Since the beginning of civilized time wine has been the preferred libation of kings, queens, artists, and scholars.
Knowledge of wine in its many beautiful forms is certainly an essential part of everyone’s life education.
Selection is an obvious first step in a perfect wine experience, yet there can be a lot more to this than you might think. Even those who insist that they “know nothing about wine” can enhance their wine enjoyment immensely by enthusiastically engaging in the selection process.
Sure you can go to your favorite wine shop and just ask for a recommendation, but even in that, your approach to choosing is meaningful. It takes a little work, research, and thought but finding a good wine for the occasion can be as much fun as drinking it. Here are some tips.
Our first thought when choosing a wine is about what food we’ll be having. Some wines are fine alone but the truth is most wines are their best with food. We always select wine in relation to the dishes we plan to serve. This can also go the other way around. We’ll already have a wine in mind and then choose food to go with it.
Say we’ve got a big Australian McLaren Vale Shiraz we want to try; we’ll be looking to find a nice steak or grilled chops to enjoy. Or if we have a nice Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner or Pinot Gris, we’ll get some shellfish or nice creamy cheese.
An easy approach is to look for wine that comes from the same region that your dishes are from. Italian wine with Italian food, French wine with French food. You can get more granular than that by getting down to the region. A fruity Montefalco Rosso from Umbria will work wonderfully with Pollo alla Griglia alle Erbe; or a bright beautiful Spanish Rioja with a flavorful Paella, you get the idea.
The old rules of red with meat and white with fish or chicken are really out the window. Take a geographic approach.
But then you might be faced with the question what wine to pair with an Asian cuisine, there is not much wine to choose from in those countries. It is then that we turn to another rule, something we learned from the very successful food and wine entrepreneur Joseph Bastianich, son of famous chef, author and restaurateur Lydia Bastianich. He explained that wine “Compliments, Contrasts or Conflicts with food.”
We are looking for that contrasting or complimenting relationship and avoiding the conflicts. For example creamy cheese, or butter dishes from France go well with the crisp contrast presented by a Sauvignon Blanc. A steak loves to be wrapped with a complimentary Cabernet or Syrah.
The garlicky, peppery flavors of Asian cuisines love the contrast delivered by a semi-sweet Riesling or Chenin Blanc and we adore the way Pinot Noir plays so nicely with these Asian food.
We want to avoid conflict. A very oaky Chardonnay, or even an un-oaked Savignon Blanc, would be awful with a dish like Pasta Bolognese. A big powerful Cab would not work either as it would overpower the dish. Pick a wine from the Bologna region like Barbera or Lambrusco or a gentle Sangiovese.
There are lots of good places on the web that talk about food and wine pairing. One of my favorites is www.foodandwinepairing.org
The way you serve your wine can make all the difference. The most common mistake that people and many, far too many, restaurants make is serving red wine too warm and white wine too cold. Red wine should be served around 60F, white around 56F. All too often red wine is at room temperature often as high as 72F and white wine is poured at refrigerator temperature usually around 35F.
Wine also likes to breath. After opening the bottle it needs some time to wake up and stretch. Want to unleash the genie in the bottle? Let it breath. Depending on the wine this can take a few minutes or a few hours. Reds generally need more time than whites. Our rule of thumb on whites is to take the bottle out of the refrigerator, open it, and give it 30 minutes to warm up a bit and breath. On reds, if they have been stored at room temperature, uncork and put it in the fridge to cool it down for 30 minutes or so.
A fun experiment is to taste the wine as it warms up or cools down and as it has time to breath.
There is much to say about decanting and aerators, but that we will have to save for another day. There is also the topic of glasses; believe it or not the right glass can make a world of difference.
Our last step of a perfect wine experience is to savor your wine.
Did you know that "The sensation of flavor is actually a combination of taste and smell," said Tom Finger, a professor at the University of Colorado-Denver Medical School and chairman of the 2008 International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste, in San Francisco. "If you hold your nose and start chewing a jelly bean taste is limited, but open your nose midway through chewing and then you suddenly recognize apple or watermelon."
Same is true of wine, when you read about all those exotic flavors people perceive in wines it is more about smell than taste. So before you start guzzling, take some time to sniff your wine, then take a little sip, let the wine sit in you mouth and pass its aromas around your mouth and up into your nose, notice how it tastes on different parts of your tongue. You will be amazed. Take your time and savor.