Wine Not? Right?
The ultimate guide for Wine-Drinkers / Wannabe-Wine-Drinkers
If you are anything like me, you love the idea of ‘a glass of wine’ after a long day. But you lack basic wineducation. I‘m the type that prefers the basic ‘red or white?’ question. Anything beyond that goes right over my head and my all-I-know-is-that-it-involves-grapes knowledge is exposed. So here are some basic questions that should elevate your wineducation as we head into the silly season - with not much emphasis on the ‘silly’ (if you know what I mean!)
What exactly is ‘dry wine’?
Wine described as "dry" doesn't taste sweet—but that goes for most wines since people can't typically perceive the sugar when there are less than 9 grams of it per liter. The thing is, that characterizes almost all varieties save special dessert wines. Even when wine contains way more sugar, it still can taste dry due to its acidity, which offsets sweetness—like white sugar in tart lemonade. The term also tends to align with tannin content but is so widely misused that it's become many sommeliers' biggest pet peeve.
Is ’oaky’ good or bad?
It all comes down to preference : "Oaky" is a term used to describe a wine that carries flavors—typically baking spices, vanilla, caramel, nuttiness, and sometimes coconut and dill, depending on the age and origin of the wood barrel in which it's aged—and a certain creaminess that comes from oxygen moving through porous wood. The longer wine spends in the barrel—something a sommelier can tell you since it won't be on the bottle—the more oxygen gets in, and the smoother it will feel in your mouth. To impress a pro, ask whether about a barrel's age and size: The newer the wood, the "oakier" the wine; wine aged in small vessels have more contact with the wood and therefore tastes oakier. Oh, and 'unoaked" wine aged in clay, concrete, or stainless-steel barrels will have none of these qualities.
Is food pairing really a ‘thing’?
These pairings often have to do with tannins, or organic compounds grape skins, stems, and seeds, create a 'drying' sensation in your mouth like over-steeped tea, which can contribute to a wine's mouthfeel and whether you'll like it.
Most red wines contain tannins—some high, some low—that stand up well to the rich flavor of fatty meats but make fish taste metallic. It's why white wines, which contain almost no tannin, pair better with leaner proteins like poultry and seafood. Some sommeliers bend the rules by pairing low-tannin red wines with fish—and you can, too! To assess a wine's tannin content, look at its color: Sometimes, the darker the red, the more tannins it contains. And when it doubt, remember, "what grows together goes together," meaning regional foods pair well with wines made nearby.
AND MY FAVOURITE QUESTION:
How to pick wine?
Common wines are named after the grapes they're made from, like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, but grape variety is just one variable that affects the taste of wine and isn't necessarily the best indicator of whether you'll actually like it. It's like ordering an entrée because it contains rosemary without knowing whether the dish is made with chicken or pork or whether it's baked or fried.
Instead of worrying about familiar grapes, look at where the wines are from:
Wines from cooler regions, think Germany, Northern France, and Northern Austria, are lighter, have lower alcohol content, taste crisp and a little tart. Wines from warmer regions, like Argentina, California, Chile, Australia, Southern France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, are fuller-bodied, have higher alcohol content, fruity notes, and aromatic. When in doubt, the best move is to describe or show a photo of a bottle you drank recently and liked to your server or sommelier. If they know the wine, they'll be able to dissect its flavor profile and get a sense of your preferences.
Most importantly: Be explicit about how much you want to spend! It makes everyone’s life easier, since half the time a sommelier or waiter is just trying to figure out your budget when they approach a table to give a recommendation.