Whether searching the aisles in a wine store or perusing a restaurant wine list, choosing a wine for your meal can be a daunting experience.
By learning some tricks used by wine experts, you can choose a perfect bottle of wine easier than you think.
Firstly, 80% of the wines sold are made from the “Big Four”, the red Grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the white grapes, chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Each possesses unique flavors that make them easily recognizable.
Classic Cabernet Sauvignon has flavors of currant or other berry, and notes of wood and leather. Traditionally, it is drunk with beef, rich cheeses and game.
Merlot has flavors of plum, cherry and a silkier finish. It is lighter in body and very easy drinking. It is classically paired with slow-cooked stews and soups, as well as, game fowl, veal, pork and milder cheeses. It can also be paired with fish, such as salmon or tuna.
Many winemakers around the world blend these two grapes in a Bordeaux style in varying percentages. The blending of these varieties can be simply sublime.
The most popular white variety is Chardonnay. It is smooth, rich and a very comfortable choice for the casual wine drinker. It pairs well with seafood, chicken and veal. Chardonnay has two distinct styles, oaked and unoaked. The exposure of Chardonnay to oak will impart notes of butter and vanilla and is delicious with classic seafood and chicken dishes made with butter and cream. Unoaked Chardonnay will be crisper, with more minerality. This type of wine is wonderful with poached or steamed seafood, and is more refreshing in warm weather.
Sauvignon Blanc is a brighter, paler wine and has the classic characteristics of citrus, grassy herbs and stone fruit. It pairs delightfully with vegetarian dishes, sushi, raw oysters and compliments sweet and sour preparations. It is an excellent choice with first-course salads, particularly with tangy goat or sheep milk cheeses.
Another key that wine professionals use for pairing wine with food is whether the wine is a New or Old World wine.
The Old World is of course, Europe where wines have been made for over 4,000 years. The millennia of trial and error have culminated in the most expensive and sought after wines, but also everyday wines developed to compliment the local cuisine.
To this end, you should simply try an Old World wine with its corresponding cuisine. Try a Bordeaux or classic Burgundy with French food, or a versatile “Super Tuscan” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and local grape varietals with Italian food.
New World wines are from Australia, North and South America, and South Africa. They each have their own characteristics, but share a brighter, fruitier taste due to the riper fruit possible from warmer climates. The red wines tend to be bolder and have a slightly higher alcohol content and the whites are juicier and have more intense offerings of the typical flavors.
The chefs that have led in the fusion cuisine movement have championed New World wines, as they are not bound by the same traditions as the Old World, and allow them to free their culinary imaginations. The Nuevo Latino, Pan-Asian and New Southern dishes pair fantastically with new World wines.
A perfect ending to a meal is a traditional fortified wine, such as a Port or Sherry. Tawny Port is excellent with dried fruits, nuts and cheese, while the sweeter Ruby Port pairs well with dark chocolate.
Of course, there are many more grape varietals and distinct wines to choose from. The fun of learning about wine is trying different wines and developing your own preferences, but by using these tried and true techniques of the pros, you will be easily able to pair the perfect wine with your meal.