It happens to everyone at least once. You go eat at a fancy restaurant and the wine list is just staring at you in tongues that you can’t comprehend, all the while the garcon standing next to you is expecting you to decode this strange language. What do we do in this instance? Maybe we simply order a soft drink, ini mini miney mo, or leave it up to the waiter or waitress to upsell us. Whatever your method of choice, I will help make your next encounter with the menu a less stressful and more rewarding experience.
Firstly, it is all relative. I understand that there are all these etiquettes out there that explain how to distinguish between “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” wines. Just like the clothes on your back, at the end of the day, it’s you who decides what wine suits your palette. So, don’t worry too much about what is or isn’t acceptable, just enjoy the glass you chose, and if it’s no good, then on to the next one! With that said, let’s go through some basics so that we have some guidelines to help us make educated guesses on the drinks of our choosing.
What makes choosing wines difficult and oddly intimidating, in part, is due to the descriptions that come with each bottle. There is tons of miscellaneous information added onto each rendition of the wine, which at times none of us can relate to. However, don’t panic if you didn’t get a whiff of oak or a hint of chocolate with your sip. While these are vital characteristics to mention for professional sommeliers, it’s not necessary for the everyday wine aficionados. By scoping out these 4 key qualities of wine, you have everything you need to hone in on a high caliber wine: body, tannins (bitterness), acidity, and dryness. It’s when these components balance each other out and complement one another, for you, you’ve found a bottle worth dying for, per se! Now that you’re properly equipped with these tools, you can tackle any kind of wine that stands in your way!
Traditionally, red wines are consumed in a large bowl-shaped glass so that the wines have a chance to breathe. However, does this mean that you have to go out and purchase an expensive set of glasses to enjoy your bottle of wine? Absolutely not! Although it is true that wine glasses enhance the overall experience of wine drinking, it is still a means to an end; a vessel to transport the goods from bottle to mouth. So you can even enjoy your wine with a rocks glass if you so desire!
As for the different types of grapes California has to offer, they include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and the list goes on! But speaking in the most general sense, the full-bodied grapes are the Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, and Mourvedre. The medium-bodied grape are the Merlot, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Franc. Lastly, the light-bodied grape is the Pinot Noir.
However, the acidity, dryness, tannins, and the body can all be influenced by the soil, the weather of that year, and the technique of the winemaker; thus changing each and every bottle of wine from one another. Finally, in general, red wines are enjoyed alongside a juicy, mouthwatering, medium-rare porterhouse steak; or a meaty, herb infused Penne alla Bolognese. Typically, the heavier the meal, the more full-bodied the wine should be. And since the medium-bodied wines are versatile, they can be paired with most dishes. Now that you have the fundamentals down, go experiment and excite your taste buds with new flavors.
White wines are best served chilled in a smaller glass with straight sides, which allows for the preservation of the cool temperature. But just like the red wine, the same rocks glass principle applies!
Now for the different type of grapes. We have Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, and so many more! Once again, in the most general sense, the most rich of the whites is the Chardonnay and the Viognier. The more light, crisp, and fruity of the whites are the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Gris. And finally, the sweeter wines are the Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and the Chenin Blanc. But once again, like the red wines, the acidity, dryness, tannins, and the body can all change from the same factors as mentioned above. As for food pairing, a crispy fried calamari, fried to perfection with a light and crisp white wine; or a thick slab of beautifully seared Alaskan King Salmon; or a lemon infused, golden brown, rotisserie chicken with a rich white wine; or even a sizzling, succulent shrimp, marinated in spicy Tom Yum sauce are superb matches with the sweeter whites. Now go out there and try some whites!
If any questions ever arise, give us a shout out and we’ll try to make everything right!