Dan Sims of Pinot Palooza: "Wine isn't rocket science, you just need to find your favourite"
Why so serious?
The art of appreciating wine is a complicated one. It's often tagged with fancy labels and a complex backstory — the origin, process of making, x no of years aged, and the list goes on. As such, consumers like us find ourselves assuming the responsibility of learning about wine just so that we can actually declare that we like it. But here to tell you otherwise is Dan Sims, founder of Pinot Palooza — Australia's largest Pinot Noir and music festival, which is making its way to our shores this month.
We sat down with the renowned wine commentator and sommelier over a few cups of coffee (oh, the irony...) and chatted freely about wine, its underlying snobbery and why Pinot Palooza isn't a festival meant only for wine aficionados.
"When someone talks about wine, they take the position of an educator, which is something you don't have with music or food."
We usually see wine at fancy events like galas and wedding dinners. How did the idea of placing wine in a festival come about?
When someone talks about wine, they take the position of an educator, which is something you don't have with music or food. We all have our own opinion with our likes and dislikes, so why is wine any different? That was my frustration that I wanted to fix. Pinot Palooza is a throwback to the music festival Lollapalooza — I'm quite a fan of festivals and music, for that matter. The idea came about one evening when I was enjoying Pinot in enthusiastic moderation (as I would like to say), thinking why can't we do festivals with wine in the mix? It started off in 2012, and next thing you know, six years later — we are in nine cities and three countries. It has been quite the snowball effect.
"This is a party where everyone is invited. Fun first, facts second."
What's the idea behind Pinot Palooza?
There's always been a gap when it comes to people who are keen to approach wine with the winemakers themselves. On a first date, you wouldn't necessarily spill everything about yourself to the other party. But unfortunately, that's what happens in a normal scenario between a winemaker and a customer. With Palooza, we're trying to fill the gap with music. People walk around skipping a step and it's awesome. Most of the time, people have to lean in closer to explain the wines, which breaks the stiff barrier and makes it more accessible and fun. There's definitely a good range of wines that we have at Pinot Palooza, but I just want people to find their favourite. Wine, by default, is a social affair. It's not rocket science, you just need to find your favourite. This is a party where everyone is invited. Fun first, facts second.
Please tell us how to pick out the perfect wine from a wine list we know nothing about.
All you need to tell the sommelier is whether you like a light, medium or strong-bodied wine. Don't worry about labels — that's a sommelier's job. It's up to me to figure out what you want within 30 seconds to a minute, match it to your food, and stay within your price point. I think most of us (wine people) by default, like to make wine complicated, and I joke when I say this but it's to justify our existence.
You mentioned food pairings. How do we go about pairing wine with food on our own?
Lighter-flavoured food goes better with lighter-flavoured wine. Full-flavoured food goes better with full-flavoured wine. It's that simple and it's foolproof. At the end of the day, it's about striking a balance.
Where in the world should people travel for wine?
Australia and New Zealand's wine scene is currently going bananas. I think Australian Pinot Noir has never been better. Vines are old and have matured and people are figuring out their way around it. Definitely check out Yarra Valley and Tasmania in Australia, as well as Marlborough in New Zealand.
What's the best way to store wine at home?
In a temperature-controlled fridge. If not, find a room that has a consistent temperature (18 degrees Celsius is best) and keep it there. If it's in a warmer temperature, it means it's going to age faster. It depends what you like — some people like old wines. My advice? It's better to drink your wine too young rather than too old. If it's too old then it's too late.
What can we expect from the upcoming festival in Singapore? How should we navigate around it?
Definitely the best Pinot Noirs from Australia, New Zealand, United States, and Italy. Enjoy it like you would at a festival — we've divided it up this year into the Mainstage, Alternative Stage, New Emerging Artists, and more. Choose from there and then pick the wines allocated in those categories.
"If people drank more wine, the world would be a better place."
Last word of advice for people who are hesitant about wine?
If people drank more wine, the world would be a better place. Wine's not the problem; it's the solution because it's social. Go for it and ignore everyone else. It's absolutely fine if you don't like it. The reason why someone likes a bottle of wine will be the exact reason why someone doesn't like it.