First there was water, then came wine, which was accidentally discovered in the cellars of a royal palace in the Caucasus region.
With the arrival of wine, complications manifested themselves. Alcohol levels change, the colour ranges from watery white to dark yellow or pale red to very dark and impenetrable. Wine can be sweet, off dry or completely dry.
Newcomers to the world of wine find the scene daunting, but you don’t need a dictionary or scholarly books!
Just think of that every expert or those who claim to be experts had to start somewhere. In North America 30 years ago the best selling wine was Mateus rosé – an off-dry wine with a little crackle and pleasant taste originating in Portugal.
Now, fruit-flavoured wines like peach-, or tropical fruit Chardonnay or white Zinfandel, are much in demand with beginners who gravitate towards sweet or off-dry wines. These wines tire the palate after the a few months, you start looking for more nuance, complexity, lingering aftertaste and those that complement food i.e. acid-driven.
Taste buds “grow up”, and beginners start looking for pronounced and diverse flavours.
It is best to start with light white wines such as Ontario Rieslings, Pinot Grigio a. k. a. Pinot Gris from northern Italy and France respectively, or Soave from Veneto, and go on from there.
For reds, best bets are fruity light red wines like Beaujolais, from France or Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy. Eventually you can advance to Merlot or other fruity wines, and then progress to blended or pure strong varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah a. k. a. Shiraz, just to name a few.
You can educate your nose and palate by smelling herbs and spices, various kinds of ripe fruits, wet cardboards (corked), or anything else to build up a smell memory. After all, much of what we taste is odour in the mouth.
Humans taste by inhaling and exhaling.
In fact the saying: “The nose is the sentinel of the mouth” is very true.
Tasting wine professionally is a serious activity. Amateurs mostly drink wine on a hedonistic (like or dislike) basis, but many non-professionals become quite enthusiastic about nuances of aromas and flavours. On occasion amateurs are better tasters than professionals.
Books have been written about wine tasting techniques and the type of vocabulary to use but this is mostly the domain of very serious consumers. (I will deal with the subject of serious wine tasting in Wine Tasting 201 and 301)
Wineries are acutely aware of the importance of packaging and label design, but what is even more important is the wine, not the package. Occasionally a poorly packaged wine may represent excellent value. If you do not know, ask the sales clerk, but be aware that get what you pay for. Bargains are rare.
Then of course you have to consider matching food and wine.
Unquestionably, this is a vast field and there are as many solutions and opinions as there are possibilities.
In general, you can pair light wines with light foods. For example, a grilled chicken breast with sautéed vegetables would be just fine paired with a light Riesling, or Soave Classico, or Pinot Gris or even un-oaked Chardonnay. On the other hand, you will be better served with a heavier wine like moderately oaked Chardonnay and boiled lobster with drawn butter. A properly grilled (medium rare) steak with a well balanced Cotes du Rhone or Brunello di Montalcino is just heavenly.
If you like cheese, remember to match cream cheeses with light to medium bodied white wines, and semi-soft and hard cheeses with full-bodied flavourful reds.
If the food comes with a wine-flavoured sauce you can match it with wine in the sauce, providing of course the cook used a flavourful wine, which he/she should.
Storing wine is another matter that requites your attention. Buy wines at least a week before you intend to consume them. Store wines in a cool, dark, odourless place with no vibrations.
A damp cellar with a few racks would suffice. Never keep wines in your living room exposed to light, and wide temperature fluctuations.
If you want to spend a lot of money, you can buy a temperature -controlled cabinet, but you can also make do with an old refrigerator set to the warmest scale.
Most wines today are meant to be consumed within one or two years of harvest. A small percentage of wines are cellar worthy.