Why I stopped buying supermarket wine
A book review of Wine. All the Time. by Marissa A. Ross
I created a new category on this website, *REVIEWS*, to discuss Marissa A. Ross's debut book, Wine. All The Time. An extension of her successful wine blog of the same name, Wine. All the Time. is framed as "the casual guide to confident drinking," and reading it made me a more confident wine buyer, orderer, and drinker. So much so, in fact, that I've stopped drinking supermarket wine all together, in favor of much more flavorful and honorably produced wines. I'm a conscious consumer in all other parts of my life, and this book convinced me to extend that thoughtfulness to my consumption of wine as well.
Marissa* introduces the book by acknowledging that she is not a sommelier, she's a "college-dropout-comedy-writer-turned-wine-columnist", and was actually Mindy Kaling's assistant up until 2015. She approaches the book as an "unconventional, unpretentious guide to wine". Under those guidelines, you might assume that this book isn't thorough. However, it's comprehensive yet casual and covers everything an informed wine drinker would need to know regarding terminology, production, regions, flavor profiles, tasting, buying, ordering, and even goes into how to overcome your social anxiety when in a wine store. Now if Marissa could help me with my social anxiety outside of wine stores that would be even better...
Some of the most valuable things I learned from the book delve into the mass production of today's wines. I'm against factory farming. I opt for small batch whiskey instead of big names. I love my craft beer. I'm upset if I miss this week's farmer's market. I can easily taste the difference between a lager that is brewed with love and one that is mass produced by the same guys who sponsor the Super Bowl. So why not extend these principles to my approach to wine as well? I don't mind coughing up the extra cash if it means supporting a small producer, and this book has revealed some surprising practices of the mass production of wine.
Mass produced wines put lots of additives in what you're drinking. Not only chemicals, but also something called isinglass, which is a "fining agent made from fish bladders and used for clarifying wine during winemaking". Or they add sugar, egg whites, gelatins, and who knows what else since wine makers aren't required to list their ingredients. Furthermore, many of these vineyards use the same careless farming techniques as other factory farmed foods, whose thoughtlessness helps contribute to climate change and a negative environmental impact. As Marissa puts it, "natural wines are better for the Earth, and they are better for the consumer".
One of my few issues with the book is that it doesn't go into more detail on these practices or name any names (not that I'm rooting for a witch hunt), but you can easily avoid these gross wines by heading to your local wine store instead of the supermarket. Additionally, aim for low-intervention wines, which are exactly how they sound: wines made with as little outside influence as possible. These may be organic, natural, or bio-dynamic. Marissa talks about these definitions and differences in the book.
Luckily, there are plenty of places in Berlin to find low-intervention wines. I first found these amazingly juicy, fresh wines at places like Jaja, Cordobar, and Wild Thing, and are a big reason why I bought this book. These places are where I was introduced to orange wine, which is white wine that is produced like a red wine. It's deliciously golden and crisp, almost like a non-yeasty cider. On a recent trip to Austin, Texas, I was elated to see it on the menu of June's All Day, hopefully a sign that the natural/biodynamic wine movement is becoming more widespread in the USA.
Besides going into hipster shit like orange wines, Marissa also introduces her audience to the basics of wine tasting and essential glossary terms. Like how to differentiate between grassy and green notes. In one of my favorite parts of the book, she outlines the most common reds, whites, bubbly, and orange wines encountered. I legit want to make flashcards for this section. For example:
"Nero d'Avola (full body/medium-high acidity/medium-high tannins): Nero d'Avola is a dusty European cowboy covered in jam. Riding in from a nonexistent desert on the outskirts of Italy that I have dreamed up, Nero is blackberry and plum jam, with hints of smoke, tobacco, and a bit of spice."
Having this knowledge makes it a lot less intimidating entering a wine store and taking a look at a European-made wine label. They're pretty bare bones and it's especially difficult to understand the difference between a Riesling from the region of Mosel and a Riesling from the region of Pfalz. Marissa decodes reading American and Euro wine labels, and reviews different wine-producing regions, their soil types, and common varietals. Hence why I need flashcards!
To conclude, if you drink wine, buy wine, or even if you hate wine, this is a really valuable book to have in your back pocket. Marissa discusses wine basics, without dumbing it down too much, and it's written in a funny and light manner. It's easy information that will make you a more informed consumer. The only thing that sucks is that not everyone can live in Berlin or Austin. Where can wine drinkers go to buy beautifully produced wines if their town doesn't have a local wine store? I know my parents don't have one in their area. And believe me, my mom needs easier access to better wines! I reached out to Marissa for recommendations on where to order yummy wine online and will write a new post with the contenders.
*yes, we are on a first name basis, and if you read the casual way she writes, you'll understand why she's become one of my new gal pals...or at least my older sister's cool friend who I wish I was friends with but I just secretly watch her eat lunch in the cafeteria every day, eager to be invited to the cool table. And everyone at that table is drinking Gamay.