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John's Guide to Wine

Monday August 3, 2015

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“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”
― Andre Simon

I for one am eminently glad that the bad old days have now passed when going into a pub and ordering a glass of wine would have the rest of the clientele loudly questioning your sexuality. I’m even more glad that the days have passed when asking for wine would result in a simple question – red or white?

And yet, wine still holds a degree of mystery. I think we’re all more comfortable these days ordering wine, knowing which wines we like and, perhaps most importantly, which ones result in a near death experience the next morning.

But wine can still feel a little inaccessible. Choice isn’t always a good thing. For example, you’re on a first date, the waiter or Sommelier asks which wine you’d like to drink and you freeze in mild panic. Perhaps like most people you browse the list in a way which looks educated but really you’re trying to decide between the second or third cheapest bottle. It’s a fine line between appearing ignorant and appearing to be a wine snob.

Once you do order and the bottle appears at the table should you taste it? It’s a screw top so what’s the etiquette? It’s a cork so should you sniff it? Or do you nonchalantly wave your hand with a devil may care, ‘pour away my dear fellow’ gesture only to take your first sip, discover it’s corked or you suspect it may be and now what do you do oh god panic is about to set in and your date is looking uncomfortable please get me out of here and I wish I’d ordered beer!

Well relax. I’m here to help.

Buy yourself some time
Don’t be rushed into ordering. Suggest something refreshing before you start. Allow your date to choose a glass of something and select something straight forward for yourself. Personally, I’ll generally grab a refreshing bottled lager before choosing a wine.

The KISS Principle
KISS-Keep It Simple, Stupid. Easier said than done if you’re not too familiar but here’s a short guide to what you can look for.

White
Chenin Blanc is a fairly straight forward white. South African and South Australian Chenin Blanc tends to be more consistent than French so if in doubt, head to the New World. Crisp sweetness is the order of the day.

Chardonnay is the same grape used to make champagne. However, it varies significantly and if I don’t know the particular wine, I’ll avoid it just in case. You’ll almost always do well with a Chablis however which is generally quite citrusy and ‘lively’ which means you’ll feel a little dance on your tongue. Ooh.

Pinot Grigio is generally a good default if you like light, crisp wines. Californian Pinto Grigio tends to be a little dryer than French with German often being sweeter still. Pinot Grigio is generally inexpensive as well. There are also some great New Zealand Pino Grigio and if you manage to find one that’s reasonably priced I’d grab one straight away.

Reds
Pinot Noir is often considered the royalty of red wines. If you can find a reasonably priced New Zealand Pinot Noir then grab it straight away. Pinot Noir is generally light in colour and texture and works well with a wide range of foods.

Laissez faire relaxation is easily found in a good bottle of Merlot. It’s a very versatile red that will go with all but the most delicate foods. It’s straight forward, fruity and smooth to drink and is generally very reasonably priced.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a more savoury wine and one that almost always gets better with age. While its high tannin can add to its depth of flavour it can also make it taste abrasive. In other words, high tannin can give your teeth that weird gritty feeling and is more likely to stain your lips and teeth. Something to aware of on a first date.

Shiraz varietals are the boldest of all but vary considerably in drinkability and price. If you’re going for a doe eyed tipsy then Shiraz is your go to. Probably best for a third or fourth date where you know you get on in a relaxed fashion and can find a comfortable couch next to a fire place.

To Taste or not to Taste?
Traditionally we taste wines to see if they’re corked. But to be honest, the tradition is more to do with ritual – the chief or host generally being the first to taste before everyone else’s is poured.

The percentage of wines that are corked is very small and, occasionally, a wine that requires decanting can taste as if it’s corked if it hasn’t been aired fully. And yes, screw top wines can be ‘corked’ although the percentage is even smaller.  

My advice is to taste with a little swirl , a quick sip and, as long as it’s not tasting of manure, pour away.

Taste before buying!
Don’t be afraid to ask to try a wine or two before choosing. Any venue worth its salt will be happy to give you a snifter.

Also, feel free to be honest with you waiter. I’ve had some of the best wines simply by telling the waiter I have no idea what I’m doing and asking for recommendations.

I’m always nervous that they’ll guide me to something crazily expensive and I’ll be too embarrassed to say no. However, I’ve discovered a great way to communicate your requirements without sounding like a cheap-skate. Ask the waiter for something ‘entry level’.

No one has any idea but the waiter what you mean and it occasionally makes you sound vaguely knowledgeable.

Okay, maybe I’m kidding myself but at least I’m not bankrupt and I’m almost always pleased with the result.

Ultimately, there is no real mystery to wine. Wine is a social drink that brings with it a variety of rituals, myths, beliefs, falsehoods and general good times.

You shouldn’t let a fear of choosing a wine spoil your enjoyment. The best advice I ever received was from a wine maker in the Barossa Valley – incidentally home to the longest continually producing Shiraz vines in the world – where she told me in no uncertain terms that the best wines in the world are… wait for it… the ones you like to drink the most. In other words, what makes a good wine is not dictated by fashion but instead by what you like the taste of.

So next time you’re choosing a wine, ask to try a couple, find one you like within your budget and go for your life. Unless you’re on a date with an Oenophile in which case, why are you having to do all the work!?

Why am I telling you this? Within the next 24 hours we’ll be announcing a brand new and exclusive wine based event we’re sure you’ll want to be a part of. No harm in being prepared.

WORDS BY JOHN DAVIS