Wow okay, I’m finding a lot of people don’t know anything about wine, wine pairing or wine drinking in the writing world and just in the real world so consider this an Adulting and a Writing guide! I attribute that mostly to people not being educated on it but if you have a high class or educated character or muse, chances are if they put a red with a fish…well they are going to get kicked out of that ball pretty damn quick!
You know what….this isn’t even just for writing. This is for adulting alright?
The Basic Types of Wine
Wine is made with grapes, but not typical table grapes you’ll find at the grocery. Wine grapes are small, sweet, have thick skins, and contain seeds. There are over 1,300 different wine grape varieties, but just a few of them are planted all over the world.
Taste: Black Cherry, Black Currant, Baking Spices and Cedar (from oak)
Style: Full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied red grape first heavily planted in the Bordeaux region. Today, it’s the most popular wine variety in the world. Wines are full-bodied with bold tannins and a long persistent finish driven mostly by the higher levels of alcohol and tannin that often accompany these wines.
Food Pairing: lamb, beef, smoked meats, French, American, firm cheeses like aged cheddar and hard cheeses like Pecorino
Taste: Blueberry, plum, tobacco, meat, black pepper, violet
Style: Full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz) is a full-bodied red wine that’s heavily planted in the Rhône Valley in France and Australia. The wines have intense fruit flavors and middleweight tannins. Syrah is commonly blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre to create the red Rhône blend. The wine often has an aggressively meaty (beef broth, jerky) quality.
Food Pairing: lamb, beef, smoked meats; Mediterranean, French, and American firm cheeses like white cheddar, and hard cheeses like Manchego
Taste: A broad, exotic array of fruits from stone (overripe nectarine), to red (raspberry, sour cherry), to blue (plum, blueberry), to black (blackberry, boysenberry), Asian 5 Spice Powder, Sweet Tobacco
Style: Medium-bodied to full-bodied Red Wine
Description: Zinfandel (aka Primitivo) is a medium-bodied red wine that originated in Croatia. Wines are fruit-forward and spicy with a medium length finish. Zinfandel is a red grape that may be better known as the rosé wine White Zinfandel.
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, cured meat, lamb, beef, barbecue, Italian, American, Chinese, Thai, Indian, full-flavored like cheddar and firm cheeses such as Manchego
Taste: Very red fruited (cherry, cranberry) and red-floral (rose), often with appealing vegetal notes of beet, rhubarb, or mushroom
Style: Lighter-bodied Red Wine with higher acid and soft tannin
Description: Pinot Noir is a dry light-bodied first widely planted in France. The wines always lead with higher acid and soft tannins.
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, veal, duck, cured meat, French, German, cream sauces, soft cheeses, nutty medium-firm cheeses like Gruyère
Taste: Yellow citrus (Meyer lemon), yellow pomaceous fruits (yellow pear and apple), and tropical fruits (banana, pineapple), often cinnamon, butterscotch, and toasted caramel notes (from oak)
Style: Medium to full-bodied white wine
Description: Chardonnay is a dry full-bodied white wine that was planted in large quantities for the first time in France. When oak-aged, Chardonnay will have spicy, bourbon-y notes. Unoaked wines are lighter and zesty with apple and citrus flavors. Chardonnay is the white grape of Burgundy.
Food Pairing: lobster, crab, shrimp, chicken, pork, mushroom, French, cream sauces, soft cheeses such as triple cream brie, medium-firm cheeses like Gruyère
Taste: Aggressively-citrus-driven (grapefruit pith), with some exotic fruits (honeydew melon, passion fruit, kiwi) and always an herbaceous quality (grass, mint, green pepper)
Style: Light-bodied to medium-bodied white wine
Description: Sauvignon Blanc is a dry white grape first widely planted in France. Wines are tart, typically with herbal green fruit flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Food Pairing: fish, chicken, pork, veal, Mexican, Vietnamese, French, herb-crusted goat cheese, nutty cheeses such as Gruyère
Taste: Delicate citrus (lime water, orange zest) and pomaceous fruits (apple skin, pear sauce), white floral notes, and cheese rind (from lees usage)
Style: Light-bodied White Wine
Description: Pinot Gris is a dry light-bodied white grape that is planted heavily in Italy, but also in France and Germany. Wines are light to middle-weight and easy drinking, often with some bitter flavor on the palate (bitter almond, quinine)
Food Pairing: Salad, delicate poached fish, light and mild cheeses
Taste: Citrus (kefir lime, lemon juice) and stone-fruit (white peach, nectarine) always feature prominently, although there are also usually floral and sweet herbal elements as well
Style: Floral and fruit-driven aromatic white that comes in variable sweetness. Some producers choose not to ferment all the grape sugar and therefore make the wine in an “off-dry” style.
Description: Always very high in acid, when made as a table wine Rieslings can be harmoniously sweet (sweet and sour) or dry (very acidic). The wine is polarizing because some people find dry styles too acidic and sweet styles too cloying, but sweetness is always a wine making decision and not inherent to the grape.
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, duck, turkey, cured meat, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Moroccan, German, washed-rind cheeses and fondue.
Opening a Bottle of Wine Perfectly Every time
Cutting the foil: top lip or bottom lip? Wine sommeliers cut the foil at the bottom lip. This is the tradition because foils were previously made out of lead. Also, this method tends to reduce stray drips when pouring at the table. Foil cutters, on the other hand, are designed to cut the top of the lip. Cutting the top lip is more visually appealing and ideal for moments where the wine is on display (like at a wine tasting).
Where to poke the cork? Poke the cork slightly off center. You want the radial diameter of the worm (the ‘worm’ is the curlycue part of a wine opener) to be centered so that it’s less likely to tear the cork.
Keep the cork from breaking: It takes about seven turns to insert the worm into the best spot, although wine openers vary. Basically, the corkscrew should be inserted into the cork about one turn less than all the way in. Some fine wines have long corks and you can go all the way in.
Serving Wine in proper Glass Ware
While it might seem snobby, they proper glassware does provide a better drinking experience for your wine based on chemical interaction and air flow as your wines breath. If you’re in it for more than just getting a buzz, do think about using the right glass with it.
- RED WINE tastes better when served slightly below room temperature from 53-69 °F (light red wines like Pinot Noir taste better at the cooler end of the spectrum)
- WHITE WINE tastes great from about 44 – 57 °F. (zesty whites on the cool side and oak-aged whites on the warm side)
- SPARKLING WINE Affordable sparklers do great at 38 °F – 45 °F (serve high-quality Champagne and sparkling wines at white wine temperatures)
- TIP: If you drink affordable wine most of the time, serving it slightly chilled will disguise most ‘off’ aromas.
While this seems easy most people actually do do this wrong. A bottle of wine contains just over 25 ounces so it’s common to see it portioned out into five-5 ounce (150 ml) servings. Fortunately, there are many US restaurants that pour a generous 6 oz (180 ml) serving, which is a nice gesture if you’re paying by the glass. It’s about either 4 or 5 glasses to the bottle. Often very large glasses may hold close to (if not more than) an entire bottle of wine, so watch what you’re pouring at home!
Holding a Wine glass
Now that your wine is in your glass, how are you supposed to handle the awkward top heavy glass? It seems logical to cup the bowl, however your hands will heat up your wine, so hold it by the stem.
Check out the color, opacity and viscosity (wine legs). You don’t really need to spend more than 5 seconds on this step. A lot of clues about a wine are buried in its appearance, but unless you’re tasting blind, most of the answers that those clues provide will be found on the bottle (i.e. vintage, alcohol %, grape variety).
When you first start smelling wine, think big to small. Are there fruits? Think of broad categories first, i.e. citrus, orchard, or tropical fruits in whites or, when tasting reds, red fruits, blue fruits, or black fruits. Getting too specific or looking for one particular note can lead to frustration. Broadly, you can divide the nose of a wine into three primary categories:
- Primary Aromas are grape-derivative and include fruit-driven, herbal, and floral notes.
- Secondary Aromas come from winemaking practices. The most common aromas are yeast-derivative and are most easy to spot in white wines: cheese rind, nut husk (almond, peanut), or stale beer.
- Tertiary Aromas come from aging, usually in bottle, or possibly in oak. These aromas are mostly savory: roasted nuts, baking spice, vanilla, autumn leaves, old tobacco, cured leather, or mushroom.
Taste is how we use our tongues to observe the wine, but also, once you swallow the wine, the aromas may change because you’re receiving them retro-nasally.
- Taste: Our tongues can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. All wines are going to have some sour, because grapes all inherently have some acid, but this varies with climate and grape type. Some varieties are known for their bitterness (i.e. Pinot Grigio), and it manifests as a sort of light, pleasant tonic-water-type flavor. Some white table wines have a small portion of their grape sugars retained, and this adds natural sweetness. You can’t ever smell sweetness though, since only your tongue can detect it. Lastly, very few wines have a salty quality, but in some rare instances salty reds and whites exist.
- Texture: Your tongue can “touch” the wine and perceive its texture. Texture in wine is related to a few factors, but an increase in texture is almost always happens in a higher-alcohol, riper wine. Ethanol gives a wine texture because we perceive it as “richer” than water. We also can detect tannins with our tongue, which are that sand-paper or tongue-depressor drying sensation in red wines.
- Length: The taste of wine is also time-based, there is a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish). How long does it take before the flavor of the wine isn’t with you anymore?
Did the wine taste balanced or out of balance (i.e. too acidic, too alcoholic, too tannic)? Did you like the wine? Was this wine unique or unmemorable? Were there any characteristics that shined through and impressed you?
How Long Can You Keep Wine Once It’s Opened?
Most wine won’t last through the night if the bottle is left open. Here are a few tips to preserve open wines for much longer:
- Wine preservers are awesome, use them
- Store open wines in the fridge (or wine fridge if you have one!). This cold storage will slow down any development of the wine, keeping it fresh.
- Keep wine away from direct sunlight and sources of heat (like above your fridge or oven.)
Wines stored after opening can go bad in two major ways. The first way is when acetic acid bacteria consumes the alcohol in wine and metabolizes it into acetic acid and acetaldehyde. This causes the wine to have a sharp, vinegar-like smell. Additionally, the alcohol can oxidize, causing a nutty, bruised fruit taste, that robs the wine of fresh, fruity flavors. These are both chemical reactions, and sothe lower the temperature you keep a wine at, the slower this will happen.
–Sparkling Wine: 1–3 days in the fridge with a sparkling wine stopper Sparkling wines lose their carbonation quickly after opening. A traditional method sparkling wine, such as Cava or Champagne, will last a little longer than a tank method sparkling wine such as Prosecco. The traditional method wines have more atmospheres of pressure (more bubbles) in them when they’re bottled, so they tend to last longer.
–Light White, Sweet White and Rosé Wine: 5–7 days in fridge with a cork Most light white and rosé wines will be drinkable for up to a week when stored in your refrigerator. You’ll notice the taste will change subtly after the first day as the wine oxidizes. The overall fruit character of the wine will often diminish, becoming less vibrant.
– Full-Bodied White Wine: 3–5 days in fridge with a cork Full-bodied white wines like oaked Chardonnay and Viognier tend to oxidize more quickly because they saw more oxygen during their pre-bottling aging process. Be certain to always keep them corked and in the fridge. If you drink a lot of this type of wine, it’s a really smart idea to invest in vacuum caps.
-Red Wine:3–5 days in a cool dark place with a cork The more tannin and acidity the red wine has, the longer it tends to last after opening. So, a light red with very little tannin, such as Pinot Noir, won’t last open as long as a rich red like Petite Sirah. Some wines will even improve after the first day open. Store open red wines in a chiller or a dark cool place after opening them. If you don’t have a chiller your fridge is better than letting the wine sit out in a 70°F (21°C) room.
-Fortified Wine: 28 days in a cool dark place with a cork Fortified wines like Port, Sherry, andMarsala have very long shelf lives because of the addition of brandy. While these wines do look marvelous displayed on a high shelf, they will lose their vibrant flavors more quickly from exposure to light and heat. The only wine which will keep forever when it’s open is Madeira and Marsala–they’re already oxidized and cooked! Just so you know,the sweeter the dessert wine, the longer it will last open. The same temperature-based rules apply here: best to keep them stored in the fridge.
-Bag in a Box: 2–3 weeks stored in the fridge (red and white wine) Bag-in-a-box is a wonderful thing for daily drinkers, since the bag is ananaerobic environment . A few producers even have decent-tasting box wines without any flaws. Still, you’ll won’t want to keep these wines for longer than a month because box wines have expiration dates, due to the regulation on food stored in plastics.