(Mirror) “Monty Python” alumnus John Cleese famously said, “Wine is wonderful stuff. But so many people are put off by the snobbery about it.”
To be fair, the same could be said about coffee, beer or just about any beverage. (I’m certain there’s someone out there who will only drink milk from cows raised on a south-facing hill and fed a blend of alfalfa and wheatgrass.)
There are some ways to improve your enjoyment of wine, such as knowing the correct temperature at which to serve it, what foods it pairs well with and even what kind of glass to use. But here’s the secret, it doesn’t matter if you’re sipping a $500 bottle of French wine with a rich cheese or swigging something from the bargain bin with a handful of cashews; if you’re enjoying yourself, that’s what matters.
That being said, there are a few tips and techniques you can follow to ensure that you’re getting the most out of the wine you choose to drink.
Red wine should be served at a slightly warmer temperature than white wine. Most people think “red wine should be served at room temperature.” While that is true, it’s based on the room temperature of most wine cellars. The ideal temperature for red wines is between 62-68 degrees. Red wines also benefit from “breathing” for half an hour or so before being consumed. Pour the wine into a carafe and you’ll add even more oxygen into the mix, allowing the flavor and aroma to bloom nicely. White wines taste better when slightly chilled, between 49-55 degrees. Placing the bottle in the fridge for about an hour or so before serving should be sufficient.
Red wine glasses have a rounder “bowl” and larger opening to allow more oxygen to mix with the liquid as it’s sipped. A white wine glass has a taller, slimmer silhouette. Glasses for sparkling wine are tall and slim in order to retain the effervescence. All wine glasses should be handled by the stem to avoid mixing personal fragrances (soaps and perfumes) with those of the wine. That’s about as much as the average wine drinker needs to know, other than how to pair wines with food.
The old adage, “red with meat, white with fish” is a good start. But you can add chicken to the white wine category. There’s no mystery behind pairings, it’s all about choosing a wine that complements the food. This can be done by amplifying shared flavor compounds or, alternatively, contrasting those same flavor compounds. For example, red wines go well with beef because the slight bitterness and acidity balance the fat in meat. The richer flavors of red wine also complement those in a rich tomato sauce. As a general rule; the wine should either be more acidic, or sweeter than the food. The wine should have the same flavor intensity as the food. It is better to match the wine with the sauce of a dish, than with the meat.
An example of a complementary pairing would be an acidic white wine with high acidity that will complement the fat in the dish. So, for example, a traditional mac and cheese recipe with a creamy béchamel sauce would be matched with an acidic white wine such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or just about any German white. While a Chardonnay, with its buttery finish, mimics the creaminess in the dish for a congruent pairing. Oddly enough, sushi pairs well with German wines. The bright, crispness of German wines doesn’t mask the subtle flavor of raw fish.
Unless you want to do a lot of research, and by that, I mean learning about the composition of various wines, not just knocking back a few bottles of vino, your best bet is to shop at a store with salespeople who can guide you. Be upfront about your budget and plans for the wine. Say, for example, “I’m looking for a bottle in the $10-$20 range that will pair well with Linguini al fredo” or “I want a nice bottle of red to bring to a dinner party that won’t break the bank.”
And they should be able to direct you to just what you’re looking for.
If all else fails, keep in mind a bit of advice I got from my friend, Master Sommelier, Alpana Singh, “Never buy a bottle of wine with a picture of an animal on the label.”
I’ve found delicious bottles of wine in bargain bins using this advice. Of course, once in a while I’ve picked one that turned out to be horrible. I kept those on the shelf until they turned into vinegar.
Most folks just run into the grocery store and snatch a bottle of wine off the shelf. However, the best way to ensure that that you’re getting a good deal for your money is to develop a relationship with a knowledgeable salesperson at your local wine store.
Here are a few area wine merchants that run the gamut from “You’re on your own” to offering a guided tour of the world of wine.
3355 N. Federal, Oakland Park
As corporate as you can get, but some of the sales staff really know their stuff.
The Best Cellar
1408 NE 26th St., Wilton Manors
Owner Richard Stetler's wine boutique concentrates on quality wines, primarily from small estate vineyards in which he hosts weekly wine tastings.
Late Night Liquor
1249 NE 11th Ave., Fort Lauderdale
The selection is about the same as you’d find at your average Publix, but it’s open until 2 a.m.
2248 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
Tucked into the corner of the Shoppes of Wilton Manors, the friendly staff can help you pick the perfect bottle.
Wilton Discount Liquor
2105 NE 5th Ave., Wilton Manors
You’d be surprised at the selection, and if you’re willing to take a chance, I’ve found some great bottles in the close-out bin.