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Teach me about wine

bigpandabigpanda Registered User regular
edited February 2009 in Help / Advice Forum
I'm not a big drinker so I never spent much time learning about wine. I'm hoping you guys can give me some pretty basic pointers on what's an appropriate amount to spend on a bottle, what are some good ones, and what I should avoid because it's swill (even if high priced swill). Advice about what to pair/not pair with food, and what are good for just enjoying by themselves is appreciated.

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    SammyFSammyF Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Quick and dirty:

    Whites are a bit sweeter, reds have a darker flavor. First step is finding out if you prefer red or white. Always serve white wine chilled. Don't chill red.

    Reds:
    Merlot -- the lager of red wine, in that it has the most subtle flavor. Some like it, I think it's weak sauce and won't even use it in cooking. But that's just me.
    Cabernet Sauvignon--a fuller flavor than merlot but still pretty easy-going. A great starting wine or table wine, pairs easily with red meats.
    Syrah/Shiraz--Syrah comes from Italy, Shiraz is usually from New Zealand, Australia or South America, but it's all the same grape. Some find it too overbearing and aggressive, I like to think of it as playful. Sharp, strong, a bit of spiciness to it.
    Pinot Noir--like my former gay Cherokee roommate, this one's dark but fruity.
    Malbec--I'd call this a scaled-down pinot noir.

    Whites:
    Chardonnay--the "go to" of the white wine world. Use this as your starting point.
    Sauvignon Blanc--may favorite white wine, I think it has a richer flavor. I enjoy this with most white sauces in Italian cooking.
    Riesling--sweet, a great dessert wine. When you try this, note also the texture of the wine, there's always this interesting unevenness that I find intriguing.
    Pinot Grigio--the most popular white wine of Italy, don't drink it that much so I have little to say about it.

    Don't spend more than $15 if you can help it, aim for the $8-12 price range when testing the varieties of wines or you'll spend yourself into debt and not even get drunk for your efforts! Pick a couple of varieties in the same price range, grab a few bottles and start drinking. Take notes about how each wine tastes to you so you can pick out your favorite varieties. Then go back and start sampling within varieties--if you like pinot noir, pick three different labels of pinot noir within the same price range and comparison taste them. Again, take notes on what you like and don't like about each label.

    I could probably sit and think through my favorite labels, but you shouldn't restrict yourself to what I happen to like. Wine's a journey, and you should explore it yourself. :)

    SammyF on
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    embrikembrik Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    I don't know much either, but I caught part of an excellent feature called Wine for the Confused. IMDB.

    It stars John Cleese, so you know it'll be funny. They've aired it on the Fine Living channel, PBS, and the Food network, so you may be able to catch it on TV, or you can order the DVD I linked to, but I thought it was both funny and informative.

    embrik on
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    SarcastroSarcastro Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Ah Sammy, nice to know you indulge.

    That was a great starter post, so I'm not going to add much other than to say don't feel restricted. Just because people say white with fish and red with steak, doesn't mean you have to follow the rules.

    When I was learning about wine, I was extremely lucky in that one of my best friends owned a local restaurant and jazz club. He'd set me up with glasses of all different kinds, and we would compare notes about what we liked and noticed about them. When I go to a restaurant, I always ask for a recomendation; in a good restaurant its thier job to know about thier wines and which ones go with which dishes.

    I'm not shy about trying new things, though occasionally, when seeking that perfect meal, I go with my own knowledge about what would blend.

    I found early on that knowing everything about every major label and location was just too much to deal with, so I generalized by trying a few out of every major type, and then once learning those taste, switching to major locations within that group (australia vs italy vs argentina for example). To me and my fairly untrained palate, I found such a difference between labels that the location doesn't mean much. I can usually pick out a californian or an okanagan, but thats it.

    Within the wines themselves, I settled on one group, in my case Rieslings, and started comparing different labels in that group. When I want a white, I ask if the establishment has one (Rieslings are slightly rarer than other types), and unless I already know its total shit, I go for it. After a while you can pick out the different notes each wine has, and then the basic descriptions following the label on the menu start to mean something. After that you can listen to someone tell you about the wine and have a good idea what they actually mean. What is fruity? What is dry? What difference does an oak cask make? Etc.

    I found it helpful to stick basically to one type of grape so that those differences would stand out more. I still go for others here and there, rounding out my general knowledge, but I seem to have come around to a favourite. I also switch up from one type to another mid meal, and see what difference it makes. Slowly but surely you'll start to know your stuff.

    Edit: Oh, my three favourite Rieslings, in order, all fairly cheap. Drink chilled, and hopefully from a fresh bottle- there's a mild effervescence which dissipates quickly but adds a lot to the taste and texture.

    Henry Pelham
    Inniskillin
    Deinhard

    Sarcastro on
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    FeralFeral MEMETICHARIZARD interior crocodile alligator ⇔ ǝɹʇɐǝɥʇ ǝᴉʌoɯ ʇǝloɹʌǝɥɔ ɐ ǝʌᴉɹp ᴉRegistered User regular
    edited February 2009
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    I like to shill this book partly because the author couldn't be a nicer guy and partly because it's just a damn good book.

    You're in Seattle, which means you're in good wine-buying territory. You're close to Washington wineries and basically good wine is cheap and plentiful anywhere on the west coast.

    Don't worry too much about pairing. A good rule of thumb is: light, or fruity meals go with white wine; dark, heavy, or spicy foods go with red wine. So chicken and salmon go white, especially if it's something like lemon chicken. Beef dishes, tomato-based pasta, or heavily spiced chicken go with red. Generally, the fuller and heavier the flavor of the meal, the fuller and darker the wine. In general, white wines should go in your fridge and served chilled; red wines should go in a cool dark cupboard and served at room temp.

    As the poster above said, $8-12 is a good price for a bottle of wine. You can find a lot of 2005-2006 vintages at Safeway, and generally speaking any $8-12 2005-2006 west coast or Australian wine is going to be a "good enough" buy for somebody who just wants to learn about wine. Don't worry too much about wineries, you'll figure out some favorites eventually. Just for now, write down the varietals (different grapes) from Sammy's post and choose wines based on grape and price.

    Feral on
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    Mr. PokeylopeMr. Pokeylope Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    You want to be careful with vintages. Wine is aged prior to bottling to the point that it is ready drink. Anything that you buy at the $8-12 price range is only going to get worse with age not better. Also keep in mind, White wine is not aged as long as red wine.

    So while a 2005 vintage red wine will likely be fine, with white wines you have a greater chance of getting a crappy bottle. For example we're bottling 2008 vintage White Zinfandel right now. So if you found a 2005 White Zinfandel it would have been sitting on the shelf for 2-3 years and those years will not have been kind to it. This is especially the case with wines with high sugars.

    Don't get too caught up in packaging or price. I've had people put down my companies wine and then talk up another that while more expensive, just happens to be my companies wine that we bottled for them. We even have different brands at different price points that all come from the same tank. It's funny because the only difference is packaging and price and people will swear they can taste a difference.

    Don't be afraid to try different winetypes and don't spend too much.

    Mr. Pokeylope on
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    MooblyMoobly Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    I agree with the price range. An old mentor of mine once summed it up beautifully. "There's much more difference between a $4 and a $14 bottle of wine, than a $14 and $400 bottle." I've never had 400 dollar wine but it seems about right.

    Moobly on
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    EggyToastEggyToast Jersey CityRegistered User regular
    edited February 2009
    If you're really interested in learning more, wine is a great subject because there's really only one way to do it:

    Drink more, and Take notes.

    If you're not drinking it, you won't know what you're tasting. And if you don't keep some sort of note, you won't learn for the next time you're drinking it.

    My wife and I would take labels off bottles and put them in a small book, and then take that to the wine store, so we could buy more bottles that we liked and say "we liked this one, what do you recommend that's similar?" without having to remember all of the years, types, and wineries.

    We've naturally picked it up just from buying more, and can recognize many things that we've had. We've even discovered bad years (2006 grenache from europe, yuck). But you can only do that if you're drinking.

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    EskimoDaveEskimoDave Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    The major motion picture 'Sideways' taught me quite a bit about wine, and I got some laughs out of it.

    EskimoDave on
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    desperaterobotsdesperaterobots perth, ausRegistered User regular
    edited February 2009
    My simple wine rules.

    White with chicken and fish and cream-based pasta (white foods). Red with red meats, and pizza, and tomato based pastas (red foods).

    White if I don't want a headache in the morning. Red if I don't care.

    White if I'm wearing a light coloured shirt. Red if I'm wearing black or my pyjamas.

    White if it's one of those weeks where I'm feeling self-conscious about my teeth. Red if I'm with people who have teeth no better than mine.

    White until I get drunk enough to stop caring about the above. Then red.

    Oh, and nothing under $12 or from africa. Works for me!

    desperaterobots on
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    The CatThe Cat Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited February 2009
    All of the above (except, sauvignon blanc is universally terrible and tastes of lawn clippings doused in vinegar), and also this:

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=cw2gGfD5R4g

    The Cat on
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    Bewildered_RoninBewildered_Ronin Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    EskimoDave wrote: »
    The major motion picture 'Sideways' taught me quite a bit about wine, and I got some laughs out of it.

    Really? All I got out of it is that Lowell is an asshole.

    I'm not much of a wine buff, but I do know quite a bit about beer and they actually have a lot in common.

    The advice on pricing is pretty spot-on, but don't feel like you shouldn't ever break the $15 barrier. A lot of my more favorite wines hover right around that mark, and most sit about $13-$18. I've had $50 bottles, I've had $8 bottles, and generally the $50 is better than the $5, but not better than the $15. If you do plan on getting a really expensive bottle, make sure you go through a vetted and thoroughly reputable dealer. Big money is made through selling fake vintages. People have been ripped off to the tune of thousands of dollars because they bought a whole case of knock-off vintage wine. Even worse is that many probably have been ripped off and never known it. How can you tell if something you've never tasted doesn't taste right?

    A good thing to do is to go to your local wine shop, and I don't mean Total Wine. Usually smaller shops will host tastings that will help expose you to different grape varieties, regions, styles, blends and so forth. A lot of these stores will also have classes you can take to learn more about wine. Go to a few vineyards. You get to try their wine (some charge fees for tastings, others don't) and you get to talk to staff that are knowledgeable about wine. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the vineyard staff nor of the store staff. These people deal with wine for a living and are enthusiastic about it. The real problem you'll have isn't getting them to answer a question or give advice, but getting them to shut up.

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    L*2*G*XL*2*G*X Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    If he's not a big drinker maybe he should stay away from wine. Not to spoil your fun or anything, but I know many people that go overboard on wine because of it's cultural and gastronomical connotations. It's ok to drink at home, especially in a couple or amongst friends. It's nice to 'crack open another bottle', fun to compare different wines.

    However, one bottle of wine is 9 units of alcohol. Meaning if you have only three bottles a week you're damaging your liver.

    L*2*G*X on
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    MichaelLCMichaelLC In what furnace was thy brain? ChicagoRegistered User regular
    edited February 2009
    L*2*G*X wrote: »
    However, one bottle of wine is 9 units of alcohol. Meaning if you have only three bottles a week you're damaging your liver.

    Bah. He can always grow a new one.

    Wine is fun because it is all so different. Just get a bottle or two and have at it.

    MichaelLC on
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    SatanIsMyMotorSatanIsMyMotor Fuck Warren Ellis Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    I'm about to give the best advice I've ever given. I am a HUGE fan of wine and I honestly feel that the best way to learn is to be instructed by someone who knows their stuff - in this case a sommelier.

    Here's what you do. Get a big group of friends (15-20 people) and contact a decent restaurant. Ask them if they would do a wine tasting. They do this sort of thing all the time and it isn't even really expensive. You can either do it with just wine or they may want to pair it with food. Obviously, if they pair it with food it will be more expensive.

    Around here it costs about $35 a head to do something like this (maybe $50 if food is involved). You will learn SO MUCH about wine whilst having the best time ever. You will also get quite drunk by the end of evening. Oftentimes the Sommelier will bring a "special treat" wine that is ridiculously pricey for you to drink as well.

    My friends and I have done this 2 or 3 times and are about to do the same thing this Friday for a beer tasting. I know this sounds a bit over the top for your question but it is SOO worth it.

    SatanIsMyMotor on
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    SixSix Caches Tweets in the mainframe cyberhex Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Lots of excellent advice so far in this thread. I also drink a ton of wine, and aside from everything that's been said (especially about focusing on the $10-$14 range), I'd recommend finding a good local wine shop and spending some time talking with the people that work there. You don't necessarily need to buy all your wine there - if you find a bottle you like, you may very well be able to get it cheaper elsewhere - but it can help knowing someone who really knows there stuff and can recommend new things.

    Six on
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    Sir CarcassSir Carcass I have been shown the end of my world Round Rock, TXRegistered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Also, if you have a Carino's in your area, they have a monthly charity thing where you get a four course meal specially paired with 4 different wines, for around $30 a person. These meals aren't their usual menu fare, but are specially made for the event.

    Sir Carcass on
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    oakloreoaklore Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    One point I'd like to make and it is mentioned but I'm not sure if it is stressed enough here is about food pairings with wine. Pairing food with wine is one of the most satisfying components of wine drinking.

    A good food and wine pairing will have the wine acting to enhance the flavor of the food and vice versa.

    Having some food in your mouth take a sip of wine to see how this works. Someone already mentioned the pairings in a post above. Something simple to try in order to experience this would be have a merlot or cabernet with some meaty red sauced spaghetti, a bite of steak, or even a hamburger.

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    vonPoonBurGervonPoonBurGer Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    nothing under $12 or from africa
    I couldn't disagree more with the Africa comment. I spent this past Saturday touring some wineries around Cape Town, South Africa, and sampled some really fantastic wines. Maybe they don't travel well to North America, but I'm more inclined to suspect that you simply haven't tried the right African wines. I can't yet say which ones that get imported are any good, that's actually something I plan to try and find out over the next few months.

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    bigpandabigpanda Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Quick question.

    How long can you keep a bottle of wine after you open it? I'm assuming it requires refrigeration.

    bigpanda on
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    SatanIsMyMotorSatanIsMyMotor Fuck Warren Ellis Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    bigpanda wrote: »
    Quick question.

    How long can you keep a bottle of wine after you open it? I'm assuming it requires refrigeration.

    Doesn't require refridgeration unless it's a white. A red I wouldn't keep for more than a few days. Others would say less and some would say more.

    SatanIsMyMotor on
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    AnteCantelopeAnteCantelope Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    bigpanda wrote: »
    Quick question.

    How long can you keep a bottle of wine after you open it? I'm assuming it requires refrigeration.

    Doesn't require refridgeration unless it's a white. A red I wouldn't keep for more than a few days. Others would say less and some would say more.

    A red will last longer, after opening, if you keep it in the fridge. You then have to let it warm up again, obviously. You could also buy a wine preserver, which is inert gas that sits on top of the wine, and stops it from oxidising. They're not too expensive, and they do actually work. Alternately, you could stop being a pansy, and drink the whole thing.

    As for starting with wine, I'd get one or a couple of each major varietal, and try them out. Work out if you like the buttery richness of chardonnay, the acidity of riesling, or the rich full flavour of shiraz. From there, go into specifics. I can't really help with the specifics though, because I'm Australian, and don't know the American market that well.

    AnteCantelope on
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    desperaterobotsdesperaterobots perth, ausRegistered User regular
    edited February 2009
    nothing under $12 or from africa
    I couldn't disagree more with the Africa comment. I spent this past Saturday touring some wineries around Cape Town, South Africa, and sampled some really fantastic wines. Maybe they don't travel well to North America, but I'm more inclined to suspect that you simply haven't tried the right African wines. I can't yet say which ones that get imported are any good, that's actually something I plan to try and find out over the next few months.

    Yeah. You're right, it was an unfair generalisation. I've just had a bad encounter with an African wine, it tasted like the dusty feet of a tribe of starving aids orphans.

    desperaterobots on
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