Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris on August 1, 2016 0 Comments We’d all recognize the situation. You’ve been invited to a party, and you know full well it’s only polite to bring a bottle — only you find yourself dizzied and disorientated by the initially incomprehensible range of bottles on your wine store’s shelves. Or perhaps you’re out on a date, and nervously browsing the wine list, unsure of what to choose. Perhaps somebody’s asked you to choose for them, or you’re searching for the right wine to serve with dinner…wine can be difficult, confusing, confounding at times. It doesn’t help much that the world of wine is in itself a confusing place. It’s packed full of complicated, lofty jargon. The language of wine drinkers and wine producers sometimes seems designed to fool us, to bamboozle us, even to bring us out in a slight sweat every time we have to select what we hope to be a great bottle. After all, nobody likes to splash their cash blindly, and especially nobody likes to take a sip, only to taste disappointment and regret. Discover Your Perfect Wine The fact of the matter is that wine and wine drinking is awash with as many myths as facts. Perhaps this is part and parcel of the occasionally elitist position wine takes in the world of drinks, but at its heart, great wine is really for everybody, and it always has been. It was once the most commonly drank beverage in the world, and it should unite people with simplicity and directness. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always feel like the case, and wine labels and wine lists often need a little deciphering and a little bravery to navigate. Many of us go with the random approach: choosing a bottle which looks as though it fits what we imagine we would like. While this can, and does, bring fantastic results, it’s a bit of a risky business. For every bottle of inspiring, beautifully crafted wine, there are perhaps ten bottles of dull and lifeless plonk to struggle through. Here are a couple of ideas to help you on your mission, and to help you select something appropriate, tasty and memorable every time. Avoid the Big Names Wine is regularly compared to music. In the stuffier wine magazines, you’ll read endlessly about ‘symphonies’ of aromas, rhapsodies of flavor, etc, etc, etc. However, I like to compare wine with music in a somewhat more interesting way. We all know that the very best concerts you’re ever going to go to are always going to be those small, eccentric, random ones by bands you’ve never previously heard of, but quickly go on to be one of your favorites. And we all know that while you might appreciate some of the big names in the music industry — some of the ‘top ten’ artists — you’re always going to go back to those more obscure, little-known records — the ones you’ve always loved, the artists who seem to sing directly to you. Well, wine can be very similar. It’s very unlikely that the biggest brands in the wine world are really going to move you, simply because they’re designed and crafted to appeal to the widest possible audience. They might be pleasant enough, but will you remember them afterwards? Probably not. Wines like these — the big branded, TV-advertised, multibuy wines — are your big, stadium rock, middle of the road bands. Wine for people who don’t really like wine. These bottles are easily recognized, as they’ll be the ones with the big commercial campaigns, and which sport carefully designed labels which might look sharp and impressive, but which lack that little bit of soul we need in order for something to be truly exciting. In truth, they’re going to be quite boring. This is in no small part due to the fact that they are produced by big companies who lack that personal touch, that care and reverence that fine wine is all about. They’ll use high-yielding vines to eke the most profit from the grape, and possibly plenty of nasty chemical intervention, too. Always try to go for the little guys — the small, independent wineries. These are the producers which have the most to prove in a highly competitive market. They try harder and work their socks off for a smaller profit, and the results might not be as reliable or consistent, but will always, always be more interesting and memorable. Go for “Small Regions” of Old World Wines When it comes to the old world wines of countries like France, Italy and Spain, there’s a simple trick to help you choose something which is of high quality and full of character. In these countries, as well as in others, wineries have to meet a certain level of excellence and representation in order to list their region, sub-region or specific appellation on the bottle. Essentially, unless a wine is good enough to represent a particular location, it simply isn’t allowed to do so. As such, if a French wine has ‘France’ as its region, the chances are it isn’t particularly good, as no individual region would want to claim it as their own. Therefore, the smaller and more precise the location on the bottle (from region, to sub-region, to village or appellation), the more likely it is that the wine in the bottle is really rather special. Keep an Eye on the Price Here’s a popular myth busted for you: when you’re at a restaurant, don’t do what everyone else does and go for the second cheapest wine on the menu. These are invariably the wines with the biggest mark-up in price, meaning you’re actually likely to be selecting the cheapest wine available at the venue! However, that isn’t to say that price is synonymous with quality. One of the best bottles of wine I’ve ever (repeatedly) bought was a St. Emilion, which cost about ten dollars from my local store. You simply never know until you try. That being said, you should probably avoid going too low in price. In almost all countries, the price you see in the shop includes a fairly hefty alcohol tax, meaning the original cost of the bottle was quite a bit lower than what you pay. No winery that takes any pride in their produce is going to put in the months of hard work to make a loss on their wine, so stick to mid-range bottles (which are often indistinguishable in quality from the top price ones). Pair Sensibly with Food If you’re at a restaurant or have been invited to a dinner party, you need to keep in mind that you’re going to be drinking your wine while eating food, and as such, you’re going to have to sensibly pair the two together. Food pairing can be a little tricky, as most dishes have a range of primary and secondary flavors that make the whole process more complicated than it perhaps could or should be. There are dozens of rules and guidelines for this whole process, and it can be a fascinating aspect of wine to explore. Chances are, you aren’t going to have time to go through them all before you make your choice. The basic rule when it comes to food and wine pairing is that you want each to complement the other, and one not to overpower or dominate the other. As such, if you’re having a light dish of delicate flavors, you’ll be wanting a delicate white wine, or a light-bodied red number. If the dish is deeply flavored, full of spice and smoky meat, you’re going to need a wine with real body and kick to stand up to it all. If you’re not sure, there are a couple of wines which are nicely versatile, and go with more or less anything. If you’re needing a white wine, stick with Sauvignon Blanc. It’s beautifully versatile, and pairs well with almost all chicken, vegetable and fish dishes. On the red side, Pinot Noir is your friend — drinkable, tasty and great with red meat and lightly spiced food. If all else fails, reach for the bubbly. Sparkling wines — especially Champagne — go well with almost all imaginable savory dishes — and you can’t fail to look cool while drinking them. Know Your Countries A good rule of thumb when it comes to selecting great wine is to know which countries are best at what they do. Every wine producing nation has at least one stellar example of wine making that exemplifies their skill and the best of their native fruit. In the same way that you wouldn’t expect to find the world’s best Italian food in Germany, or Mexican food in the UK, you wouldn’t expect to find a wine that suits the French method and climate coming out of South Africa and having the same level of character and finesse. Obviously, learning this stuff takes a bit of time and effort — but keep in mind the following few points. France is great at complex, aged red wines. For dry white wines, look to Portugal and the Alsace. The best rose wines may well come out of California, the best fruity reds from Australia and Chile, with their Malbecs and Shiraz wines. For sweet and off-dry wines, head to central Europe and for light-bodied, easy-drinking reds, you can’t beat Italy. See? Simple!