Wineducation: Choosing Wine (with a little less science)…

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As I pointed out in my 5 part series on choosing wine last year, many people are intimidated by having to choose a wine, whether for a dinner party, a gift or even just for themselves.

They maybe feel certain that those who know how to choose a wine possess some guarded secret that if it was only revealed to them they would know exactly which bottle to purchase from the racks of daunting wine labels. And then on top of that there’s ‘the China problem’ (fakes, dubious provenance, poor handling, etc).

I branded it The ‘Wine-Field’. Here are some further suggestions to get you making selections easier.

 Ways to Choose a Wine

If you are one of those people who would prefer to bring the appetizer rather than the wine to a get-together, so sure are you that youwill not be able to find a wine that everyone, or anyone, would enjoy, set your fears aside. While there are many great suggestions for selecting wine, there is no great secret, and there are no hard set rules for choosing wine anymore.

I realize that learning this may actually instil greater fear in those looking for a checklist that having covered everything on the list will ensure they’ve found the best wine selection. However, knowing how to choose a wine is easier than you think. I have just spent a month creating a food and wine pairing list for a Mifan Mama recipe book, and I made some startling discoveries. Google is a marvellous thing.

 Rules on choosing a wine for a Dinner Party?

If you are asked to bring the wine for a dinner party, the first questions that typically come to mind go something like this, “Why me?”, “Red wine or white wine?” and “Isn’t there some rule about red wine with certain foods vs. white wine with certain foods, and what is the rule?”

The rule you are thinking of declared one must drink red wine with red (meat, sauce, etc.,) and white wine with white. It’s nice to have simple the choice is largely up to yourules but I am sorry: For those of you who are still hoping for a rule, it’s no longer a rule. While there are foods that pair better with particular wine types and suggestion abound –you should select your wine based on the wine types that you enjoy most: red, white, rose, or sparkling, and all that those styles entail; heavy/light, high/low acid, tannic/soft, oak/unoaked.

The only options to consider when figuring out how to choose a wine is to trust your own judgement based on experience or research. And that involves a mixture of practise, trial & error and taking risks or leaps of faith. While researching I found that for one single dish the ‘experts’ opinions were so varied that it was almost impossible to create any rules.

A good reason for trusting your own personal preferences is that the taste of wine varies by person sipping it. That is to say that no two people taste the same thing; you can be drinking out of the same glass of wine as someone else, and each of you will taste something different.

Some loose ‘rules’

For dinner party purposes, keep in mind that a wine that you have enjoyed with a heavy or full-entrée meal will not necessarily taste the same when served with appetizers. As a rule of thumb, I suggest choosing a lighter wine (whether it be a red, white, or Rose) to go with appetizers or for enjoying without food and vice versa, and a heavier wine to go with a heavier dinner. The main protagonist here is the sauce or marinade: Seasoning and flavourings are what need to be matched with wines, rather than the base component in the case of meat dishes.

Tomato based sauces like wines with higher levels of acidity; like Italian reds; eg. Barbera, Dolcetto and Spanish reds made from Tempranillo. Hardly surprising since those Mediterranean foods and wines evolved together over centuries specifically to interact well. If in doubt and you have the time, I use Google. It will take 10 minutes from entering the name of the dish you are having to finding 3 or 4 cooking websites with wine recommendations, to finding the common theme and being able to decide. That’s the best time to seek your merchants confirmation and check their availability for several ‘possibles’ you will have uncovered. It’s really quite simple.

Great ‘light red wine‘ options are Barbera, Dolcetto, Gamay, Grenache, Syrah, Pinot Noir, or Sangiovese based wines, just to name a few; heavier reds include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and those are the two most commonly though certainly not exclusively matched to roast meats. A heavier white wine option would be a Chardonnay and lighter white wine options include most all other white wines.

Its interesting to note that chicken will go with anything that the sauce points to as it takes on the flavour of its preparation ingredients so completely (sweet Asiatic sauces perhaps?: go to Gewurztraminer, Muscat, sweeter Riesling or the lighter reds with acidity and fruitiness can work well.) Google really is your personal sommelier here.

Sparkling wines and Champagne go with nearly anything, including dessert, so that’s easy to remember.

Having said this, I need to mention that you might find a Pinot Noir heavier than Merlot or a Riesling heavier than Sauvignon Blanc since regional influence and winemaker intention can make for a markedly different end product even when the same grapes are used.

For more serious affairs, and to really know what you are getting, try to taste an individual label first to see what you think of it. But of course that’s not always possible. If you are not sure and don’t want to take the plunge, ask your wine merchant. I offer this service practically by return of email with prices and suggested wines. Give them fair warning though as a merchant feeling pressured by the impetus to come up with an answer right on the spot is not working in a healthy environment.

Last stand choosing: If you (or your host) are “dyed in the wool” red with red and white with white believer, there are two good options that many wine connoisseurs will say are a no-fail wine with dinner selection. Here you won’t go wrong if you choose a Pinot Noir as your red wine complement to dinner or a dry (not sweet) Riesling for your white wine complement.

The Wine Man in Shanghai September 2012

Next time: We’ll look at what a ‘good wine’ costs.

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