How to pick out and pair a wine (for a non-connoisseur)
Simply put, I really enjoy wine. I have my favorite varietals and favorite wineries for varying reasons. I love the entire process of oenology: the journey the grape goes through, the history behind each winery, the aging process, the flavors, and the chemistry involved. It’s essentially a science that can’t be perfected because there are too many variables. I don’t fancy myself a wine connoisseur, wine snob or an expert with a perceptible palette, but more of wine enthusiast and admirer of the romantic beverage.
There are so many varietals and hybrids that it’s hard to really favor one. I tend to enjoy the flavors of Pinot Noirs, Syrahs (Shiraz for the Aussies) and Tempranillos, yet the best aromas I have found come from old vine Zinfandels (Old vine is typically a term used for a crop that has been around for more than several decades).
So, with so much wine variety out there – red, white, table, dessert, rosé, champagne – how would one decide what would go best with a meal? Typically, you will hear people say that red wine goes with red meat and white wine goes with white meat. That’s an okay rule, but it’s not accurate. You could go a little deeper and try to match flavors. For example, let’s say you tried my seared Citrus Salmon recipe; you may want to pair with a white wine that has some citrus-y flavors to it. Regardless, the truth is that there is no right or wrong pairing.
A lot of people feel like they must pair a wine according to some kind of rule. Often times, pourers at wine tasting rooms (from the insight of the vintner/winemaker usually) will have pairing ideas. Also, the additional wine details on the store shelves will likely have recommended pairings, especially at places like Trader Joe’s. This is okay, too, if you are feeling short on time and need an idea in a pinch.
The bottom line is that if it tastes good to you, then it’s a good pairing. The best way to find out what tastes great is to do just that – taste! Taste as much as you can (although not too much at once)! Smaller wineries will usually allow for free tasting. Larger wine country areas will generally charge anywhere from $5 - $20, and some let you keep the glass, or let the tasting price go toward the purchase of a bottle.
Did you know that wine doesn’t have to be expensive? The price of the bottle is purely up to the winery, and has no bearing on the quality of the wine. Typically, you would think if the wine is good, they will charge more for it, and you will see that a little bit, but, there are many $10 bottles of wine that stand up to $60 bottles. If you don’t have easy access to wineries and their tasting rooms, try going to a wine retailer like BevMo! Or Trader Joe’s and picking out a few bottles between the $6 and $15 range. See what you like, and make a note of the varietal, winery and the year.
Once you figure out what you like, remember that the same varietal from any other year or winery will never taste the exact same as the one you just had. If you like it, don’t be afraid to buy a few bottles, and enjoy them before they peak. Now, once you have them, pair them with what tastes good to you. Don’t be afraid to try a Pinot Noir with pork - red wine and white meat, oh my! Or a buttery chardonnay with lamb chops – white wine and red meat! Go with your taste buds and your instincts, and enjoy your wine pairings!
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