This is the second of a three-part question and answer series about wine basics. To see part I, go here.
What does it mean when someone says a wine is oaky or tastes like grapefruit? A grape tastes like a grape, doesn’t it?
Yes and no. Keep in mind that a grape is a fruit, which means that it has many of the same chemicals that influence flavors in other fruits. Tomatoes are the same way – some can be very sweet, some can be beefy, some can be more tomato-y – yet all are tomatoes.
Grapes are the foundation the winemaker builds on (and remember that chardonnay grapes are different from cabernet, which are different from sauvignon blanc), and he or she can change the flavor by how they make the wine. What kind of barrels (steel, French oak, American oak) do they age it in? How long do they age it? When do they pick the grapes? What was the weather like?
Generally, white wines taste lighter and more like light fruits like apples, pears and citrus; red wines are heavier and have flavors that include dark berries. Having said that, keep in mind that most inexpensive wine won’t taste much like the label description. Too many wineries and winemakers insist on intimidating consumers by claiming that an $8 cabernet tastes like black pepper and spice when the label should suggest wine and food parings
Boy, you can say that again. How can I figure out what wine to serve with what food?
That’s easy. Serve what you want. If you want to drink sweet wine with prime rib, that’s your choice. I might not approve of it, but you aren’t me.
There are traditional pairings – white wines with chicken and fish, red wines with beef – but the wine police won't arrest anyone who does it differently. One rule of thumb: The heartier the entree, the heartier the wine, which means a light red wine goes well with roasted chicken or salmon, and a dry white wine might be perfect for pork tenderloin. The goal is for the wine to complement the taste of the meal, not to obscure it.
You just used the term dry. What does that mean?
Most red wines are dry, because they aren’t sweet. There’s also a chemical explanation, involving tannins, a chemical compound found in grape skins (as well as chocolate). White wines are less dry than red wines and have less tannins. There are also many many sweet white wines that don't have tannins.
OK, tell me about sweet wine. Every time I order a glass of white zinfandel at a restaurant, people make fun of me.
That’s because wine snobs like to make fun of people. The most important rule of wine – the only rule of wine – is that the best wine is the wine you like. Josh Wesson, the founder of the Best Cellars wine chain, put it best: “Would you eat vanilla ice cream, even if you didn’t like it, because I told you to eat vanilla ice cream? Of course not. You’d eat chocolate. Why should wine be any different?”
On June 13, buying wine.