People seem to struggle when it comes time to selecting wine. My co-worker Marcos would insert a pun here, something like “whine is not delicious.” However, most agree that wine, without the ‘h’, is delicious. The question is, how do you pick the best wine?

It seems odd that buying and picking wine makes so many people uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t, it’s really not that hard. So first, let’s debunk a few myths and then consider a few basic tips.

Myths to Ignore:

  • Expensive wine is better wine. Wrong! Although some recent research shows that when people think wine is expensive, they think it tastes better, even when it’s the same wine! Many wonderful wines are available for less than $10.
  • Vintage is important. Barely! In days gone by, grape farmers had limited ability to manage the dramatic changes of weather, and therefore the impact on grapes between good and bad seasons could be huge. Advancements in farming and winemaking, including the blending of various vintages, mean that vintage really doesn’t matter. Just as a disclosure, if you drink old vintages (over 30 years, as a rule), vintage may matter.
  • Aged wine is better wine. Not Necessarily! Many wines actually start to get better as they age, and then begin to get worse. Other wines simply stay the same. While still others, such as Beaujolais Noveau are intended to be had right after production.
  • Corked wines are better. No! The goal in wine bottling is perfectly air-tight seals. For hundreds of years, corks in glass bottles were the best way to achieve the goal. But modern advancements have produced a better way: screw tops. You’ll see these on more and more brands, as consumers get used to the style.
  • Color matters. Hardly! Colored wine occurs when the grape juice stays in contact with the grape skin, which contains tannins. The color of the wine will not actually affect taste (except subconsciously), but the tannins can. That is, if the tannins weren’t minimized. Wine makers work hard to remove the bitter effect on wine from tannins. So whatever type of wine you like — full, smooth, fruity, dry, sweet, floral, etc. there is a drink for you in any color you choose. One thing to note is that it is usually better to drink red wines in airy glasses at warmer temperatures (50-65 deg F) to reduce bitterness and alcoholic-flavor; and white wines in narrower glasses at cooler temperatures (45-55 deg F).

Tips to Remember:

  • The primary division of wine is by grape. Try different wines, when you find one you like, write down the name of the grape (a.k.a. the varietal). Here’s an extensive list. Grapes can be grown in different regions, which may have subtle impacts on flavor, but generally you should be fine. My favorite varietal is pinot gris / grigio, particularly from Germany or Italy, followed closely by gewürztraminer and riesling. I find these three to be bright and upfront (easy to drink).
  • “There are no standards of taste in wine, cigars, poetry, prose, etc. Each man’s own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard.”

    – Mark Twain, 1895

    Drink what you like. The old rule was meat gets red and fish or poultry gets white. But that rule is long dead. There certainly are wines that tend to go better with certain dishes (here’s a cheat sheet), but there are no hard rules. If you like the way a certain wine tastes with a certain food, go for it! Moreover, remember that modern etiquette is on your side, people should not tease you about choose the wine you enjoy.

  • Talk to your sommelier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with talking to sommeliers (wine experts at restaurants) and of course asking questions. If the sommelier is rude or condescending, complain to the manager, just as you would if the waiter were rude. Keep in mind that Sommeliers take a percentage of the tip. When you talk to the wine expert, don’t focus on what you’ve ordered, as that is secondary. Focus on what you like in a wine: sweet, dry, earthy, spicy, etc.

Have fun with wine, and let us know what you like drinking. Also, and this is most important here at FoodMayhem, cook with the wine you drink!

posted by Lon at 11:33 PM Filed under Wine. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.