Time to mix it up! I’ve come at you with beer from the place that pays my bills and three different cocktails. Now it’s time to break into a category that many my age don’t know much about, but often enjoy when presented with quality bottles: WINE. When I first started in the alcohol industry 8 years ago, I knew very little about wine. Basically just these four things:
- There are two types: red and white
- Bad wine is what my parents drink
- I’m not bougie enough to drink good wine
- SLAP THE BAG!
Working in a small wine shop that only had 5 customers a shift and next to no stocking or other tasks to do, I started reading about it. I was enthralled; learning about wine enables you to learn all about different cultures, eating traditions and flavors, climate, geography, and so much more. As I took all this in I realized that when it comes to wine, the more you know, the less you know.
This can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming and intimidating, especially when you’re not getting paid to know about the stuff. This is the mindset a lot of drinkers have when it comes to wine. They like some things they’ve had, hated others, and are not adventurous or wealthy enough to just take random stabs at bottles on the shelf and hope they work out. I wrote about this previously in one of my etiquette blogs, but this is why finding a retailer you can trust is a wonderful thing.
For starters, the above notepad offers some easy-to-use, common flavors to help you describe what you may or may not be tasting. The better you get at picking out flavors, the easier it will be to describe what you like. In addition to these, it’s also important to understand that dry and sweet have very specific meanings relating to the amount of fermentable sugar (referred to as residual sugar, or RS) still left in a bottle once fermentation is over. These terms are used incorrectly more than any other terms in the business, so it’s important to understand what they mean.
RS is completely up to the winemaker, which is why many grapes, such as Riesling, have both dry and sweet examples. To drive this point home, look no further than Sauvignon Blanc, a grape known for some of the greatest examples of white wine across the globe. On the dry side, you have Sancerre, as well as many other bottles from the Loire Valley in France. For sweeter offerings, you can find dessert wines made from Sauv Blanc the world over, most notably from Sauternes. Your perception can also be altered by things like acidity and tannin, which vary drastically across different grapes.
Below are two scales that will help you identify where certain wines fall on the dry-sweet spectrum, although you’ll probably have to zoom in to read the names of the grapes.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, I can tell you what I’m drinking: red wine from Italy! Specifically, I’m drinking Scala Ciro, which is made from the grape Gaglioppo. Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad, there are hundreds of indigenous grapes in Italy, and there’s no reason for the average person to know the vast majority of them. However, a lot of them are hidden gems, like this one.
I picked this bottle because I’m having ziti with meatballs for dinner. When picking out a bottle of wine to go with dinner, a good place to start is matching a regional wine with the cuisine of said region. In this case, I’m drinking Italian wine with an Italian meal. Next up, you’ll want to pick flavors that contrast and compliment the dishes being served. I chose this wine because the drying factor of the tannins contrasts the sweetness of the tomato sauce, while the spiciness of the wine compliments the herbal flavors in the sauce. It’s for this reason that chocolate and red wine don’t go together. Both have bitter tannins in them, so when consumed together they just taste overly bitter, even sour.
When pairing with pasta, it also helps to think simply: red wine with red sauce, white wine with white sauce. From there, you can get a little more nuanced with help from your local wine shop employees. This is a good place for aspiring winos to start. If you’d like more wine-related content, feel free to comment!