We can give you all the tips and tricks to knowing your wine, but the biggest thing to remember is that there is no right and wrong when choosing a wine. It’s like deciding on which chocolate to indulge in – there are certain guidelines to follow to determine quality, although it’s really a matter of personal taste and even mood. If you like it, then it’s right for you!
How much should you spend?
There are many good cheap wines about these days, but think about it: the cost of a bottle of wine is fixed, taking into account the price of the bottle, cork or cap, label and transport. So, if you spend R25 on a bottle, a far greater proportion of the price will be spent on everything but the liquid you’re drinking!
Tip: Don’t turn your nose up at wines bottled using screw caps instead of corks (especially whites). They have not been made for lengthy cellaring, but a screw cap doesn’t mean a wine is cheap and nasty.
A quick guide to wine tasting:
- Order of tasting: Dry before sweet; light bodied before full bodied; young before old; off-dry and semi-sweet before red; and sweet wines (like dessert wines) after red.
- Look: Wines in good condition should be bright, vibrant and clear. Pour a small amount of wine into a glass (preferably a tulip-shaped one) and tilt it against a white background. The paler the colour, the lighter the wine. Golden tones in a white wine usually indicate that it’s older, sweeter or comes from a hotter climate. Deposit or sediment in a red can be a good indication that it’s an older wine.
- Smell: As your glass is only filled with a small amount of wine, it allows the smells to be captured effectively. Give it one big sniff – don’t be embarrassed to stick your nose into the glass – remembering that we actually ‘taste’ with our nose as smell makes up 75% of taste perception.
- Sip: Gently sip a small amount, hold it in your mouth and draw some air over the wine. Circulate the wine around your mouth, covering all your taste buds. Now you’ll be able to sort out what your nose can’t: the acidity, sweetness, texture, body, ripeness of the fruit, the dryness of the tannins.
A few tips to remember:
- Describing the flavour of wines is easier if you look at the colour – a lighter red will likely taste of strawberries, raspberries or cherries; a darker one of blackberries or blackcurrants.
- If you want to impress your friends with your wine knowledge, contact the Cape Wine Academy on 021 889 8844. Various courses are on offer nationwide.
- If all the flavours, textures and aromas are in balance, the wine is pleasurable to drink, and its flavours linger after tasting, it’s a decent wine!
Food and wine – break the mould and experiment!
Everyone knows the old adage of red wine with meat, white wine with fish but with food becoming more global, the rules need updating! There are other elements that should be considered:
- Weight Match the body of the wine to the weight of the food.
- Intensity Powerfully flavoured food should be accompanied by wine with a powerful flavour.
- Acidity Food that contains citrus juice or vinegar needs a wine with acidity to match.
- Salty foods can be partnered successfully with wine that has a touch of sweetness.
- Sweetness should at least be matched in wine. If the food is sweeter, the wine will taste drier than it is.
- Tannins Robust and young reds tend to turn metallic or tinny when served with some fish.
- Rosé wines often work very well with Asian cuisine, such as Thai or Chinese.
How to store wine:
Most of us don’t have cellars but there are some easy-to-follow guidelines:
- Lie bottles on their side to keep the cork moist.
- If a wine starts to leak you should drink it immediately.
- Keep wines in darkness at a temperature of around 14-16°C (so no storing it in the kitchen).
What does it mean when they talk about…
- If a wine is ‘corked’ it doesn’t mean that there are pieces are cork floating in the wine. It means the wine is ‘off’, basically because the cork wasn’t sterilised properly when it was bottled. You can tell straight away as it will take on the musty smell of wet socks. If this happens in a restaurant, you’re entitled to send the bottle back.
- Tannins are acidic compounds that occur naturally in grape skin, stalks and pips. They act as a natural preservative, providing flavour and texture. They’re what give that dry taste to a wine, felt in the throat or at the back of the mouth. The effect varies – you might describe it in terms of harsh, soft or even stalky if it feels like too many stalks have gone in the mix!
- Legs are the patterns made by wine sliding down the inside of a glass – not a sign of quality as such, but of the alcohol level.
- Decanting wine refers to removing it from its bottle and pouring it into another container, preferably a glass one. There are two reasons why wine is decanted: to get rid of sediment in an old red wine and to give young red wine the chance to breathe so the characteristics of the wine can appear.
How to pop the fizz:
- Hold the base of the bottle in one hand and grip the cork with the other.
- Twist the bottle slowly and the cork should ease out with a ‘sigh’. Trying to decapitate company may be amusing but is not considered good etiquette.
A wine that’s too cold will inhibit the fruit character, making it far more acidic. A red can taste a bit ‘soupy’ at room temperature, so don’t be afraid to dunk it into an ice bucket to tighten up the flavours. Remember, drinking red wine at room temperature refers to European room temperature (which is markedly different to SA, especially in summer). The general rule is that fruity young reds can be served cooler than big rich styles, and dry whites shouldn’t be as cold as sweet whites. The next time you open a bottle, experiment and see how different temperatures affect the flavour.
Chilled wine in no time!
You can chill a warm bottle of wine in less than five minutes! How? Fill a bucket one-third full with ice, then lay the wine on top. Place under a cold running tap until the ice cubes loosen enough for the bottle to fall through to the bottom. Now add 1tbsp salt to lower the melting point of the water – the cubes will melt quicker, but the bucket will become far colder!