemed worth the extra quid. A couple of decades later, I bought some bottles in the hope of reliving those epiphanic moments.
The result was puzzling as well as disappointing, rather like wondering what you had seen in a girl you knew many years ago.
While we progress from sweet to dry and from whites to reds, it is a mistake to believe that this is the end of the maturing process. I know wine drinkers who will touch nothing else but dry, tannic, mouth-gripping reds — wearing their preference like a badge for good taste. Having gone through the very limiting and blinkered better-dead-than-not-red phase, I now find myself increasingly, but much more selectively, interested in whites. Whites may be less manipulated during the winemaking process, but too much is made of their relative lack of complexity in comparison with reds. Sometimes, there is nothing more uplifting than a really good white — for instance, a carefully crafted Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux or a chaste and spotless Riesling from Germany.
The other discovery I made along the way is that it is not necessary to strip every bit of residual sugar from a white to make it acceptable.
Yes, there is something austerely impressive about tart and steely whites — which seem all the rage nowadays in the New World — but do give the off-drys a chance. German Rieslings are a good way to start the experiment with off-dry (halbtrocken) whites. A good white is a good white. It can be lean and austere and it can be lush and full-bodied. It can be Twiggy and it can be Marilyn.
Evolution in the appreciation of wine travels along other trajectories as well. You are probably becoming a more mature wine drinker if you have gotten over the somewhat faddish craze for New World wines a couple of decades ago (they make some great wines here, but they will never replace, in terms of sheer diversity, what the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe have to offer). You are probably evolving if you can find regions to appreciate beyond Bordeaux and Burgundy (the Shiraz from the Cotes du Rhone for instance is hugely underestimated and relatively underpriced). And you have probably become less limited in your appreciation of wine if every red does not have to have that easygoing fruit-forward full-bodied style that characterises much of what is made today.
Good taste is not about following the herd, its about knowing what you like and where you want to go.