Choosing the right kind of wine shouldn’t be a complicated task. Yes, there are numerous factors to consider and guidelines that can aide you in your choices but let’s get down to basics.
Firstly, know your wine. There are five types of wine each with their own unique styles. There are red, white, and fortified (port and cherry). Others include rosé, a versatile wine made in dry and sweet styles. Rosé is refreshing, crisp, and goes with almost any kind of food. This is best when enjoyed casually with friends on a hot day. Then, of course, sparkling wine. When we hear sparkling wine we think Champagne in France, the most consistent and reputable of regions that produce sparkling wine. Perfect for any celebration! It doesn’t mean, however, that this is the only sparkling wine that you need to go for; other fantastic sparkling wines that are affordable include Crémant d’Alsace (France), Prosecco (Italy), as well as English and Australian bubblies to name a few.
Moving on, did you know that there are thousands of varieties of grapes to make wine? Therefore, it is best to immerse yourself with the most common grape varieties available globally before exploring regional or indigenous varieties. The following are examples of international grapes and their characteristics.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Black currant, cedar, and full-bodied. Popular and important, this wine can command some of the highest prices (capable of aging to make a magnificent wine). Perfect to have during meals especially with a deliciously seared steak. A bottle from the Médoc in Bordeaux will be a great gift if you want to impress, say, your boss.
Pinot Noir – Cherry, raspberry, tobacco, and vanilla. Although tricky to grow and make into wine, this variety when the conditions are ideal will lead to a silky, expressive, and elegant wine. It is also used to blend with other white grapes such as chardonnay to make champagne. I say this will be perfect to impress a date (go for Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir).
Syrah/Shiraz – Dark chocolate, black pepper, spice. This is a dark full-bodied wine that gives you dark fruit flavors and a savory kick. A popular variety grown in the Rhône Valley of France and Australia, this wine will be great to drink often without burning a hole in your pocket. Ideal for stews, beef, and lamb.
Merlot – Black cherry and plum. Popular in Napa and Bordeaux, this grape is typically used as blending grape, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon. Good to drink on its own, as this wine is enjoyed while it’s young.
Chardonnay – Versatile! The most well known white variety in the world. It is fresh and crisp. When stored in oak barrel, it gives off a creamy and buttery character. An important grape in Champagne, France.
Sauvignon Blanc – Green apple, lime, peach, tropical fruit. Aromatic and refreshing! This wine gives so much aroma that it’s difficult to resist. Enjoy it while it’s young and pair it with a great goat cheese.
Riesling – Aromatic, expressive, flowers, lime, peach, honey. This wine ages fantastically. It is also made both dry and sweet (Germany is known for sweet Riesling). Perfect with Asian cuisine. This wine should not be overlooked.
Semillon – Figs, citrus, full-bodied, rich. This grape is ideal to make a sweet wine, perfect for desserts. The most notable regions that make this wine are Sauternes, Barsac, and Cadillac in France. While Australia is more known for a dry Semillon.
Second, how do you differentiate a good wine from the bad? The most important criteria, is to simply drink what you like. Keep trying wine and take advantage of wine tastings and recommendations. If you like dry wine for example, compare different types of dry wine. If you like a fruit forward wine, grab some and compare.
When tasting wine, it is a must to make sure your palate is clean. Drink water before tasting wine, or better, eat a piece of plain bread between tastings.
Third, when tasting wine, it is a must to make sure your palate is clean. Drink water before tasting wine, or better, eat a piece of plain bread between tastings. Now, if you have consumed raw vegetables, garlic, eggs, vinaigrette, fresh fruit and citrus or anchovies, it will definitely kill the taste of wine. Therefore, before tasting avoid strong flavors that will kill the taste of wine.
Four, you want to watch out for warning signs that you picked up a bad bottle. These are the following:
• If the wine you picked up smells of wet cardboard or wet dog, get rid of it!
• If you can barely detect any aromas and flavors, the wine may be flawed.
• If your red wine appears brown, it’s way past its prime.
• If your white wine appears dull, brown, and lost its sheen, then it’s past its prime.
• If the wine appears cloudy, then it has gone bad.
Now that you got the basics down, let’s get rid of the myth that “wine gets better with age.” Not all of them do, as a matter of fact most wines are best consumed within a couple of years after bottling. Only some wines get better with age. Also, try not to get the itch of picking up the most expensive bottle that you can afford.
To best appreciate the more costly/reputable bottles such as the best of the Bordeaux, Burgundy, or the Italian Barolo and Barbaresco, try the humble bottles first. In time your palate will eventually discover the difference. Doing this will prepare you – and let you appreciate better – the most reputable and coveted of wines.
Finally, simplifying your choices will help you understand the difference between sweet or dry, zesty or creamy, rich or light, as well as soft or full-bodied. In order to advance in your knowledge you need to know the different varieties available to you. Fortunately, in the Philippines, the most common wines can be found with ease. Remember, that no one knows your palate more than you do. What may taste good for one person won’t necessarily hold true for you. With anything, practice makes perfect, keep exploring and keep trying out different varieties and styles, your taste buds will eventually learn to decipher quality based on your own preferences. So, be patient while you’re enjoying your journey into the world of wine. Santé!
This article was first published in Condo Living Magazine, November 2015 issue.