Seven Wine Topics

(Jack here from for my last guest post of the weekend.)

Two Unusual Suggestions for Ordering Wine at a Restaurant

When you’re at a very good restaurant with a very good wine list, and you’re at a loss as to what to order, be wild and order the cheapest wine on the list (in whatever category you’re choosing from) – they’re often quite good, and some are total steals. The secret is that great wine buyers pride themselves in selecting great inexpensive wine as well.

Unless you see a favorite that you want that night, choose a wine from a winery you’ve never heard of. Chances are it will be a more interesting wine (from a small producer). Avoid the big producers that you easily recognize.

Best Values in Wine Pairings – Generalities

1. Spanish reds and French Cote du Rhones are the food-friendly value red wines on the market. Or, Australian shiraz if you’re having BBQ beef.
2. German rieslings are the best white wine for spicy Asian foods.
3. Alsatian rieslings and sauvignon blancs from Sancerre and New Zealand are great for raw shellfish.
4. Dry Alsatian gewürztraminer is an excellent alternative to beer – with Indian food or sashimi.
5. Dry sherry from Spain is also an alternative to sake – with sashimi and sushi.

What to do when you open a bottle of wine at home and after it’s sat in your glass for 15 minutes and you don’t like it:

1. Decant it. If after a half hour you’re still not liking it, open something else, but, keep re-tasting it over the evening. If it is still not appealing, cap it, store in the refrigerator until the next evening. Remove cap. Taste again. If still not appealing, taste later.
2. Just keep doing this, even skipping days. I’d say 4 out of 5 times the wine will eventually come around. In general, the longer it takes, the more aging the wine needed. A wild guess of 1 night open = 1 year of aging (cellaring). That 1 out of 5 times that it never comes around or only got a bit better – well, it just wasn’t a good bottle, or you don’t like that winemaker’s style, or something. It’s just wine. Onward!

Great Wines have Balance
Great wines almost always have a wonderful balance the acids, fruit and tannins. The oak (if it’s oaked) should never dominate. Dessert wines out of balance are particularly awful.

Temperature to Serve wines:
Red wines are often served too warm. Chill them slightly a bit before serving. 68F is definitely too warm! (Secret: It’s really, really okay to request an ice bucket for a red in a restaurant.)
White wines are often served too cold, especially in restaurants (except for restaurants which are really on top of their wine program). Use your hands to cup the bowl of the glass to warm the wine up. Wines too cold hide their flavors and aromas; it therefore follows that mediocre wine should be drunk cold to hide its mediocrity.

What wines need aging/cellaring?
Almost all half-decent wines will benefit from a couple of years of aging (cellaring). In theory, the less expensive a wine, the less aging it needs. This is generally true, but not always. In general, too, the higher the acids level of a wine, the longer it will age/survive. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon practically always need, at a bare minimum, 3-5 years of cellaring. Aging/cellaring will hopefully soften a wine, bringing out more complexity. Again, this a generality. Each wine is unique.

How do alcohol levels match with food?
Wines whose alcohol is 14.4% of less are best for food. (I prefer even lower than that.) High alcohol wines (say, 14.5%-15.5%) aren’t often great matches with food. Very high alcohol wines (15.6%+) tend to pair only with serious beast and some cheeses. Note, the rules in the US specify that wineries must list a wine’s a wine’s alcohol to be within .5% of the actual alcohol content – if the listed number is under 14%. 14% and over they have to be within 1% of the alcohol% listed on the bottle. So, a 15.9% zinfandel might actually be a 16.8% zin!

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