If you are reading this article, chances are you’re a wine lover. I am, too. But odds are you and I like different wines. More than 20,000 different wines are made worldwide — confusing, for sure, and one reason people tend to latch on to a wine that they like, or at least can swallow without gagging.
For a lot of people, that is as far as they get, and that is just fine. It makes them happy and they don’t have to agonize over the multitude of labels, often making a bad choice.
I am not going to sit here and tell you what wine you should be drinking. (I have friends that you couldn’t separate from their favorite wine with a cattle prod.) But I will offer some tips on choosing and serving wines that could help you expand your horizons.
1. First, don’t tie one hand behind your back. If you have a favorite wine, pay attention to where it is made and try other wines from that producer or even the same region. For example if you are a fan of Cavit Pinot Grigio, try the ’12 Bottega Venaia ($15). It is made by the same co-op that produces Cavit, but it is a single-vineyard offering and clearly a step up. Or, since you like pinot grigio, try a few other sources, such as the ’12 Acrobat Pinot Gris ($11) from Oregon; or even better, the ’11 Maysara Pinot Gris ($19) also from Oregon; or the ’12 Conte Fini Pinot Grigio ($16), from Alto Adige in northeastern Italy and another classy wine.
If you have discovered and are madly in love with Moscato d’Asti (and a lot of people are) you really should try the Gruet NV Blanc de Noirs ($14) — from New Mexico, of all places — maybe with sushi, oysters or smoked salmon or even crab cakes. Another favorite of mine is the Scharffenberger NV Brut ($15) from California. And, of course, most any Spanish cava can be an affordable option. If you happen to be a fan of white zinfandel, try easing your way into drier wines with maybe the ’12 Charles & Charles Rosé ($10) from Washington State or a delightful ’12 Muga Rosé ($10) from Spain. Try these with a little goat cheese or really just about anything, including barbecue or fried chicken — perfect tailgate wine. If you prefer a dry white wine, make sure you try both a white Bordeaux (sauvignon blanc based) as well as white Burgundy (chardonnay). For a Bordeaux I like the ’12 Chateau Haut-La Péreyre ($14) with chevre, hummus, celery, etc. White Burgundies are probably my white wine of choice and I might choose the ’11 Talmard, Macon-Chardonnay ($15) — it’s quite tasty, while the Leflaive ’11 Les Setilles Bourgogne ($21) and the DeBeaune ’11 Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Galopières” ($20) are both nice “splash-out” wines.
For reds, you can’t go wrong with a ’11 Beaujolais-Villages from Jadot or DeBoeuf ($11), a California zin such as ’11 Oak Ridge Lodi Zinfandel ($14); for a cabernet, you might try the ’12 Josh Cellars ($13), the ’09 Gordon Brother’s Merlot ($23) the ’10 Chateau St. Michelle Cabernet ($18). If you haven’t already, it would be smart to explore Bordeaux (try the ’09 Chateau Fonseche, Haut Medoc ($17) and Burgundy (try the ’10 Jadot Bourgogne ($18), or ’11 Latour Marsannay ($21) but here a book would help (Karen McNeil’s Wine Bible or Robinson and Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine.
2. Don’t OD on your favorite wine: If you find a wine that you love, buy a case, but drink it maybe once a week, or better yet, once a month. That way it will remain your favorite wine. There are too many good wines out there to only be familiar with one or two. See rule no. 1.
3. Get in the habit of decanting red wine: Reds tend to need a decant, and it can’t hurt. My favorite decanter is a Pyrex measuring bowl. It might sound strange but it works, and takes about 15 seconds to clean. Decant into the Pyrex, let the wine breathe for 30-60 minutes, pour back into the bottle, then into the fridge for about 20 minutes to give the wine a slight chill. You will notice a difference. No time for a decant? At least use a Vinturi or another aerator to give it some air, paying attention to how the wine opens up in the glass.
4. Serving temperature: Most people serve their white wines too cold and red wines too warm. Room temperature (recommended for red wines) was 60F-65F back when this rule-of thumb was created. Conversely, take whites out of the fridge for about 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
5. Stemware: A standard tulip-shaped glass between 15 and 21 ounces is ideal for most reds and whites. You only fill the glass about one-third of the way, so you can give the wine room to work as you swirl and sniff, at least once before each sip. I like the Bordeaux stems from Costco or World Market; they should not cost more than $5-$7 a stem. You can play around with Riedel glasses, too; they are nice, but the shape and size are more important.
6. Beware of the alcohol percentage in your wine: The alcohol content in wine (ABV) varies dramatically between 8 percent in some German riesling to as high as 16 percent in some shiraz and zins. You may enjoy higher alcohol, but just be aware of how much alcohol you are consuming.
Just a few wine tips to get your New Year started off with a little more wine-savvy focus. Happy New Year!
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