If you’re lucky enough to live in Saratoga Springs—or are a frequent visitor—you’ll know Broadway’s Putnam Market well. When I was a teenager growing up here in the 1990s, I spent many a weekend afternoon in the deli line ordering a sandwich there, but it wasn’t until about 2001, when I was 21, that I could legally enjoy the bottles in the little shop next door. That would be Putnam’s Wine Room, which first opened its doors 20 years ago, and has been a staple in Downtown Saratoga ever since. Let’s say you need a Pinot, Cab Franc or rosé on the go. Know that Putnam’s Wine Director, William Roach, will guide you to your next vintage wisely. For one thing, he holds a level four diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). In addition, he’s a WSET Certified Educator—meaning that he actually teaches the intricacies of wine. (He also holds an MBA from London Business School and pronounces “privacy” with a succinct “i” because, yes, he’s British.)
Says William of his time in the business: “I sold Putnam Market’s first bottle of wine in May 1998. Since then, I’ve had many hours of wine education and many opportunities to taste wine in all manner of places, with many who know more about wine than I do.” This year marks William Roach’s 20th year at Putnam, so saratoga living asked him to share 20 kernels of wine knowledge that he’s learned throughout the decades. —Will Levith
Here’s William Roach’s (Amazing) List:
ON KNOWING WINE
1. Wine knowledge starts with geography and a smattering of chemistry.
2. If you want to appear knowledgeable about wine, try not to mention fruit
3. Buy two bottles of wine that are similar, barring one thing—price, place of origin or age. Then compare and contrast for sweetness, acidity and persistence. Do not consider which you like better until the very end. Repeat.
AT A RESTAURANT
4. Take the sommelier’s advice. Tell him or her how much you want to spend and the style you’d prefer—as in: “I’d like to spend somewhere around $50. I like Pinot Grigio but I want something different.”
5. When asked to taste the wine, just smell the glass. If it doesn’t smell like it would taste nice, it probably won’t. Ask the sommelier (or wine waiter) for a second opinion—as in, “This doesn’t smell right to me, what do you think?” Even if he or she doubts your judgement, in a well-run establishment, the wine waiter will quietly bring a replacement bottle.
IN A WINE STORE
6. Most customers are fearful of buying wine they, or their guests, won’t like. Familiar brands and high ratings offer them reassurance. If you don’t recognize many labels in a store, it’s because you’ve found the wine equivalent of an indie bookshop. Start a conversation: It’ll be welcomed.
7. Wines that are out of fashion are usually lower priced and better made than popular and fashionable varieties. For example, this is a very good time to drink California Merlot.
8. The more specifically the label describes the source of the grapes, the more likely the wine will have a distinct personality.
PAIRING WITH FOOD
9. Wine and cheese go well together: Sweet wine with blue cheese is terrific, hard cheese goes great with Cabernet Sauvignon and washed-rind cheese pairs up perfectly with Chardonnay.
10. Food will always change the way wine tastes. Sweet food will make a dry wine taste tart. Lemon juice will make a dry wine taste sweet. Protein (cheese) will make a tannic wine smooth. Try it.
THE WINE BUSINESS
11. Four winemaking companies account for 63 percent of all the wine sold in the US. Their products include all the well-known brands.
12. The production of well-known wine brands runs to millions of cases. Nobody on Earth makes millions of cases of wine that nobody likes.
13. Most well-known brands use between two and four teaspoons of sugar per bottle to make the wine instantly appealing.
14. Wine is the only consumable product on your dining room table that’s not required by law to display the ingredients it contains. Interesting, no?
15. It’s hard to like any food or drink upon first encounter. That can often be helped in equal measure by peer pressure and sugar.
16. The joy to be had from a glass of wine is directly proportional to the amount of fun you’re having. In other words, context is, as always, everything.
17. Never store wine glasses upside down. They will end up smelling musty.
FOR A CROWD
18. For a large party, keep the choices to a minimum—one red wine, one white wine and one wine with a touch of sweetness. And always buy a little more than you think you’ll need.
FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION
19. Always buy wine that’s good enough, but not too good—nothing that demands to be the center of attention.
ON GIVING WINE
20. If the recipient’s a total wine geek, give good olive oil. Trust me.