Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Good Wine - One of Life's Greatest Pleasures...
Good wine is one of life's greatest pleasures. Whether you are a novice or a connoisseur, interested in simply sipping or expertly analyzing, enjoying a glass of wine can be a sublime experience. Wine is an often misunderstood beverage that seems to exude an almost stuck-up or snooty quality. Those who drink it are frequently thought of as know-it-alls or over-educated people with a poor disposition. However, wine can offer a great experience for the palate which cannot be rivaled by other (alcoholic) drinks. Nothing else can be served which so enhances the taste of a meal and thoroughly dazzle those who are eating it.
As young professionals I believe that we can benefit from a comprehensive guide on wine. Three years ago, I personally set out to accomplish this endeavor. I remember my line brother Dougan(@MrDougan)and I discussing the possibilities. Responses to wine are as individual as fingerprints. An aroma or flavor that is pleasing to you may not be so to another. The trick is translating your preferences into words. Accomplish this, and you will add new dimensions to your enjoyment of wine.
Unfortunately, many people find wine and how to choose, serve, and describe it more intimidating than enjoyable. The very scope of the topic seems daunting. But never fear -- you don't have to take a class to appreciate the subtleties of fine wine.
Still, as with many things in life, a little knowledge goes a long way. To appreciate wine as something more than mere drink, all you'll need is conscious, deliberate awareness. Let's face it: It makes little sense to pay the premium for wines of character only to swallow them unconsciously. Each wine has a personality waiting to be discovered: You just need to decide whether you like it.
Things to keep in mind before you Begin...
The best way to gain more of an understanding of wine is to try it – a lot of it! Taste as often as opportunity allows. This is the enjoyable part! There's no substitute for tasting, tasting, and more tasting. Try more than one wine at a time for the sake of comparison and add a few friends to the mix to have a really good time! Many liquor stores offer wine tastings in the evening or on weekends; these are great opportunities to try many different wines and/or wineries for little or no cost. (Shout out to Jewel-Osco's in Chitown, they 'set owt' the best wine/liquor tasting ever on BJ's(@briandavis4) birthday weekend. Their tasting embodies the "You can have whatever u like" theme literally.) Often, the wine is being poured by a distributor or independent winery which makes for interesting conversation and comparison. Don’t be shy about being new to wine; the people pouring can offer a lot of knowledge and advice about the different offerings. Ask a lot of questions – that’s always a great way to learn more - at least that is how I did.
Express yourself. It's difficult to know how or where to start describing a wine. And though it seems easy enough to sip and swirl the wine to judge its flavors, this can be a fleeting experience, one that may not add much to your taste memory in the long run. For this reason, it's a good idea to take some brief notes while you are sampling a wine, even if you never look at them again. The act of translating your instincts into words challenges you to make judgments and resolve uncertainties. This is where the notes/memo app on your smart phone device comes into play. Personally I always try and jot down a few adjectives to describe a new wine. Whether I am a huge fan of the taste or not. What is for you may not be for everyone, but what is not for you is most certainly for someone else - somewhere. As a former all white wine drinker, I forced myself to embody this principle by drinking all red wine for a few months. The result was a pleasant surprise. I acquired a taste for red wine and learned to distinguish the 'bad' from the 'not so bad.' Ultimately gaining an appreciation for my preferred wines even more.
There are four major types of wine: red, white, rosé (or blush), and champagne. Oh, and anything that comes in a can, a box, or a forty ounce container isn't technically wine; it will be listed on the menu under "This-Is-For-Lames."
As a general rule of thumb, red wines are heavier and more complex than white wines. White wines are usually a good place for beginners to start because they are initially more palatable to novices since they often tend to be sweeter.
Very often, a beginning wine-drinker will gravitate toward sweeter wines. These wines are typically less acidic (if a white) or have very little tannins (if a red). But Be sure to move beyond white zinfandel into some of the table whites and reds or possibly a riesling or a gewürztraminer. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a white zinfandel, there are so many characteristics of other light wines that it is a shame to ignore them simply because of your lack of knowledge. Experiment with the unfamiliar. Life is too short to restrict yourself to the "vanilla" and "chocolate" of the wine world: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Take advantage of an opportunity to taste a wine you've never heard of. You may decide you don't like it, or it may prove delightful, opening up an entirely new avenue of wine exploration. Either way, you've added another dimension to your wine adventures.
If you are new to wines and are looking for a few suggestions - try a Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or a Muscat dessert wine if sweeter wines suit your fancy. If you prefer a dry white wine then look for a Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. As for reds, starting with a Gamay, Pinot Noir, or Merlot if you do not want anything too complex or full-bodied. If you are looking to turn up the complexity meter, then go with a great California Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (or Shiraz if its from Australia) or a Zinfandel.
If you've ever glanced at a restaurant wine list or browsed the wine aisle of the grocery store, you know there are a lot of different kinds of wine out there. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Several hundred grape varieties are used to make the world's wines, resulting in different flavors, personalities, and qualities. The sheer variety can make choosing just one bottle a bit overwhelming, especially when they all look so enticing. Then again, isn't it fun to consider the possibilities?
Wine choices are as vast and varied as the people who choose them. Many novice wine connoisseurs ask the same question over and over, how can I tell whether a wine is dry or sweet? The answer is quite simple...
Most wines produced are considered table wines. A table wine is defined as a wine intended to be consumed with a meal. Table wines come in a variety of choices and based upon the "flavor" of the meal, different table wines should be chosen at each setting. But, as for the dry/sweet question; nearly 99% of table wines are "dry".
Drinking a "dry" wine is an acquired taste that some people just never develop. Keep in mind that there are other wines that can be enjoyed with a less "dry" feel.
If you like the idea of serving wine with a meal, but do not have the palette for "dry" table wines, you should look into German wines. German wines are made from Riesling grapes and almost always have a slightly sweet flavor without being characterized as a dessert wine. There are many different varieties from red to white, so you will still be able to make a wine to a meal perfectly.
Another choice may be what is affectionately called, "pop" wines. "Pop" wines, like Italian Lambrusco, are less dry than many table wines ad employ a slightly bubbly nature and fruit level that is sometimes palletized as sweet rather than "dry".
The second option for wines with no "dry" feel would be dessert wines. It should be noted, however, that dessert wines are intended for sipping after dinner and not for meal consumption. Dessert wines are strong and very sweet. Varieties of dessert wines include Port, Sauternes, Muscat, and Cream Sherry.
There certainly are choices for wine lovers who simply are not attracted to the "dry" feel of common table wines. By choosing a slightly sweet German wine or "pop" wines you should be able to serve an amicable wine at dinner that all will enjoy. And, if all else fails, dessert wines are there to save the day.
Quick reference list of the basic sweet and dry wines...
- Names of Dry White Wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Semillon, Chenin Blanc
- Names of Dry Red Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc
- Names of Semi Sweet, Semi Dry Wines: White Zinfandel, White Pinot Noir, Rose, Riesling, Muscat Cannelli
- Names of Sweet Wines: Madeira, Sherry, Vermouth, Port
The Rule of Pairing Up Your Wine with Your Meal...
The reason you need to be aware of the differences between red and white wine is because one of the oldest rules in fine dining is that you should attempt to harmonize your choice of food and drink. If you are going to be eating something delicate with subtle tastes, the Rule states, you should avoid drinking something with a strong flavor that will overshadow the food. Conversely, a hearty meal will often be best complimented by a strong wine with flavor of its own. Now every single guide to wine in the world makes a point of saying that the Rule is out of date and the only hard and fast dictate of wine drinking is to choose something you enjoy. I agree, go with what you like; but the art of learning to harmonize the two can be enlightening.
There is a reason that Rule evolved in the first place: it makes sense. Balancing food with drink may not be required anymore, but it's a good tip to keep in mind and will instantly push you off the Zero mark when you start eating at nice restaurants.
A specific corollary of the Rule is that white wines tend to go best with fish and white meats, like chicken and pork; red wines go best with red meat and red sauces. Another adjutant to the Rule is that you should begin with lighter wines and progress to heavier ones throughout the course of the meal. This policy again reflects the idea that you should not overburden your palate: if you start with a strong drink, your taste buds will be shot and you won't be able to enjoy anything that comes after it. That is why aperitifs are typically light drinks while dessert liquids, like port, are rich and heavy.
Nevertheless, while learning your preference, rely on your instincts when matching up wine with your food. If you pick a wine that you would drink all by itself, you'll pick a winner. Pick a good wine, regardless of what you're eating and even if your meal is less-than-great, you still have a good wine.
Last but not least, whatever you choose to do, have fun! Whether you find the experience of wine tasting enjoyable or not. At least you know there is one guaranteed result - A nice buzz. A keypoint during this here time - not many things, if any, are "guaranteed" anymore...
It was, after all, Benjamin Franklin who said, "There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking." Later he elaborated and explained, "We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."
~ Benjamin Franklin