A Beginner's Guide To Wine

A Beginner's Guide To Wine

Whether it’s rich red or a dry, chilled white, wine is one of life’s great pleasures. Each is a mystery, and until it’s uncorked you never know exactly what’s inside. 

Serving with distinction:

  • Red wine glasses typically have a larger bowl, which gives the wine room to breathe. 
  • A red wine glass should be poured 1/3 full.
  • White wine glasses are generally narrow, although not as narrow as champagne flutes. This shape allows the chilled wine to retain it's temperature.
  • A white wine glass should be poured 1/2 full.
  • Store wine horizontally so that the liquid stays in contact with the cork. This keeps the cork moist and prevents air from entering the bottle. Once a wine is in place in a wine rack, or anywhere else lying securely on its side, you shouldn’t disturb it until you are ready to drink it.
  • I never recommend pouring wine all the way to the top of the glass. It’s more elegant to fill a glass two-thirds full. 
  • Stemmed glasses are typically used for both reds and whites.
  • Holding reds by the bowl warms the wine slightly, allowing it to breathe.
  • Holding white wines by the stem is appropriate so your body heat doesn’t affect the cool temperature. 
  • One of today’s trends is to drink wine from tumblers, Italian style, rather in traditional, long stemmed wine glasses. While I like drinking red this way, I still prefer my whites in a stemmed glass.

Here is a list of some of my favorite wines and some of their most outstanding characteristics:

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Chardonnay:  The most popular, high-quality white wine, with a luscious, dark golden color and a nutty, fruity, faintly smoky fragrance and taste. Among the most popular brands of French Chardonnays, I like Montrachet, Chablis and Pouilly-Fouissé, For a local California vintage, I reach for Milestone Chardonnay- it’s refreshingly crisp. I recommend serving them with seafood, chicken, and pork because the light flavor won’t overpower the foods.

Sauvignon Blanc: My favorite white wine, bar none. The grapes that make up a sauvignon blanc are dryer and sharper tasting than Chardonnay grapes, with a grassy, herbaceous aroma and flavor. I typically serve a sauvignon blanc with a starter such as a fresh salad. It also pairs well as an accompaniment to seafood. I prefer to serve this during the day, because it’s lighter than a more full-bodied Chardonnay.  

Riesling: A native of Germany, the Riesling grape also thrives in the cool climates of the eastern United States. While Riesling grapes can also produce dry wines, they are best known for their intensely sweet, sophisticated fragrance and taste. They pair particularly well with Asian and fusion foods and can offset their spiciness. 

Pinot Grigio: This Italian superstar is crisp and dry on the tongue as well as faintly citrusy. I tend to serve pinto gris and pinot grigio f(though the grapes are the same, a pinot gris is fruitier and somewhat less crisp tasting than the latter) anytime I am looking for something on the lighter side!

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Cabernet Sauvignon: The primary grape of Bordeaux, and the basis for most of California’s red wines, the complex, fruity cabernet sauvignon is the most popular top-quality red wine. I serve it with meat, game, or before dinner, side by side with a tray of cheeses, or I sometimes have a glass of rich and velvety smooth Milestone Cabernet Sauvignon when I get home at the end of the day.

Merlot: Though dryer and smoother, the merlot grape is similar to the cabernet sauvignon in fragrance and taste. It’s among the most popular wines in America and softer and less dark than the cabernet. Try a glass with any kind of meat or game.

Pinot Noir: The primary red grape of Burgundy. Young pinot noirs have the simple fruitiness of cherries, plums, raspberries, and strawberries. More mature ones are smokier. I serve pinot noir with chicken or a fish with a cream sauce, though I never serve it with hot, spicy food because it’s not strong enough to stand up against intense flavors. 

Shiraz: Originating in France’s Rhône region, the fruity, peppery Shiraz grape has enormous flavor, and combines to create such renowned labels as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes-du-Rhône. Shiraz goes exceptionally well with chicken, or even better, duck. Shiraz is also the oldest grape variety known to man, dating back to the Bible!

--Colin Cowie

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