A collection of newsletter wine references, and tips on enhancing your wine experience.
Remember, the fun is exploring new types of wine and regions.
Restaurant Wine Lists – Who hasn’t sat at a table where the wine list is passed around like a hot potato? Navigating a wine list is a skill everyone can use to find a good value.
Some truths –
Many restaurants have gone crazy, marking up wines, 3 and 4 times, the retail prices. I consider that gouging.
The highest mark-ups are on the wine regions and styles everyone knows – Bordeaux, Super Tuscans. Napa Valley Cabernets.
Restaurateurs who are passionate about wine, not only offer a great selection of wines but usually price them with lower mark-ups.
If a wine list is weighted toward a particular region or country, it’s a sign whoever built the list is knowledgeable about those wines and enjoys them. You should make your selection from it, even if obscure (dined at restaurant with several wines from the Canary Islands. (I have limited knowledge of the wines, but choose one, enjoyed it and banked the info.)
Avoid the cheapest and second cheapest wines on the list. (they’re generally the worst values)
If a list fails to mention the vintage (year), it’s a sign they’re not serious about wine. Be careful.
Building a awareness of a small base of solid producers, will go a long way towards finding drinkable values.
More Coming – I’ll add to this with widely available producers to consider as well as varietals (grape types) to look for and to void.
Values can be found around the globe but let’s start with Italy, which has 355 different grape varietals. How about a white as a summer sipper, that’s not a Pinot Grigio?
The whites from Orvieto, Italy (Umbria region) are usually, a blend of the Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes. They pair well with seafood, chicken and white pizza. Best of all, they’re inexpensive around $10 – 20 a bottle.
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The key in Italy, as in most producing countries, is not to focus on the ‘big boys’; In Italy’s case – Barolo, or Super Tuscans as examples. They’re good but expensive. Instead, explore wines from lesser known regions like Basilicata or Veneto.
Try a Dolcetto or Barbera, which come from the same region as Barolo. Or if you enjoy Tuscan wines, instead of a Super-Tuscan, try a Montepulciano. It’s what Luca would do!
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Barbera – An Italian red grape type, is the 3rd most widely planted in Italy.
Traditionally, it is grown in Northern Italy, in particularly in Piedmont (home of Barolo) If you enjoy wine made with the Nebbiolo grape (Barolo, Barberesco) or Chianti, you’ll love a Barbera. They can be bought from just $20 – 35 a bottle.
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Gigondas- (gi·gaan·duhz) is a wine region in France’s Southern Rhone. Just 10 miles away from the legendary area of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is also made from the Grenache grape. One difference is Gigondas vineyards are planted at higher elevations than C D Pape.
Most people don’t know these rich and complex wines or even how to pronounce the name. The unfamiliarity usually translates into a good value. Seek them out.
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Tasting and Assessing Wine
First and foremost, drinking wine should be pleasurable and uncomplicated. At the end of the day, it’s a beverage and you should never feel intimidated or pressured to explain what you think about it.
If you want to go further than just filling a wine glass and chugging it down, here are some suggestions to evaluate a wine.
What does the wine look like?
Tilt a glass at a 45-degree angle and look at the wine against something white, like a napkin. Is the wine clear or cloudy? Examine the color. Bright or subdued? Look at the rim of the wine. Is there a brownish tinge, indicating an older wine that may be in decline?
Smell the Wine
Swirl a glass of wine to agitate its aromas. Stick your nose in the glass and take a couple of sniffs.
Is the aroma strong or weak? What do you smell? Common scents in white wines are yellow, white and orange fruits. In reds, they can be red, purple, black and blue fruits. Irrespective of the color of wine, many give off floral, herbal or spice scents. Oak aromas such as vanilla, cedar or oak may also be detectable, if oak was used in making the wine.
Some wines have a funky aroma to them. Often it is described as a barnyard smell. It does not necessarily mean the wine is bad, though it may be. Give it some time to ‘blow off’ then take a sip. Tasting the Wine
Now comes the fun part! Some people are incredible tasters; able to detect and describe flavors many of us cannot. Don’t let that deter you from having fun with it.
The temperature of the wine is critical to its taste. Assuming the guidelines laid out in an earlier article were followed, take a sip of wine and move it around in your mouth. Make sure it hits every part of your mouth, as there are sensors everywhere. In fact, much of your ‘taste’ comes through your nasal passages.
Is the wine light bodied or full?
Are the flavors bold or weak? What flavors? Do they mirror what you got from the aroma?
Are the wine’s flavors balanced? Or does something stick out?
Is the wine ‘hot’? Meaning too high in alcohol.
How are the tannins? Gripping, astringent? Silky or smooth?
Take another sip. This time concentrate on the finish of the wine. How long do the flavors last?
This doesn’t have to be a serious endeavor. These steps should enhance your wine drinking experience. It is a lot of fun to do this with other people and bounce your discoveries off each other.