Have you been to a liquor store lately? If you haven’t, the best way to describe it is a super-store of alcohol; it’s row after row of wine (mostly) from every wine growing region in the world.
Now, head to that store and try to pick out a bottle of wine. Sound a bit intimidating? Talk about an understatement.
Should I get red or white? What about a rosé? Or a sparkling wine? Or port or sherry? I could go on. Should it be from the new world or the old? Am I going to drink it today or should I cellar it for a couple of years. Cellar it? Now where would I do that exactly?
It’s overwhelming, and I’ll admit that I was pretty much terrified walking into a liquor store last year when I decided to take my wine buying, and drinking, more seriously.
But it does get better, and more enjoyable. The secret is to do some legwork before you leave your house. And, thankfully, wine lovers today have a lot of valuable resources to help them along the way.
Due to my schedule, I do most of my serious drinking, I mean tasting, on the weekend. Aside from the table wine I may have for lunch midweek, I save the good stuff for Friday and Saturday night.
So, early in the week, I start to think about what we’re going to eat on the weekend. One major thing I’ve learned is that food and wine pairing is gospel; the wrong wine can ruin the food, and vice versa. Once I’ve figured out what we’re going to have, then I can start to think about grape varietals.
It really is amazing what you can find online to help you through this. There are a multitude of websites and smartphone apps that will help you pair your food with wine.
Word of warning, though: Very often you won’t get the same pairing — one website will tell you to have Riesling with your ham, while another will say Chardonnay. There are many examples of this. The only way to be sure is to check a number of sites and average them out. Whatever wine is recommended most, is more than likely the right one.
Eventually, if you begin to take your tasting even more seriously, you’ll be able to figure out the individual flavours of the food and wine and pair them yourselves. But, for now, the advice of others is the best way to go.
OK, since we prefer red, we’ve decided that Pinot Noir will be the best wine to have with our baked ham. Now, what Pinot Noir should we buy? Do you want a full-bodied, rich bottle from the New World, or a lithe and graceful selection from the Old World, say a place like Burgundy? Of course, these are generalizations. Some New World wines are being made in an Old World fashion these days, but for the most part, the adages are true.
Once you’ve decided where you are going to go in the world for your Pinot, you have to think about price. One pitfall many wine drinkers fall into is to assume that the more expensive wines taste better. That is not the case. I’ve had $35 bottles that didn’t taste nearly as good as the $14 bottle I had a couple of weekends before. This is where reviews are quite handy.
Now, the reviewers will rank the wine, usually out of 100 points. Most wines over 90 points are over $30 a bottle, so they may be outside your price range. I’ve found that the sweet spot is 88 points. You can find some great wines at that ranking that are well below $20. For me, the best tool has been the WineAlign website and app. The reviews are very helpful, and you can find out what is available at your local LCBO (the only place in Ontario to buy wine).
Of course, these are just numbers, so you’ll have to read the individual reviews to see if the aromas, flavours, tannins, acidity levels, etc., fit your tastes. This you will discover over time. I’ve just started this process.
You may already have a particular brand that you prefer, but I would caution you from sticking to it. The good thing about variety is the choice it offers you. Don’t be afraid to try something from a wine region you haven’t tried before. Trust me, it’s more than likely very good. Why not try a Pinot Noir from South Africa or New Zealand or Oregon or Ontario.
Whatever you choose, make sure to appreciate it as you drink it. That’s what so beautiful about wine. But, that’s for another blog.
Good luck and good wine.