As the executive wine editor of Food & Wine magazine, Ray Isle is in charge of everything from wine seminar topics at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen to picking the brains of (then writing about) the world's greatest winemakers. With such vast knowledge of the industry, however, we wanted to pick the brain of Isle himself. We snagged him in the tasting tents for a minute to talk about the year's biggest movements in wine, from trendy grapes to hot regions, as well as his take on where to get the most wine bang for your buck.
POPSUGAR: You've covered everything from nearly extinct wines to an Italian wine taste-off. How do you come up with your ideas?
Ray Isle: [I] like taking a wine idea that I'm interested in writing about — whether it's value in wine, or Riesling, or a particular region — and then taking a contrarian or interesting turn to it. Case in point: I wrote about Muscadet, but I wrote about it in the context of taking a road trip in the South and pairing it with all sorts of things like Nashville hot chicken and barbecue. I'd noticed that Muscadet was turning up on cool restaurant lists; it's an amazing food-pairing wine, so I wanted to do something with it. But I didn't just want to do a "Muscadet is great! You should drink it" article. So then I thought to myself, Jon-David Headrick is a wine importer who's based in Nashville; he's importing these lean, acidic French Loire wines, and yet, he's in the heart of barbecue land. So I just called him up and said, "What do you think about doing a Southern food road trip with Muscadet? Because my bet is it will pair well with all this stuff."
PS: Your latest story's about how to find the best wine for you. Any advice for people still figuring out what wines they enjoy?
RI: Food, we start eating when we're babies, so by the time we're 20 or 25, we know what we like. Wine, most people don't start drinking it until they're adults, so you're coming to it — especially in the US, where it's not part of the regular culture — not really knowing what you like. You're learning, as an adult, this entire world of flavors. It can be tough, especially when you walk into a wine store, where there's 700 bottles of wine in front of you. My advice to people is two parts: one, learn some of the basic aspects of wine, like acidity. Do you like things that are tart, or not so tart? Do you like wines that are big, massive, and rich, or do you like wines that are light and crisp? Do you like red or white wines more? Then start tasting everything you can find. As soon as you know why you like it, then you can find other wines that are like it. Learning about wine, there's a lot of detail and there's a lot to learn. At the same time, it's not like calculus. The fact that it's detailed and there's a lot to it doesn't mean it's not fun.
PS: You touch upon wine trends as much as you can. What's on the rise this year?
See his answer when you keep reading.