For many centuries wine has been considered an art form, not just in its making, but also in its consumption. A transient experience that has continuing appreciation amongst all classes and cultures, it cannot be denied that a little more acquaintance with this coveted liquid can give you an edge in many social and professional circles. However, though there are no assigned rules for drinking wine, there are etiquettes and customs that are associated with the world’s most stylish and finest drink.
To begin, wine has strong cultural significance, and its many varieties are closely linked to the regions in which they are made – primarily of Europe, the United States, and Australia. The texture and flavour varies according to the difference in the grapes, geographic temperature of the region, and the addition in small percentages of any other fruits such as currents and apples.
Wine is usually made from one or more varieties of the European species Vitis vinifera (common grape vine), such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay and Merlot. When one of these varieties is used as the predominant grape, the wine is called a ‘varietal’, and when different grape varieties are used, it’s called ‘blended wine’. The majority of the world’s most renowned wines, from regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, consist predominantly of blended wines.
Red wines derive their colour from the red grape varieties used in wine making. In the wine making process, the skin of the red grape is allowed contact with the grape juice, which gives it its reddish tinge. There are wider differences in terms of taste and colour of red wines, while varietals are often classified on the basis of the grape varieties used.
Syrah grapes (pronounced as Sah-ra), which are also commonly referred to as Shiraz (Shi-raz), produce medium to full-bodied, earthy and spicy reds. This French wine is one of the world’s finest, deepest, and darkest red wines with intense flavours and excellent longevity. Traditionally most popular in France, Australia and California, it has instantly identifiable flavours dictated by the climate in which it is grown. For instance, in hot climates like Australia, expect jammy fruits, liquorice spice, and earthy leather – a heavy hitter that’s full-bodied with softer tannins. In more moderate climates, such as Rhone Valley, the grape has an inclination towards higher tannins, blackberry flavours and black pepper notes. When considering its food pairing, Syrah can be best enjoyed when combined with richly flavoured red meat and stews.
If you are still new to the world of wines, Merlot (which is pronounced as Mer-lo) might offer the best introduction, as it is soft and easy to drink. It is also very flexible when pairing with food. Typically offering a taste of black cherry with a velvety texture and herbal flavours, you’ll feel Merlot’s roundness with every gulp – the kind of wine that leaves the tongue in comfort when submerged. Unsurprisingly, its versatility with food extends to wine, and it is also very popular for blending with sterner, later-ripening grapes such as the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon (which is pronounced as Ka-ber-nay So-vee-nyon) is one of the most celebrated and widely recognised grape varieties. With high tannins and notable acidity that contributes to the wine’s ageing potential, it presents blackcurrants with slight vanilla notes from the oak treatment, and tends to be full-bodied in its maturity, though firm and gripping when young. An ever-evolving art form if cultivated well, Cabernet Sauvignon is characteristic of the great Medoc wines of France – its mixing with Cabernet Franc and Merlot combining to create a taste of the prestigious Bordeaux blend – and is also amongst the finest reds in Australia, California and Chile. As for relishing its flavour with food, its best pairing is often a strong one, such as simply cooked red meat.
Pinot Noir (which is pronounced as Pee-no Nwar) has a very delicate and fresh structure with aromas of cherry, strawberry and plum. You may also find the notes of tealeaf and damp earth in the wine. Although the ageing process of the Pinot Noir can be unpredictable, distinct aromas can be obtained and a unique complexity achieved. It is best paired with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and Japanese dishes.
White wines are prepared from white grape varieties. They are generally colourless, although there are a few white wines that are prepared from red grapes. In this case, the skin of the grape is not allowed to have any contact with the juice. White wines range from dry to sweet.
Derived from the German grapes of the Rhine and Mosel, Riesling (pronounced as Rees-ling) is a versatile wine that proves intensity in taste when aged, providing favourable vintages with smoky, honey notes and a unique petroleum character. Riesling from Alsace and the eastern United States is also excellent, though usually made in a different style, equally aromatic but typically drier. Germany’s great Rieslings are usually made slightly sweet, with steely acidity for balance. California Rieslings are much less successful, usually sweet and lacking in the acidity and balance that gives ageing potential. As with most whites, it is a natural pairing for fish and chicken dishes, though Riesling is also known as one of the few wines that can stand up to the bold flavours of Asian cuisine.
Gewurztraminer (pronounced as Gah-vurtz-tra-meener) is a very aromatic variety of white wine. Its fruity flavours include a bouquet of rose petal, peach, lychee and allspice, which can make it a wine ideal for sipping with Thai cuisine and fatty meats such as grilled sausages. Though it is believed to not be as refreshing as other kinds of dry white wines, its sweet flamboyancy can compound a much-appreciated consumption, particularly with spicy food.
Chardonnay (pronounced as Shar-doe-nay) is often wider-bodied than most whites and produces rich citrus flavours that when fermented in new oak barrels can add a buttery tone (vanilla, coconut, toffee). It is paired well with a diverse spectrum of food, though most commonly accompanies fish and chicken dishes – particularly smoked fish or other bold seafood, as delicate fish is sometimes too fragile for the pairing. Those Chardonnays with a more acidic character tend to suit Italian style tomato-based and sweet onion dishes, while older Chardonnay, which mellows in age, supports earthy dishes and aged cheese.
Sauvignon Blanc (pronounced as So-vee-nyon Blah) is generally lighter than Chardonnay, and shows a herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass. The dominating flavours range from sour green fruits of apple, pear and gooseberry, through to tropical fruits of melon, mango and blackcurrant. A quality unoaked Sauvignon Blanc will display smoky qualities and is traditionally a wine best consumed young, while oak-aged dry and sweet Bordeaux examples of Sauvignon Blanc demonstrate great potential in later maturity. Concerning food, Sauvignon Blanc is a versatile wine for seafood and poultry, however with its celebrated crispness, elegance, and freshness, it can also provide vigour to even a simple salad.
Left to right: Christian Lloyd Beavis, Samuel Cheung and Oliver Waghorn
Wine can be enjoyed in many different ways but most commonly as an appetizer, a table wine, or a dessert. Wines such as Vermouth and Dry Sherries are aperitifs and are enjoyed before a meal. Table wines are served with food, though in cooking, you may also use a wine to provide a base of flavour. A dessert wine is served after a meal providing closure.
Before tasting a wine one should know a few essential details – one of the most important being the temperature at which they should be served. Red wines are best served at 18C, while whites are best served at 11C. Before serving though, decanting wine is often advisable, and for two purposes: firstly to separate a wine from any sediment that may have formed, and secondly to aerate it (letting it breathe) in the hope of improving both its aroma and flavour.
Older red wines and Vintage Ports naturally produce sediment as they age, while white wines infrequently do. That said, both quality reds and whites will benefit from being decanted – a fragile or vintage wine, especially those surpassing 15 years of age, should be generally decanted 30 minutes or so before drinking. A younger, more vigorous, full-bodied wine, can be decanted a good hour or more before serving. Oliver Waghorn, Bordeaux enthusiast & Portfolio Manager at BWC Management & Consulting states, “if curiosity gets the better of you, experimentation will only aid your appreciation in the alchemy of fine wine consumption”.
Stemware can also play a big part in the way a wine is appreciated, affecting its perception, taste and aroma, and it is common belief that the appropriately shaped glass will emphasise a varietal’s characteristics. As a general rule of thumb, one can select smaller wine glasses for white wine and larger glasses for red. The more full-bodied a wine, the larger the glass, while lighter, fruitier wines can do well in something slightly smaller. The reason that white wine glasses need to be smaller is that white wine should not warm up too much before it is consumed, as opposed to red wine glasses, where the more generous the size, the better. This is for the purpose of aeration, which benefits a complex red, as flavours are exposed and smoothed with air.
Lastly, when tasting wine, make sure to use a thin-rimmed glass that is free of dust, and fill a third of the glass and lift it by its stem. This avoids the inadvertent warming of the glass with your fingers, as a change in temperature may interfere with the flavour of the wine. Before sipping the wine, spin it slowly, sample its aroma and take a small sip.
Food and Wine Pairing
“Choosing the right wine depends entirely on the food you are going to eat and it’s not always easy. Most take several years to master this art”, advises BWC Management & Consulting Portfolio Analyst, Christian Lloyd Beavis. “Generally speaking, red wine should be paired with meats and white wine with fish. Choose a little more wisely by also considering: the heavier the food, the heavier the wine should be. Having said that, there is always freedom to experiment and come up with your own combinations for personal tastes.”
Wine’s enigmatic intricacies start from its production and follow right the way through to its consumption, and it is delightfully open to exploration and adaptation due to this fact. So go on, march fourth without hesitation, and embrace the joie de vivre available in combining your favourite wine with the food you love.
BWC Management & Consulting is one of UK’s leading and longest established wine investment brokerages. They also have a keen interest in the education and support of fine wine consumption.
Fine Wine Investment Manager, Samuel Cheung, also provides quarterly insight into the market via the New Statesman magazine.
If you can’t find what you’re after, or for more on fine wine investment, email Samuel at email@example.com.