10 things I wish I knew when I started drinking wine
As we gain experience and confidence, things become clearer. I remember buying what I thought was my first bottle of rosé, and it turned out to be a sickly sweet White Zinfandel. I also recall an early trip to France and wondering why the Pinot Noir wines were so light and less rich than the big Australian Shiraz wines that were so in vogue at the time.
The best thing about the world of wine is that you never stop learning. But there are a few bits of knowledge that will help you ramp up your ability to purchase and appreciate wine without taking courses or hanging out with sommeliers.
Most people still drink whites too cold, and reds too warm. When you open a bottle of white right out of the fridge, let it sit for a few minutes before pouring. White wines are subtler than reds, so allow the nuances of the wine to come out before drinking.
Most wines pair best with food from their regions of origin. That’s why Chianti goes best with pasta; they’re both Italian. It’s no different in Nova Scotia: match Tidal Bay wines with fresh seafood and watch them sing.
3. Sweet wines can be good
Most beginners drink sweet wines before moving to drier styles, and most of us never go back. Some of the best wines in the world come from countries that produce sweet wines, like Riesling from Germany or port from Portugal. Pair your spiciest dishes with quality off-dry wines for an amazing food and wine experience. Try port with dessert or cheese.
4. Buying wine
I still get overwhelmed when in the larger wine stores with the selection, and prices. Have a plan before you go in. Is the wine for dinner? Then think of what will go best with the meal. Do you like fruit forward wines with lots of flavour punch? Then stick with the warmer climates like California, Argentina, and Australia. Do you like earthy, savoury, or herbaceous flavours? Then stick with the northern and cooler climate countries like France, Italy, and Canada. Best of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Almost every retail store now has trained wine professionals.
We’ve all sat there with a 10-page wine list trying to look educated, when really we just want someone else at the table to order the wine. First, get a feel for what you want to spend and then what type of food you want to order. Ask the server for suggestions or assistance to narrow down your last few choices. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for a sample if the wine is sold by the glass.
6. Wine glasses
When I started drinking nicer wines I invested in several different wine glasses: one for pinot noir, one for Bordeaux, one for Riesling, one for champagne, and so on. There are studies that show there are subtle differences in aroma and taste based on the glass shape and size, but most people don’t need all those glasses. You just need three. An everyday drinking glass (an affordable red wine crystal glass from a reputable company like Riedel), a larger Bordeaux or burgundy style thin crystal glass for special occasions to allow the wine to breathe (and look great when you hold it), and a stemless summer patio and deck glass for the patio. And yes, you can drink sparkling wine out of your regular wine glasses.
Many of us have wine decanters collecting dust around our homes. Decanters are to introduce oxygen to the wine, giving softer, rounder flavours. Putting almost any wine in a decanter will not hurt it, and in most cases it will taste better. But if you sample a newly opened bottle and find it very dry, or are not getting the flavour you are looking for, try decanting.
Many of us have never tasted a corked wine or if you have you didn’t know it was corked. Corked wine can only happen with a real cork. You cannot get corked wine from a synthetic cork or a screw cap. Cork taint is caused by a fungus called TCL that infects the cork. If you smell a damp basement or a wet dog in your wine, chances are it is corked. The wine flavours will also be very muted, and the wine may taste astringent. Better cork technology and newer closures are making this less of an issue than in the past.
9. The difference between acidity and tannins.
Tannins are only found in red wines, because red wines are fermented on the skins; most tannins come from the wine skins. Fermenting red wines on the skins gives the wine extra structure and colour, plus that drying sensation you get in your mouth from a glass of red. Both red and white wines can have acidity. A wine may taste flabby or flat without acidity. Acidity is much more apparent in white wines. For example, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a Nova Scotian white will have a zingy, tart character that dances on your tongue.
10. Wine snobs
We all know the type. Whether it comes to music, beer, sports, literature, or wine, you will eventually run into a snob who will explain how you’re enjoying it wrong. Slowly back away and find someone more fun.
The under-$25 wine review
Quail’s Gate Chardonnay 2014
Okanagan Valley, BC, $23.00, Bishop’s Cellar
British Columbian wines are hard to find on the East Coast, and usually expensive when they get here. But the selection is improving; it’s nice to see a good B.C. Chardonnay. Toasty vanilla notes on the nose; the palate is full of fresh peach and apricot with a spicy finish. I was looking for a bit more roundness, indicative of Chardonnay, but this is a good balance between New World and Old World. Pair with poached haddock. 88/100
DMZ DeMorgenzon Syrah 2013
South Africa, $18.99, Bishop’s Cellar
I’m a big fan of both the Chenin Blanc and the Chardonnay from this winery, so I had high expectations for this red and it didn’t disappoint. Ripe brambly berries balanced with soft tannins. Licorice, smoke, earthy notes, and a spicy finish. There is a balance in the wine that makes me think of quality Syrah from the Rhone Valley. Great value. Pair with charcuterie. 91/100
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.