Since you all know that I am a lover of wine I thought it would be fun to have another Virginian and wine lover take over today! Lori blogs at The Next Step and is an artist, a writer, a wife, and a mom. She tries to see the humor in each challenge of raising a 5 year old and twins who are 3 – all girls. When she fails, she fesses up and tries again. Ear plugs are her main accessory.
Back in the early days of my drinking I did not care for wine. But after forced wine tastings as part of my job as a bartender, I discovered that what I didn’t like was Merlot, Chardonnay, and White Zinfandel – which are the top three “house wines” available at most restaurants. Did you know that white zinfandel is actually made from a red grape? They take the skins off the zinfandel grapes, and squish them up – small remnants of the skin remain giving the wine a pinkish hue.
So I began to explore the world of wine just a little bit more. I went to vineyards, I took a couple of classes with friends, and I started buying bottles of wine that were more than $10 each. (but still under $20) I also learned that the alcohol mark-up in restaurants is about 100%. A bottle I can buy from the store for $11 will go for close to $25 in a restaurant. Did you know you can get Dom Perignon at Costco for around $80? It’s a solid $130 and above at restaurants. I’ve had it a couple times, and it didn’t seem worth it to me. Once at someone else’s party, once because I won a bottle at a trade show – I’ve never dropped that kind of cash on wine, sparkling or otherwise.
So, quick summary of things I learned in wine classes and along the way:
1. Wines do not come in “flavors” (because I’m not counting Boones Farm & Mad Dog here), they come in varietals. As in, “what variety of grape is used to make the wine?” Names like chardonnay, shiraz, merlot, pinto noir, muscat, cabernet, viognier, zinfandel, reisling, and pinot grigio are all names of the actual grapes. Names like Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Cotes du Rhone are all regions in France.
Fun fact: Chardonnay originated in Burgundy, so if you are buying a French wine, you very well could be buying a white wine called a Burgundy. (okay, maybe that was more of a confusing fact.) The French tend to name their wines for the region, rather than the grape, or give it a hybrid, like a “White Burgundy.”
2. There is no reason on earth to smell the cork. Many theories abound as to why this is done, but the only thing that should be done to the cork is to inspect it (then save it for craft ideas you find on Pinterest). If it is wet, you have your wine intact. If it is dry & cracked, you might be about to sip vinegar. The cork is intended to keep oxygen out, and if it is dry then the bottle was either stored improperly (wine should lay flat to allow the wine to touch the cork and keep it moist) or it was sealed improperly. Either way, toss it out.
When questioned about using “bad” wine for cooking, the instructor of the course advised against it. The whole point of using wine is so that the flavors will permeate your food – if the flavor is off in the wine, so will it be in the food.
Fun fact: In the past few years there has been a trend even with the higher-end wineries toward screw cap over cork. Screw caps are more air tight, cheaper to manufacture, and helps out those of us who can no longer drink a whole bottle in one sitting. Though if you do recap/recork your bottle to save for later, it’s best to consume it within 3 days of opening.
3. The idea of serving red wine at “room temperature” was conceived of LONG before central heating systems were invented. While we humans appreciate a room kept at temperatures between 68 and 72 degrees, our dear friend Red likes it closer to 55. Most standard food refrigerators keep food at 35 degrees, and while that is all fine and dandy for white, you want to keep your red in a basement or wine fridge, or pull it out of the refrigerator an hour before serving it.
Fun fact: those small dorm fridges they sell every summer at Costo make great wine fridges – they never get cold enough to keep milk from spoiling after 3 days, so they work perfectly for wine!
4. Every wine can benefit from a little breathing. The first thing you smell when you open a wine will be the alcohol because the fumes are lighter in weight and will rise to the surface first. This is why letting it breathe, and to a certain extent, swirling the wine in your glass will help that odor dissipate. If you are one of those people who can plan in advance and doesn’t mind doing extra dishes, get yourself a decanter and pour your wine into it 30-45 minutes prior to serving. If you drink faster than you can plan for and can barely get the actual dishes done before they get crusty, then you might want to invest in a wine aerator.
I had a dear friend working at Crate & Barrel when these things were put out by Vinturi and were about $40 each, and they only had the red wine aerators available. Now Vinturi makes one for white as well. I found one on Amazon for $14.99 when they first came out and snapped it up. Now it looks like the prices have equalized and they are about $30 each on Amazon. I can’t really claim that you need both, but the insert in the box claims the air holes are different sizes gauged perfectly for the different wines.
Fun Fact: If you taste a wine straight out of the bottle, then pour a taste through the aerator, it will taste like a completely different wine. I’ve done this with MANY different wines, and for many different people. It’s fun, and it does make the wine taste SO much smoother. (no, I was not paid for saying this – I just love the product.)
I should have listed these summary items in reverse order, like a count down, because the number one MOST IMPORTANT thing I learned about wine is:
Drink what you like.
This was the answer given to the question “what’s the rule of thumb in pairing wine with food?” The general answer is “red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat.” But what if you don’t like white wine but love seafood and baked chicken? A more appropriate answer then would be “full bodied wine with heavy meals, a lighter wine with lighter meals.” You want the flavors to compliment each other, but you want to enjoy the wine too.
If you are enjoying a heavy, cream-based lobster bisque with a rosemary baked chicken with raspberry glaze, there is no reason in the world you can’t enjoy it with a smooth red like a shiraz, a syrah, a malbec, or even a red blend commonly called “red table wine.”
If you can’t stand red wine but love a good, bloody steak, then go for a bold white like a French chardonnay from Burgundy or Bordeaux, or something with a lot of buttery, oaky flavor. (Anyone at a wine shop should be able to point you in the right direction, just give them descriptors: “I’m looking for a nice, heavy white to go with a big meal.”
If you are like me and prefer bubbly, go for it with any meal! (PS – it’s perfectly acceptable to call sparkling wine “Champagne” in the United States – just don’t do it in front of someone French.)
DRINK WHAT YOU LIKE!!