How to love wine and start to understand it
FOR SOMEONE WINE IS A LIFESTYLE , for others it is a cultural tradition, but most of both want to better navigate wine, at least finding themselves in a store. How to choose what you need and it is advisable not to go broke is an urgent question for many, regardless of the tasks set. We asked Dariya Khripushina, the author of the Doctor Wine Telegram channel , to arrange an educational program for everyone who loves wine.
Red, white or pink?
First, decide what kind of wine you want – and we are talking about an elementary definition of color: red, white, pink. There are now both orange and blue wines, but this is a story for the very advanced user or experimenter. Most likely, you already know which wine you like – red or white; From my own experience, I can say: if you have not yet understood what you like and cannot decide – try pink, it contains less tannins than red. Tannins are grape skin polyphenols that are responsible for the structure of the wine, giving it that very bitterness and astringent sensation in the taste. Since there are fewer of them in pink wine, the taste is refreshing and with sweetish berry notes.
In addition to the color, it would be good to determine the residual sugar content of the wine: dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet or sweet. This will make life easier for you and the consultant if you consult with him, and generally save time. Here’s a cheat sheet for you: sweet wines are dessert wines , they really taste sweet like candy, and are not suitable, for example, to drink with food at lunch. Dry wines are the most common, and semi-dry wines may appeal to those who find dry wines too sour or tart.
It is better to refuse semi-sweet wines altogether: no, not because when you drink it, a little kitten is crying somewhere; and not because it is considered bad form all over the world. Semi-sweet wine is bad because it is bad, and sugar is used to mask its poor quality: it is made from unripe grapes or with a criminal excess of yield from a bush. Such wine does not allow you to enjoy tasty food, discordant with it.
Beautiful does not mean good
We are all victims of labels – and sometimes we buy wine because of the “beautiful picture”. Fortunately, then comes the experience, and with it – the understanding that the content is more important than the form. To easily choose a wine in a store, you need to learn how to read the information on the label. For example, if there is no name of the farm and manufacturer on the front side of the bottle, then you should think about whether you need a wine produced by someone who is not clear.
The harvest year of the grapes must also be indicated – otherwise, you can get a mixture of berries of different varieties that ripened in different years. Without specifying the “year of birth”, they sell either, unfortunately, a product made from cheap wine material, it is not clear where and by whom it was collected, or table wine. Table wine itself is not so bad, there are fewer requirements for it: there may not be a specific year of birth, it is possible not to indicate where the grapes come from. Table wine is inexpensive and suitable for a large family dinner in the open air, for example, at a dacha with barbecue, when there is no need to open bottles of good aged wine – there will still be no chance to appreciate its subtleties. I do not advise you to take any outstanding wines with you to nature – in the open air the wine loses its aromas and properties.
Sometimes the producer sings the praises of the grapes as “the best” or “selected”, but you need to pay attention to the indication of specific varieties on the front or back label. Grape varieties are, for example, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat, Sangiovese, Carmenere. Sometimes, according to the law, it is not necessary to indicate the variety – in French wines, the composition is often not written. At the same time, not all French wines are good, therefore, until you are very familiar with it, it is better to choose other regions.
Region and exposure
For decent wines, an indication of origin is mandatory. The wine should have a “home” in the form of a region or a so-called appellation – a production zone. Each country has famous places whose names speak for themselves: Rioja or Ribera del Duero in Spain, Bordeaux or Provence in France, Mendoza in Argentina. If the region is not indicated on the label, then often it is a low quality wine, the manufacturer of which does not want to be discovered. As for the country, French wines are often more expensive just because they are French, and other European wines often suffer from cheats. It makes sense to pay attention to the countries of America, Australia, South Africa – for the same money, you will most likely buy a wine that will be better than French or Italian.
Aged wines, all other things being equal, are better than unaged wines, but they also cost a little more. Most often we are talking about aging in oak barrels – oak gives the wine unique woody shades, smooths and “calms down” the taste. There is also aging in steel containers – and this is also not bad, because not all grape varieties get along with oak. But if you want something light and fruity in style, then you don’t have to pay attention to the aging method. Bottle aging is required for almost all types of wines. Depending on the production technology, some wines are bottled after fermentation, others after barrel aging.
Some producers emphasize their quality wines with certain formulations – for example, “Riserva” in Italy (aging from 2 to 3 years in a bottle) or “Crianza” in Spain (at least 2 years in a barrel, steel container or bottle). This means that the wines were aged for a strictly defined time, and for their production the best berries were harvested from the harvest. But there are countries in which the inscription “Reserva / Reserve” is not legally enshrined and does not mean anything at all, but only plays the role of a marketing trick – Chile and France sin this.
Price and age
Wine, if it is not on sale at a special offer, cannot cost less than 500 rubles. If the markup is already in the store, then how much does this wine actually cost? To make a quality wine, you need to make a lot of effort, time and money, this is a very painstaking and costly work. At the same time, a very high price is also not an indicator of quality and taste. A basic white, not the most outstanding wine from the French region of Burgundy costs two thousand rubles, and for this money you can find a wonderful, much more interesting wine from the countries of the New World – the same Chile or Argentina. In addition, buying too expensive wine not in a specialized wine cellar, you can face certain risks: it is not a fact that the wine was stored and transported according to all the rules.
There is such a popular myth about wine that the older the better. But many wines, for example from the Pinot Grigio grape variety, should be drunk young, and for French Beaujolais aging is completely destructive. Table wines need aging up to three years, light white and red wines need from four to eight, noble white wines – ten or even twenty years. Saturated dry red wines can be aged even longer – thirty-five years, and even a hundred years of aging will not harm the best red of outstanding years. Finally, the aging of strong and dessert wines can reach one hundred and fifty years.
Corks and glasses
Neither the cork stopper nor the metal screw cap are indicative of the quality of wine. Screw caps are more often found in wines from the countries of the New World, where they know a lot about the allocation of resources and the use of the latest technologies. Wines with metal lids have several advantages: they are cheaper because cork bark costs a lot of money; their production is more environmentally friendly, because the lid is not a living tree, but a piece of iron; wine under the cork, if stored and transported improperly, can oxidize due to trapped air, and the screw cap is almost a guarantee of absolute tightness. Of course, real cork is all about charm and style, especially in the case of expensive and rare wines. At the same time, the screw cap is an excellent solution for young wines that are drunk within 3-5 years after production.
Wine should be drunk from the glass intended for it. The shape of the glass can change our perception of taste and fully reveal the aroma of wine: underestimating the importance of glasses, you can deprive yourself of a significant share of pleasure. The glass must be glass, transparent and perfectly clean, for example, without water residues. The shape of the glass determines the area of contact of the wine with oxygen, which affects the taste of the wine – therefore, for red wines, deep and wide glasses are used, which only need to be filled to one third. For white wines, glasses are needed, in which the bottom is widened, and the edges are narrowed, and about half of the white wine should be poured into the glass. For champagne and sparkling wines, choose a long, narrow flute-type glass, the shape of which will slow down the disappearance of bubbles.
Temperature and food combination
The correct serving temperature does not make the wine better, but it does help it reach its full potential. White wine should be drunk very cold; there is little that can be worse than warm white wine, so before serving, it is imperative to hold it in the refrigerator for at least half an hour (or better, an hour). True, there are wines that are better not to be cooled too much – for example, the Italian variety Vermentino, which has a very delicate and lush floral aroma and which is enough for half an hour in the refrigerator. It is better to chill red wines a little too: although they say that it is better to serve them “warm”, they mean comparison with whites, and not the absolute temperature.
In most cases, the better and more expensive the wine is, the less time it needs to cool. This does not apply to champagne – this wine should always be served cold, at a temperature of 7 degrees. If for white wines the optimal temperature is 14-16 degrees, then for red wines it is 16-18 degrees – much lower than the usual room temperature about 22. In general, the following rule works with regard to temperature: the acidity of wine is enhanced by cold, and strength – by heat. And I beg you, do not throw ice into the wine, do not make a mistake.
Before drinking the wine, let it breathe. This applies primarily to red wines. Just pour the wine into a glass and twirl it – oxygen will do its job and the wine will open with a wonderful bouquet. If the wine is aged in a barrel or has a powerful and dense structure, then decantation will not interfere in order to reveal the aroma and calm this very structure a little. To do this, you need a decanter – a decanter for wine, which is designed for settling and aeration, that is, contact with air. This is a must-have item if you like bright, dense or oak-aged wines. Some white wines and champagnes can also be decanted, but this story is more appropriate for expensive and rare wines.
There are certain recommendations in the combination of wine and gastronomy, but there can be no strict rules in this matter. Red can open up perfectly with some fish, not just a stereotypical steak, and white can go well with red meat: for example, veal goes well with white chardonnay. If you enjoy drinking merlot while snacking on squash from a can rolled up by your grandmother and it will make you happier, then how can someone forbid it?
How Cavist Can Help
Make friends with a cavist, a man who works in a wine cellar. This is the specialist who offers you exactly what you want, but cannot choose for some reason. I myself work as a cavist: I cannot say that I communicate with newcomers in any other way, but for regular customers I am a valuable source of information and a guide to the world of wine pleasure. I remember each client, his tastes and preferences, my job is to make his choice easy and correct. But, of course, no matter what you are advised, listen to yourself first.
If you do not like the wine, from which everyone is delighted – do not force yourself to drink it and certainly do not complex that “you do not understand something.” Tastes in relation to wine can be compared to visual: someone loves minimalism, while someone loves golden stucco and carved furniture. There is no universal taste. Try, remember, write down your feelings and impressions. Do not blindly trust wine critics and applications, remember that reviews are written by people like you. There are wines that more often meet a universal taste, but it’s better to jump into this exciting game and find the wine that suits you. I advise you to switch more often, not to hang on to one favorite variety or region: if you like sauvignon blanc from France, try New Zealand or Chile. It is not necessary to turn the process of drinking wine into a strenuous intellectual activity; leave that to the wine critics and snobs. And in general – do not show off. Ignore the label, drink to your heart’s content. Taste develops from taste, not from the price of the bottle.