Selecting, tasting and buying the right wine..
At some stage of our lives, we’ve all stared, bewildered at the countless bottles of wine on the shelves in bottle shops, each screaming “buy me”…sigh….the ordeal of choosing the perfect wine for that special dinner, especially on the run!
But how do you choose when you’re going cross-eyed studying rows after rows of wine bottles? How can choosing wine cause you to have a migraine when you haven’t had a drink yet? Besides the color, what’s the difference? After all, Shiraz is a Shiraz, and all Chardonnays are the same right?
The more you pay, the better the wine?
WRONG – this is not always the case!!! The similarity ends at the wine being the same varietal.
Different countries and regions have their own unique characteristics, terroir, weather patterns, techniques, and laws governing their winemaking. To this, each winemaker adds their own artistic flair or brands that have their own style that they are known for….feeling a little tipsy just thinking about it?
Yes, it can be daunting, but there is a solution! The key is to know and understand what you like and enjoy.
Armed with this information, you can ask the salesperson in a bottle shop or the Sommelier in a restaurant to suggest a wine that suits your palate and the menu. And if you spot a bottle or brand that you like, go for it and enjoy! Wine is to be relished!
Restaurants are a little different from bottle shops as they generally focus on wines and varietals that suit their menu each season, especially high-end eateries where they have a Sommelier (person dedicated to helping you choose your wine to suit your meal) so you can’t go wrong.
This brings me to a question I get asked often – “what is a good wine and how do I choose?”
This question was one of the reasons why I joined the wine industry many years ago – to encourage and nurture people on their wine journey. Yes, wine is an enjoyable voyage. It’s exciting, a little intimidating, everyone is unique, at different stages and has different palates. It’s not a “one style for all” scenario.
A “good wine” to me is one that I love from the very first sniff, then supported by a pleasant taste, good mouthfeel, and finish. It is a wine that I enjoy the taste of and it piques my curiosity for yet another sip. Often, it’s not about prestigious brands or prices, as there’s a huge selection of outstanding quality wines at very affordable prices on offer. It’s all about knowing the style and flavors you enjoy, coupled with the cuisine you love. It’s true that there’s a different quality of wine for sale, created by large companies as well as small boutique producers. Costs can vary from below AU$5.00 to well over AU$1000+ per bottle – but, this is a whole topic by itself!
I dutifully support my local smaller boutique vineyards/wineries on a regular basis. The thing about wine is that it evaporates so quickly before my eyes and I just have to buy more! Hahaha!!!
A lot of people are very coy when it comes to wine tasting and serving etiquette. My first rule of wine etiquette is to NEVER, EVER overfill a wine glass. Pour just to the curve of the glass so that it looks like your glass is half full. Use the correct glassware for the varietal you’re drinking – yes, there’s a specific wine glass for each varietal/style and it does make a huge difference. If this is not available, then use a large general wine glass. The reason for this is very simple, you need to be able to swirl the glass to open up the wine without spilling it and you want to maximize the aromas of each varietal!
To swirl, hold either the base of the glass or the stem and let your wrist do all the work. Swirl for a few seconds while you take in the color, richness, or brightness. Then bring the glass to your nose and inhale deeply, like you’re about to snort all the wine out of the glass. Notice the different aromas, scents, flavors that come to mind. Repeat this twice and on the third time, take a sip, allowing the wine to dance all over your tongue. Again, observe the mouthfeel, taste, and flavors that jump out at you. Now ask yourself – do I like this wine? Will I drink it? What would I eat with it? Should the answer pop into your mind almost immediately you know you’ve found a good wine for you!
Over the years I have assisted many people to find their perfect wines. It gives me much pleasure to see the customer’s eyes pop when they start to absorb all things wine, as they learned to hold a wine glass, to swirl with confidence, to taste and spit into a spittoon like a pro…(not to put fear into your hearts, but a good wine expert will read your wine experience/knowledge through your demeanor, the way you hold your glass and the manner in which you taste. So, we know when you truly love it or not!)
Wine is a language of the heart, so you don’t need to speak a specific language to connect.
My suggestion to everyone is to go to a Winery/Cellar Door and do a tasting so that you can sample before selecting the perfect wine. As you taste each wine, make notes – do you like it, what were your initial reactions, what can you taste? You’ll see a pattern emerging in the style of wine you like and dislike. I would suggest that you visit no more than three wineries in a day and drink lots of water. It’s also advisable not to chew on lollies or gum as this will interfere with your tastings and don’t wear white! Also, take the opportunity to quiz the staff – you’ll find wine consultants generally are passionate, have a wealth of knowledge, and are willing to share wine information with you.
Once you’ve chosen the special wine that you like, how do you store it? Is it trendy to store wine any more? This is a huge topic – to store or not to store – for some, “storage” is the car ride back home before they help the wine escape the bottle. For others, they miss the mark and put the wine away for far too long waiting for a “special” occasion. Keep in mind that as each wine is made differently, the winemaker will have a recommendation – buy and drink now, cellar 3-5yrs, best-enjoyed 10yrs+, etc. And, remember that every day is a blessing and special! It’s better to drink wine younger than to miss the mark!
If you decide to store your wine, generally the advice is to store in a dark, cool spot with consistent temperature – so not in kitchens, above fridges, or next to stoves. If you have room for a wine fridge it’s a fantastic investment, or if you have room then a wine cellar is a Wino’s dream come true!
The suggested cellaring temperature is between 12°C – 16°C. Some will advise you to wrap your bottle in cling wrap to save the label if you live in a tropical region. If you are storing a bottle with cork, it must be horizontal to keep the cork moist. Screw caps can be stored vertically.
A word of caution for all those Wino’s out there – wine is like a good woman, if she’s treated right, she won’t disappoint you, however, if she’s not treated with the love and care she deserves, she will turn sour! Get it?
When you’re ready to serve the wine, the best temperature to serve whites are 8°C – 12°C (serve lighter fruitier styles on the cooler side and heavier or oaked styles warmer), reds are generally served at 12°C – 19°C (wine bottles should be cool to touch next to your inner forearms), treat a Rosé as you would a white and Bubbles should be served chilled 5°C – 8°C.
The use of correct glassware is also very important – but this is a topic for another day!
So, after all the gobbledygook, remember wine should be agreeable to the eye, its fragrance should catch your attention and pleasing to your senses. It should make you want to taste it. Once the wine has your attention, next is the taste – it should have a pleasant mouthfeel, full of flavors that you enjoy, and it gets better with each layer, with every mouthful.
Good wine is one that compliments your meal. It shouldn’t be a battle of flavors but a gentle caress as you enjoy every mouthful. It’s all about the fusion of flavors and the people you share it with – very moreish!
Generally, I would pair a crisp, dry, citrusy white wine with fresh seafood such as fresh oysters, prawns, white fish as well as salads or drink on their own.
Spicy Asian dishes and curries go well with off-dry and fruity styles, Chardonnay, Rosé, lighter red blends, light style shiraz, Pinot Noir, Grenache.
If you’re into your steaks, a glass of deep Shiraz or a Cabernet Sauvignon is lovely! If you’re a vegetarian, these will also go well with a chargrilled vegetable stack!
The weather plays a huge part in your preferences – when it’s hot, you don’t feel like drinking a big, heavy glass of red and you may opt for something chilled like a glass of Bubbles, white, or Rosé.
To give you an example, the wines we enjoy at our family’s favorite Indian Restaurant – The Malabar in Crows Nest are Semillon, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, and light shiraz blends.
Ok…we don’t drink all this in one sitting….
When I’m at home, deciding what to cook my family for dinner, I usually prepare a cheese platter with homemade almond butter crisps and enjoy it with my favorite varietal – Chardonnay, usually a Lakes Folly or Hart & Hunter’s phat Chardonnay or my other favorite, The Wife by Keith Tulloch Wines (this is the most romantic drink ever!). Then, as my husband is a big fan of the old BBQ, we’ll open an aged Hunter Shiraz or a Cabernet and assist them to escape their confinement!
All Photos: Shutterstock
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Living and working in the Hunter Valley, you cannot not have something to do with wine and that excludes merely quaffing bottles of it. Though that’s also fun! Bonnie moved from Japan to Oz with the excuse of learning English but stayed to build a family and career in Wine. With roles in Cellar Door management, Marketing and Ops, she is the consummate wine professional. And a great cook to boot – the 2 driving passions in her life! A marriage made in Heaven!