Tag Archives for " wine tasting course "

Mar 05

Wine 101 – How to Choose a Wine (Pairing with Food)

By Jeremy | Wine 101

The question of how to pair a wine with food is probably the single most popular wine-related question.  More often than not, we drink wine with food, so it’s hardly surprising that so many people want to make a good choice in this respect.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.  There are long-standing generalizations like “white wine with fish” and “red wine with red meat”, but such generalizations are far from comprehensive and are often not helpful at all.

Whether you want to become great at pairing wines with food or you just want to get it right at an important dinner, you’re better off learning how to avoid bad wine pairings than simply guessing at good wine pairings.  The good news for you is that avoiding very bad wine pairings boils down to just a couple of factors:

Sweetness

Simple Rule:  If your food is sweet, then your wine needs to be sweeter.

Let’s start with just a bit of terminology.  Wines that have no sugar in them are called “dry”.  Wines that have a small amount of sugar are called “off-dry”.  Wines with more sugar are called either “medium” or “sweet”.

The reason this is important is because the people at the restaurant where you’re eating or at the store where you’re shopping should hopefully know where a wine falls on this spectrum of sweetness.  What you need to know is that if you are drinking the wine with a sweet food, then you need to move toward the “medium” or “sweet” end of the spectrum, or at least “off-dry”.

The problem with eating a sweet food with a wine that isn’t sweet is that the wine will taste very sour or tart.  The opposite, however, is not necessarily true.  It’s entirely possible to drink wines that are somewhat sweet with foods that are not.  For instance, many spicy foods like Thai often pair well with slightly sweet wines.

Got it?

Acidity

Simple Rule:  If your food is acidic, then your wine should also be acidic.

The rule is pretty much the same as with sweetness, but acidity is a bit harder for many people to discern and understand.  In food, you can think of citrus fruit, anything with vinegar, or dishes with tomato sauce.  All of these foods are fairly acidic, which usually means that they are somewhat tart and also that they tend to make your mouth water.

The same is true of acidic wines – they will be somewhat tart and will generally make your mouth water.  Some wines (Sauvignon Blancs and Sangioveses) are usually acidic, but it’s hard to tell if you don’t know, since acidity is not marked on any bottle.

The concern with pairing an acidic food with a non-acidic wine is that the wine will taste less “vibrant”, by which I generally mean that wine will lack any crispness and will taste relatively flat.  Again, the opposite is not necessarily true.  For instance, dishes that are heavy in oil are often complemented well by an acidic wine.

Intensity of Flavor

If you’ve watched the video above, then you know that I don’t really discuss intensity of flavor, partially because it requires a bit more knowledge about any particular wine.

The simple rule in this case would be that foods with more intense flavors require wines with more intense flavors, and vice versa.  The reason for this is that either the wine or the food can be overpowered if one is intensely more flavorful than the other.

Intensity of flavor is surely very important, but most of us are better off focusing first on sweetness and acidity.  Even more so than sweetness and acidity, it’s very tough to know if a particular wine is intensely flavorful.  In addition, if you get a pairing wrong in this respect, then it’s usually not a terrible result.  Either the wine or the food may be slightly overpowered, but neither will necessarily taste significantly worse because of it.  The same cannot be said of sweetness and acidity.

Location

Simple Rule:  If possible, pair wines and foods from the same region.

There are plenty of wines and foods from different parts of the world that pair together beautifully.  However, if you want an easy method of pairing, most wines from a region will go very well with traditional foods from that region.  Eating Northern Italian cuisine?  It’s  pretty good bet that wines from the area will pair well.  There are both historical and geographical reasons for this, but just trust that it generally works.

Tasting, at its best, can get super-complex, but it can also be super rewarding.

If you have any pairings that you particularly like, please leave them in the comments below, as well as any questions.

Mar 01

Wine 101 – Tasting at a Winery

By Jeremy | Wine 101

You could probably learn everything you ever need to know about wine without ever stepping into a winery.  But that wouldn’t be very much fun, now would it?

Visiting wineries to go wine tasting can be incredibly fun, informative, and even motivating (if you ever need more motivation to learn about or drink wine).  Here’s what you need to know before you visit.

Plan your trip

You could get by without planning at all, but a bit of foresight will make the day much more enjoyable.  Some wineries are closed several days a week, and some wineries require an appointment no matter when you’re going.  Some wineries don’t have tasting rooms at all.  For multiple reasons, it makes sense to call ahead and make sure that they can accommodate you and whomever else you’re dragging along.

Read a few reviews, too, or else ask someone who’s been before.  Maybe a certain winery gets really crowded on certain days, so you’d be better off going there early or skipping it altogether.

What to expect when you get there

If you were going to dinner at 2 different people’s houses, you wouldn’t necessarily expect the look, feel, or atmosphere to be the same at both dinners.  Wineries are no different.  They vary greatly in terms of size, atmosphere, and personality.  The only real way to get to know a winery is to visit and talk to the owners and people who are working there.  Most of the time, they’ll be very nice and very helpful, telling you everything you’d want to know about their winery, their wines, and even their wine-making processes.

In terms of tasting fees, most wineries charge for tastings now.  Prices are typically $5-15, but they can go higher.  Always ask when you call to plan your visit.  In addition, many wineries will often refund your tasting fee if you buy a bottle while you’re there.  Don’t feel obligated to buy anything, although if you do like the winery and the wine, then it’s always nice to support them.  Remember, they’re a small business just like any other.

The process of tasting is pretty straight-forward.  You tell them that you want to do a tasting, and they’ll pour you a glass of wine.  Once you’re done with that one (either you drank it all or else you poured it into the bucket), they’ll pour you a second glass.  A typical tasting might be 5 or 6 wines, but this also varies from winery to winery.  Depending on how busy they are, the people pouring will usually talk to you about the wines and answer any questions you have.

Why go tasting

Personally, I forget that anyone even questions the reason for going wine tasting, but here it is: FUN.  Don’t misunderstand – you learn a lot, you discover great new wines, and you interact with some really cool people.  However, the day ends up being a lot more fun when you’re tasting wine.  I personally don’t need much more reason than that.  That said, you often won’t discover many of the smaller wineries and producers unless you go tasting, since they’re not typically carried by larger stores.

Tip:  Hire someone to drive you around.  If you’re going tasting for an entire day, and if you can at all afford it, hire someone to drive you around.  It really makes it a lot easier to have a great time, since you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve had a bit too much to drive.

If you’re on the fence at all about spending a day wine-tasting at your local wineries, then DO IT.  You will develop a new appreciation for wine and for the people involved in creating it.  And if I forgot to mention it, you’ll have a LOT OF FUN!

Feb 28

Wine 101 – Basics of Wine Tasting

By Jeremy | Wine 101

Welcome to the first post in our Wine 101 series.

This post will cover only the most basic aspects of tasting wine, so it’s pretty short.  I don’t go into a lot of detail about what to taste or smell for, as that will be covered elsewhere, but you should feel comfortable after this video and post about how to taste a glass of wine.

Step 1: The Glass

Some people make a much bigger deal out of this than it should be, since you could drink and enjoy wine in any cup, glass, or mason jar you want to use.  However, if you want to properly taste a wine, your wine glass should have 2 main characteristics:

  1. Wide Bowl:  Your glass needs to have a wide bowl, so that you can properly swirl the wine.  The wide bowl also helps by forcing the wine to release more aromas (smells).
  2. Tapered Rim:  If your glass doesn’t have a tapered rim, then the aromas of the wine will more easily escape from the glass without you being able to smell them.

That’s pretty much it.  These glasses from Amazon will work just fine, and they’re only $19.79 for 12 glasses.

Step 2: Pouring the Wine

This is obviously not rocket science, but when you pour the wine, you only want to fill your glass about 1/4 of the way.  If you fill it too high, then you won’t be able to swirl the wine, and your wine also won’t be exposed to enough oxygen to properly release the aromas.

Step 3: Swirling the Wine

This is an important step and is not just something that people do to look pretentious (although I’m sure I know  few people who do it just for that reason).  Swirling the wine causes it to come into contact with more oxygen, which in turn causes the wine to release more aromas and smells.

The easiest way to swirl a wine and to avoid spilling it all over yourself is to leave the glass on a smooth surface (table or counter-top), and then use your hand to move the glass in small circles.  If you do it like this and your glass is not too full, then it’s almost impossible to spill the wine.

Step 4: Sniffing the Wine

After all of that, you finally get to smell the wine.  Throughout this series, I’ll be introducing some terms that are commonly used by people who drink a lot of wine, and the first of those terms is “nose”.  The nose of a wine is simply the way that the wine smells.

Immediately after swirling your glass, you want to raise it up to your nose, tilt the glass just a bit toward you, and then actually stick your nose into the glass and take a large breath.  I tend to do this a few times before I ever drink any of the wine to try to get some ideas about what I smell in the wine.

Step 5: Sipping the Wine

I really hope that everyone who is reading this has actually sipped a wine before.  If not, then please stop reading and come back after you’ve had a couple glasses.

When you sip the wine, put a fairly small amount in your mouth and swirl it around for a few seconds.  In the broadest terms possible, you want to start thinking about what flavors you taste, but also about how the wine feels in your mouth.  How thick does it feel, for instance?

Step 6: Swallow or Spit out the Wine

It’s true – people who are serious about tasting wine typically spit it out when they’re tasting.  I confess that I am one of these people.  But here is the caveat: I readily differentiate tasting wine from drinking wine, and I do a lot more of the latter than the former.

After the wine has left your mouth, you want to think a little bit more about the wine.  How long can you taste the flavors after the wine is no longer in your mouth?  Do your gums feel dry?  Does your mouth start to water?  These are all characteristics of wines that it’s good to start thinking about as early as possible.

That’s it for this lesson, but please leave any comments below, particularly any questions or any requests for topics to be covered!

Feb 27

Announcement: Wine 101 Series

By Jeremy | Wine 101

announcementWe’ve got an exciting new announcement to make!  Over the next few months, we’ll be posting a new Wine 101 series.  While many of our readers are quite experienced when it comes to wine, we also realize that many readers would like to learn more about wine.

The Intro to Wine series will include posts and videos that will cover a range of topics.  The series will start off with the very basics of tasting, choosing, and understanding wine, and then we’ll move into some more advanced topics, including particular varietals and regions. You can check out all of the posts and videos on our new Wine 101 page.

We hope that even our most experienced wine drinkers will enjoy and learn from the series.  As always, we love to get feedback from you, so if you have any requests or suggestions for topics that you like for us to cover, please let us know in the comments below!