There are over 10,000 different varieties of wine grapes in the world today! That’s a lot of wine! Need help deciding what wine is best paired with you meal? We’ve got you covered. These simple and smart guidelines will help you discover your palate and launch your long and tasty journey to enjoying wine.
How to Taste Wine
The ability to sniff out and untangle the subtle threads that weave into complex wine aromas is essential for tasting. Try holding your nose while you swallow a mouthful of wine; you will find that most of the flavor is muted. Your nose is the key to your palate. Once you learn how to elegantly sniff your wine, you’ll begin to develop the ability to isolate flavors—to notice the way they unfold and interact—and, to some degree, assign language to describe them.
For any wine enthusiast, it’s the pay-off for all the effort.
If you’re tasting properly, you will be able to identify the main flavor and scent components in every wine you try; you will know the basic characteristics for all of the most important varietal grapes, and beyond that, for the blended wines from the world’s best wine-producing regions. You will also be able to quickly point out specific flaws in bad wines.
Different Wine Types
There are dozens of different types of wine, each with their own ideal pairing foods. With a basic understanding of different types of wine and their tastes you can take a workaday meal and make it extraordinary…or transform a regular hangout into something truly memorable.
What’s the Difference between Red and White Wine?
Okay, you probably don’t need any help recognizing a white wine versus a red wine. They look different and they certainly taste different as well. But it’s worth your while to understand why these types of wine look and taste so different. The culprit in both cases: the skins, and a little something they bring to the party called tannins. Remember the word tannin and what it means, because wine people talk about tannins a lot. What are tannins? Tannins are a naturally occurring substance in grapes and other fruits and plants (like tea, for example). The taste of tannin is often described as bitter, causing a dry and puckery feeling in the mouth. Tannins end up in your wine when the vintner allows the skins to sit in the grape juice as it ferments. This is also how wines get their color. Wines that have little or no skin contact end up pink or white, with far fewer tannins. Wines that ferment with the skins for a longer period end up red, with high tannin content. As you’d imagine, red grape skins have more tannins than white grape skins.
Rosé, or blush wine, is pink in color. It gets that way because it is allowed to stay in contact with the red grape skins for a relatively short time compared to red wine. On the spectrum between red and white, rosé is much closer to the light side, with relatively low tannin.
What is a Dessert Wine and What is a Sparkling Wine?
Red, white and rosé wines that have an alcohol by volume content of 14% or less are considered “table wine” in the U.S. (and “light wine” in Europe). That excludes anything that is sparkling or fortified (i.e., has added alcohol).
Dessert wine gets its name because it tends to be sweeter and comes after a meal. Alcohol (usually brandy) is added to a dessert wine so that it can retain more of its natural sugars, which are typically used up during the fermentation process.
Popular dessert wines/fortified wines: Port, Madeira, Vermouth, Sherry, Marsala
Sparkling wine is wine that has significant carbonation, which can occur as a natural part of the fermentation process or via carbon dioxide injection after fermentation. When reading sparkling wine labels, you’ll also encounter terms that indicate its sweetness/dryness.
How To Pair Wine With Food?
A great food and wine pairing creates a balance between the components of a dish and the characteristics of a wine.
- Match hearty foods with hearty wines, and lighter fare with light bodied wines.
- Rich dishes can benefit from either the contrast of a high acid wine that cleanses the palate, like Pinot Noir, or a rich, buttery Chardonnay the complements the flavors.
- Spicy dishes shine with fruitier, sweeter wines.
- Starchy potato, rice and pasta dishes call for high acid wines, like Barbera.
- Beef and other rich meats, like duck, love high tannin wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Tannat.
- Lighter meats, like Pork or even Tuna, are complemented by Pinot Noir.
- Acidic foods, like goat cheese, pair well with acidic wines, like Sauvignon Blanc.
- Serving a wide variety of foods? Sparkling wine, dry Rosé, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Merlot, dry Riesling, unoaked Chardonnay, Viognier and dry Gewurztraminer are all food-friendly wines that will enhance many dishes.
- Sweet desserts pair best with sweet wines or dessert wines.