Before we even begin to offer tips, we MUST give you the good news.
The good news is that "THERE IS NO "RIGHT AND WRONG" in choosing wines. Back in the dark ages of wine (prior to the 1990's or so) folks thought that red meat was paired with red wine. No exceptions. Fish and poultry were only "properly" paired with white wines.
Thankfully, such prejudice has gone the way of Molly Ringwald movies. We modernists are more open-minded. We have finally realized that appreciating a bottle of wine is largely a result of experimentation...and it should be fun! Your own personal taste buds are unique. So lighten up. Relax. Have a blast. Nobody will laugh or point.
Deciphering a wine label can be like trying to learn a foreign language (heck, most of the time it is a foreign language!), but most labels do follow a typical pattern.Check out the mock label we've created below, and see if you can't wow your friends with your new found knowledge:
Serving a wine too cold or too warm can greatly affect the enjoyment of it. If your wine is a bit too cold when you serve it and you realize that some of its flavors are "hiding," simply palm the bulb of the glass and swirl gently to warm the wine with the heat of your hand. Or, if a wine is a bit too warm, a quick ice bath can cure it in a matter of minutes.
Sparkling wine: Serve very well chilled, around 40 degrees.
Non-vintage Champagne: Serve well chilled, around 45 degrees.
Vintage Champagne: Serve cellar temperature, around 55 degrees.
Light, acidic white wine (such as wine from Germany, Sancerre or Alsace): Serve well chilled, around 45 degrees.
Floral white wines (such as Condrieu or Friulian whites): Serve chilled, around 48 degrees.
Full-bodied, oaky whites (such as California Chardonnay): Serve cool, around 58 degrees.
Served well chilled, around 45 degrees.
Light, fruit reds (such as Beaujolais): Serve at cellar temperature, around 55 degrees.
Medium bodied reds (such as Syrah): Serve around 61 degrees.
Full-bodied, mature, tannic reds (such as Cabernet Sauvignon): Serve at a cool room temperature, around 64 degrees.
Serve at around 55 degrees.
Decant old red wines to remove the sediment that has developed over the years. Before decanting an older wine be sure to stand it up for 6-12 hours so that the sediment settles to the bottom of the bottle. Decant just prior to serving and handle the wine very gently. Use a candle (or other good light shining up from beneath the bottle as you pour) to see when the sediment in the bottle starts to move into the neck. Stop pouring just prior to the sediment escaping from the bottle. If done properly, you'll have less than an ounce left in the bottle and the decanted wine will be free of sediment. Dense reds from strong, maturing vintages (such as '82 Lafite-Rothschild) may want double-decanting.
Decant young hearty red wine to help it "open up" or quickly allow the tannins to mature. Unlike the technique for decanting old wines, new wine decanting can take place up to an hour prior to serving and slow, careful pouring is not required. Fragile red wines should never be decanted as such aeration can cause a sharp metallic flavor. Swirling wine in a glass offers good aeration as well and can be done as needed.
Chill Champagne to approximately 45 degrees. Placing the bottle in a bucket with ice and water is ideal. Once the bottle is sufficiently chilled, cut around the bottle neck to cleanly remove the foil. Untwist the wire brace from the exposed neck and cover the cork with your thumb. Grip the cork with one hand as you slowly twist the bottle with the other. Ease the cork out as slowly as possible, releasing it with a hiss rather than a loud pop. While popping the cork may seem festive, it allows too much carbon dioxide and aroma to escape from the bottle. If the Champagne is not chilled enough, it will be very difficult to remove the cork without a violent expulsion. Place your thumb in the hollow (or punt) at the bottom of the bottle and support the bottle with your outstretched fingers. Pour the Champagne slowly into tall, flute-shaped glasses as not to create too much foam.
Tannin is a chemical substance in red wine that can act as a natural preservative. Tannins come from the skin, seeds, and the stems of grapes and are dissolved into the wine as it is made. Tannins can even be found in wine barrels (if the barrels have been used before). Tannins add the "mouth drying" finish to red wine. Tannins from a bad vintage or unripe grape can seem bitter or almost grainy on your tongue. Ripe, mature tannins are silkier and smoother. Still coating your mouth, but in a pleasant, well-balanced way.
Terroir, the French word for land, is the term used to describe the actual area—the physical and chemical conditions of the plot of earth—where grapes are grown. Climate, soil content, and geographical elements such as the slope of the land, altitude, etc. all create a very specific natural environment in which the vine will grow. Expert tasters will say they taste the terroir in the wine—this typically means the mineral content of the wine, soil composition, and other micronutrients have been absorbed by the vine and can be detected in the flavor of the wine. Terroir is more easily detected in low-yield or old vine grapes. High yield vineyards tend to add mineral fertilizers to the soil and the unique, natural expression of the soil is lost.
Tasting for terroir:
Words like stoney or minerally are used to describe the flavors that the soil lends to the wine. Even the funkiness of a wine's nose or flavor can be attributed to yeast or other microorganisms in the earth that are absorbed into the vine and find their way onto the grape skins.
Serious Mosel and Rhein whites are classifled by their sweetness -
•Kabinett: Almost totally dry. Clean and fruity.
•Spätlese: Off-dry with a richer texture.
•Auslese: A relatively sweet, late-harvest wine with a fat palate.
•Berenauslese: Dessert wine.
•Trochenberenauslese: Syrupy dessert wine
The sweeter the wine is the less acidity and alcohol content it contains. Sweeter wines can be paried with more flavorful foods especially spicy dishes. Try matching a Riesling Spätlese with Indian fare or pair an off-dry Gewurtztraminer with Thai food. You'll be amazed at the complementary flavors.