You don't have to spend a fortune or spend hours reading labels to make good wine selections for your dinner guests. Here is a concise wine guide for beginners.
Although the basic winemaking process is always the same, every wine has a unique flavor, depending on a number of factors, including the type of grape and the conditions in which the fermentation occurs.
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes make white wines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir grapes make full, rich red wines. Merlot grapes produce lighter, softer red wines.
The six styles of wine are:
Red: Includes Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cabernet, Chianti, Merlot, Petite Sirah, and many more.
Sparkling Red: Includes Brachetto, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gutturnio, Lambrusco and Syrah/Shiraz.
Soleras: Includes Malvasia delle Lipari, Marsala, Moscatel, Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Porto.
White: Includes Chablis, Chardonnay, Frascati, Goldmusketellar, Meursault, Muscat, Riesling, Vidal Blanc and many more.
Sparkling White: Includes Champagne, Moscato d'Asti, Spumante and more.
Pink: Includes Busuioaca de Bohotin, Lagrein Rosato and Rose.
Most red wines improve with a bit of aging, some for as long as ten years. Most red wines are not distributed until about two years after they are put in the bottle. Most white wines, on the other hand, do not benefit from aging (except for champagne and sweet dessert wines.)
What kind of wine should you choose?
While there are guidelines, there are no hard and fast rules, because wine pairings really are a matter of personal preference. The general rule of thumb for selecting wine to complement your meal is to choose a light-bodied wine with lighter fare and a full-bodied wine with hearty, robust dishes.
Red wine is traditionally paired with beef, veal, ham, poultry, pasta, lamb, and pork. For poultry, ham, pork, and veal, try a Beaujolais or a red Zinfandel. For pasta, beef, and lamb, consider a merlot or a cabernet sauvignon.
White Chardonnay complements pork, poultry, seafood (including shellfish) and strong cheeses. For appetizers, mild cheeses, desserts, ham, lamb, poultry, and seafood, you might choose a white Zinfandel or Rose wine.
Sparkling wines, such as Champagne or Spumante can also be served with mild cheeses, appetizers, and desserts.
Wine is often classified as one of the following:
1. Aperitif: Appetizer wines such as Madeira, Sherry and Vermouth.
2. Red: Dry wines typically served with red meats and pasta dishes.
3. Rose - Pink wines typically served with seafood and pork dishes.
4. White - Dry to sweet wines often served with chicken and seafood.
5. Sparkling - Wines often served in formal settings as an appetizer. If a sparkling wine comes from the Champagne region of France it is named after that region.
6. Table - Inexpensive, lower quality wine, usually served with lunch or used to make cocktail beverages.
7. Dessert - Sweet tasting wine, often served with desserts.
8. Cooking - Salty, poor quality wine used for cooking.
Eight More Helpful Tips
1. Alcohol Content: Wine is considered an alcoholic beverage unless otherwise indicated.
2. Chilling Wine: Place the wine bottle in a bucket of ice water for 10 to 15 minutes. For sparkling wine, refrigerate for at least 4 hours prior to serving (or place it in the ice bucket for 30 minutes.)
3. Labels: If you reside in North America, you'll want to remember that domestic wines will be labeled with the type of grape used followed by its origin, whereas imported wines will list where the wine was made and then the type of grape used.
4. Chilling: Sparkling and white wines are best served chilled. A red wine should be served when it is only slightly below room temperature. Both wines are best left to stand before opening. Some red wines have sediment, which should stay at the bottom of the bottle.
5. Serving: You can serve a white wine immediately after removing the cork, but a red wine benefits from 'breathing' for about half an hour after the bottle is opened. For best results gently decant the red wine into another container. This allows a greater surface area of the wine to breathe and leaves the sediment behind in the bottle. Filling a glass just half full also allows the wine to breathe.
6. Storage: Wine storage involves cool temperatures, preferably away from heat and light. Cellars can still become hot, humid and sticky during the summer months and it's suggested that keeping wine in a constant, cool environment will allow it to age properly and achieve its best attributes.
7. Variety: Also known as terroir. The climate, soil, land slope or slant, type of grape(s) used, elevation, weather conditions, topography, fermentation process and yeast cultures are all key factors in the wine's appearance, aroma and how the wine ultimately tastes.
8. Vintage: Further classification involves the year that the grapes were harvested. For example, the wine output from one vineyard might taste significantly different from one year to the next Good wines usually have their year of production on the bottle. This is called the vintage. Some years produce better wines than others.
Once you become familiar with the different types of wine available on the market, you'll feel less intimidated and more apt to impress your guests with excellent selections. Enjoying wine is a life-long process because there are always new sights, aromas and flavors to discover along the way.