Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Wine help for the uneducated


jrinct
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hi all,

i am looking to broaden my horizons in regards to wine. Basically, i will use it to cook ( white wine, marsala) but not much of a wine drinker( never cared for it ). I DO enjoy OPICI, which is a barberone, but am NOT ANY type of wine expert. My tastes would gravitate to the sweeter wines --almost to the sangria range, LOL!

Do NOT like dry wines AT ALL!

That being said ( and I KNOW this is VERY subjective) where would be the best place to start for research. A good wine recommendation or 2 wouldnt hurt either to try with a meal.

Thanks in advance.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm way not a wine expert, but here are the things I have done to get started.

First, I think Wine for Dummies is actually a pretty good book in terms of giving you the fundamentals and a good basis to go from. I still need to buy a copy (I read the restaurant's copy and find I've forgotten a lot of things and would like to be able to look them up).

Second, just start drinking some wines. If you go into a wine shop with decent staff, a lot of times they can point you in the direction of something they like, personally, and you can find out if you like it or not. Then the next time you go in, you can tell them what you thought and they can direct you further. Restaurants with staff that are knowledgeable about wine can serve the same purpose, although your wallet will probably take more of a hit that way. :wink:

The thing that's actually taught me the most about wine is working in a restaurant that sells it. We don't have a sommelier or anything, but we do have wine tastings for the staff every other week or so, where our wine reps come in and talk about the wines a little bit, what foods we could pair them with, etc. I feel like I know a thousand times more about wine than I used to. I don't know if there's any situation that can compare to this without actually taking a job in a restaurant that has a similar training program, but someone who knows more about wine can probably say.

Before I start this list, allow me to point out that my wine descriptions are not great yet. I have a hard time tasting the fruits I'm "supposed" to and even frequently confuse dry wines with lighter ones; mostly all I can do is tell you whether I like something or not. I'm working on that, but meantime, take any descriptions below with a grain of salt beyond my personal enjoyment level. I also don't remember vintages.

Just as a reference point, here are some of the wines we sell a lot of (mostly our by-the-glass stuff) and people seem to like:

- Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay (apparently the most popular Chardonnay in the US; I used to like it a lot more than I do now)

- Beringer White Zin (it's not going to wrestle with your palate any)

- Jekel Riesling (used to be my favorite wine; it's a little sweet so you might like it)

- Columbia Crest Merlot (eh) and Cabernet Sauvignon (eh)

- Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon (haven't had this in a long time so I don't remember)

Some wines that I have really liked quite a lot recently:

- Pascal Jolivet Sancerre (white)

- Murphy-Goode Liar's Dice Zinfandel (red)

- Louis Latour Cote de Beaune (red)

- Georges DuBoeuf Moulin-A-Vent (red)

- Banfi Brachetto d'Acqui Rosa Regale (sparkling, pretty sweet red - try this one, it's neat)

- Wild Horse Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

- Cambria Pinot Noir

I used to hate all wine. Then I hated anything that wasn't white zin or riesling. Then I hated only red wines. Now I like them. Who knew? Maybe someday I'll get it all figured out..!

Oh, I had 2 glasses of the K-J chard last night and have to say that by the end of the second I was pretty convinced I no longer enjoy this wine at all.

Jennie

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Wine For Idiots book is a good reference, however, a more fun read is Great Wines Made Simple by Andrea Immer. Immer loves Rieslings and Pinot Gris from Alsace -- two types of wine I think you'd really enjoy. Riesling (look for the word "kabinett") is somewhat sweet and is a much more complex wine than, oh, Pink Zin -- which is sweet but boring.

Here are my recommendations:

Hogue Johannisburg Riesling

Columbia Crest Gewurtzraminer (a bit sweet and spicy -- try after you've tried Riesling)

Snoqualmie Vineyards Chenin Blanc -- inexpensive white with a not so subtle honey taste. It has a lot going on for a Chenin Blanc.

The above are all slightly sweet whites.

If you'd like to branch out to fruitier, I suggest La Crema Pinot Noir. It will be much dryer than YOU are used to since you're just getting into wine, but it's smooth and will not leave that tannic glaze on your tongue.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

i always recommend willie gluckstern's book, the wine avenger.  a great introduction.  short.  cheap.  immer's book, as mentioned by claire797 is also very good, although it's a bit more comprehensive.  i'd actually recommend both for any beginner.

I'll second Gluckstern's book, although he is definitely very, very biased toward Germanics/Alsatians and Italian reds. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. :biggrin:

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice suggestions by all. Just remember it is only in the USA we are so hung up about wine, or should I say hung up about making mistakes. If you go forward with the suggestions these people you have made you won't go wrong. In Europe most people just drink the local wines without too much thought.

When you are starting in wine there is nothing wrong with staying on the cheap side. Whites are often easier to start with than reds. If you don't want to dig into the books (or even if you do) seek a a good retailer who can guide you through their selections and whom you can share your likes and dislikes with so they can guide you to wines that appeal to you.

In the days before white zinfandel, the 'entry' wines for most were German. I still think inexpensive Kabinett wines from Germany with their low alcohol and light sweetness is a great place to start.

If you have specific questions about wines you have tasted or taste in the future please feel free to e-mail me with questions.

Most of all just have fun. Wine is about enjoyment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Someone a lot smarter than I once said that you learn best by doing, not reading. With wine, that about doubles your pleasures. I have nothing against any of the above book, but from what you save on the cover price, you drink more wine!

If you like sweet wine, begin with German varietals: gewurtztraminer, riesling, gruner veltiner. You might also try sweet wines made in France from, particularly, semillon and muscat. You could also try Sherry, which is very underrated as a food-friendly wine, and is one of the best wine values in the world.

Also, don't try to educate your palate with cheap wine. Buy the best you can, especially since $10-15 can buy very good wines in all of the above categories (except for Port and Sauternes).

My advice is to start with German riesling. The labels are notoriously difficult to read, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be ok. Look for the following producers: Fritz Haag, Dr. Loosen, J.J. Prum, Dr. Burkin Wolf, J.J. Christoffel, Freidrich Wilhelm Gymnasium, Selbach-Oster, Dr. H. Thanisch, Max Ferd. Richter. They are pretty widely available and all offer very good wines. German riesling is classified by sweetness. I would advise beginning with spatlese wines, which are sweet, but not extremely so (the sweeter, the more expensive). You can also try kabinett wines, which are very good food wines and are generally very reasonable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My suggestion would be to join a tutored wine tasting club or evening class, if that translates beyond the UK. That way you will learn how to taste and be able to compare wines together rather than by memory. You will also find out which wines you prefer without having to buy and open whole bottles.

Don't be put off that such events may be full of experts. Do some of the background reading recommended here and you will piece things together over time.

Another complimentary approach is to attend larger untutored events such as those hosted by wine merchants. Get on their mailing lists and you'll soon get invites. Entry usually costs as much as a modest bottle.

Of course I appreciate that the opportunities for this approach may be limited in remote areas :sad:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The first wine book I read when I decided I wanted to learn more about wine was Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly. It's easy to read straight through or use as a reference book. It's well organized and contains tons of information in an easy to read format.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will second those who have recommended Andrea Immer's book and the Wine Avenger by Gluckstern. The best thing about Gluckstern's book is that it dispells so many of the myths and hype that exist in the wine world today, especially the fawning over huge brawny super-extracted reds that really dont pair well with food at all. Gluckstern explains how wine goes with food better than anyone.

If you want to take your wine knowledge to the next level, I recommend Kevin Zraly's book, which I believe is called the Windows on the World Wine Course, or something like that. No other book so simply breaks down all the different types of wine and geographical regions where they are made. Plus, he teaches you how to read a label.

As far as wines go, I highly recommend whites wines from Alsace. Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling from that region are delicious, well-balanced wines that are lower in alcohol and pair very well with a wide variety of foods. Some are off-dry and will tickle your sweet tooth, others are bone dry and have great acidity to make your dinner even more mouth watering. Trimbach is good example of the latter style and is easily found in wine shops everywhere. If you are more comfortable with American wines, try the rieslings from the Finger Lakes region of New York. I like Dr. K. Frank, Swedish Hills, Goosewatch, Knapp, and Shelldrake.

For reds, try those from the Loire Valley, namely Chinon and Bourguiel. These are medium bodied, fruity reds, made from the cabernet frnac grape. They drink well young, so no ageing required. They have a great raspberry flavor and pair well with lots of food.

I would also recommed trying reds from the southern rhone valley and languedoc. Wines such as Cotes du Rhone, Corbieres, Faugeres, Coteaux du Languedoc, and Costieres de Nimes, may sound intimidating, but they are very afofrdable and delicious wines made from Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah grapes.

Good luck.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of the things I like best about both Immer's book and Windows on the World is that they give some examples of reliable (meaning consistent over most vintages) wines at different price points that you can use both to gauge your palate and as a jumping off point for exploring new wines. If you live near a liquor store with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff you can go in and say "I had wine XYZ and really loved it. Can you recommend something similar in the same price range (or a notch higher/lower)?" That's when the fun really starts :biggrin:.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Suprised no one has mentioned Australian Shiraz. These wines are technically dry, but they are so rich and fruity that they often convey an impression of sweetness that is relatively unique among red wines. Plus there are many widely available and quite affordable examples - just about anything from Rosemount is worth a try (their Diamond Label Shiraz has started many wine drinking careers over the years), and even the ubiquitous Yellowtail may be worth a try.

Good luck.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Over the past month, I've read Wine for Dummies, Windows on the World Wine Course 2003, & Great Wine Made Simple. All three are excellent books & I'd recommend them all. If forced to choose just one, I'd recommend Immer's Great Wine--hands down.

Given the above, I'd also recommend actually working through Immer's "tastings." You really need to have some sense of both grape varietials AND wine-making styles. Armed with that, you'll be able to make your own decisions as to what *you* like & what *you* don't like. Of course, your taste will probably change over time! :biggrin:

So, I won't even recommend any specific wines. My taste has changed drastically over the years & continues to change quite a bit.

Also, since the original poster asked about pairing wine & food, I'd again emphasis Immer's "tastings" in Great Wine. Then pick up her latest book--Great Tastes Make Simple. It's all about wine & food pairings.

Let us know how you proceed & best wishes on your adventures!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you like sweet wine, begin with German varietals:  gewurtztraminer, riesling, gruner veltiner.
(Bolding added)

I must jump in and state that Gruner Veltliner is the white grape of AUSTRIA, not Germany. The wines are delicious and very food friendly, but BONE CHILLING DRY (think fignernails on blackboard), and generally not sweet in the least. Probably not a good "training wheels" wine choice. All the Riesling and Gewurztraminer suggestions are good ones though. The wine categorization system in Germany is based on the ripeness of the grapes at the time of harvest. That being said, the Kabinett (second level above QBA or Gemany's "vin du table" equivalent) means the grapes were picked earlier than the Spatlese grapes which are riper. Then come the Auslese which can occasionally be as sweet as dessert wines, the Beerenauslese (literally translated "picked by the berry") and trockenbeerenauslese (means Dried {trocken} berries" - literally hanging on the vine until raisin-like). Clearly the longer the grapes get "hang time", the riper and sweeter they'll become. Add to that the drying effects and concentration of sugars as the water evapoates out and the grapes begin to wither and you have some gloriously sweet dessert wines in the trockenbeerenauslese category. Not stuff for quaffing with dinner, but a nectar like treat for after dinner.

Someone a lot smarter than I once said that you learn best by doing, not reading.  With wine, that about doubles your pleasures.  I have nothing against any of the above book, but from what you save on the cover price, you drink more wine!

This is all true, but the books that have been suggested are all excellent choices. I'd also suggest picking up a copy of a "user friendly"wine magazine like Wine & Spirits, which reviews wines for quality and value in terms you don't have to be a sommelier to appreciate, or a bank president to afford. The articles are also written in a style for either the beverage professional, or the lay person.

On the note of doing, I'd say try and find some "Wine 101" classes in your area. The American Somelier's Association (Click here) gives classes or could steer you to some more introductory level classes since their members are likely the instructors. I've taken many wine classes in my day, but really enjoyed one that I took with Willie Gluckstern at what is now the Instuitute for Culinary Education (Click here) in New York. Many culinary schools have a wine education program, and some of these classes may be open to the public. Also, check the "Food Calendar" section in your local newspaper's Food section for any classes or tastings in your area. The only way to learn what wines you really like are to try as many as you can. Read and see what intrugues you and then TASTE it! :biggrin:

Cheers and have fun!

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you like sweet wine, begin with German varietals:  gewurtztraminer, riesling, gruner veltiner.
(Bolding added)

I must jump in and state that Gruner Veltliner is the white grape of AUSTRIA, not Germany. The wines are delicious and very food friendly, but BONE CHILLING DRY (think fignernails on blackboard), and generally not sweet in the least.

There are quite a few exceptions to the rule - Vintners such as Prager, Knoll and Nigl make GV's that can be herbaceous, peppery, and minty, but not bone chilling dry by any means. I've even had some excellent GV TBA's too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are quite a few exceptions to the rule - Vintners such as Prager, Knoll and Nigl make GV's that can be herbaceous, peppery, and minty, but not bone chilling dry by any means. I've even had some excellent GV TBA's too.

Gordon:

Of course, you're right, there's always exceptions, but generally speaking, I wouldn't recommend Gruner Veltliner as a "starter" wine as it is more often than not, quite dry.

I just drank a bottle of '99 Prager GV on Wednesday evening with a fabulous Japanese omakase tasting. Also had some Ratzenberger trocken Sekt along with it, and a chilled bottle of Denshin sake as well. All great choices with the food, as was echoed by my dining companions as well.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I feel that many of the Gruners I've had in the past year are moving away from the Razor-sharp acidity that many young GV's possess. I think a lot of the wine makers are modifying their vinification to "mainstream" their wines - But I will agree, It's not the wine of choice for someone whose drink of choice is a fuzzy navel - maybe a Cosmo though.

Edited by GordonCooks (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am not the best at reading to learn what my palate has to decide. ( I love to read in general) I would recommend that you go to a really good wine shop that does wine tastings. Pick different styles of wines to taste, take notes so you can keep track mof your changes in taste. It will take a while, but you will discover your likes and dislikes. As you find things you like, go to restaurants to try them out with the appropriate foods. Once you get a feel for wines, try to find older vintages of the same wines. This will give you an indication of the potential development over time of the wines. Chances are you will become a collector. Also try to get a group of your friends together to do dinners, experimenting with different wines. Remember that the same wine can taste different with different food, so don't write off a wine till you try it with different foods.

" Food and Wine Fanatic"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I feel that many of the Gruners I've had in the past year are moving away from the Razor-sharp acidity that most many young GV's possess. I think a lot of the wine makers are modifying their vinification to "mainstream" their wines - But I will agree, It's not the wine of choice for someone whose drink of choice is a fuzzy navel - maybe a Cosmo though.

All this stuff is true. Actually, winemakers in MANY countries are realizing that the U.S./U.K./Canadian palates and wallets are what they want to shoot for. Look at the stylistic changes in N.Z. and Aussie wines or South African wines for a great example of that. The exception in this particular case is that most of the Austrian wine makers are really expediting their vintages right out to market, so invariably, the wines are always young. I don't think I've ever seen an Austrian wine at retail that was over three or four years old (it's hard enough to find a good retail source anyway, at least around these parts), and only on a wine list at a really upper end restaurant (Danube had some really nice Gruners on their list) that had the storage space to age stuff themselves. Sometimes I wonder if the Austrian winemakers realize they're the "trendy" thing right now and are afraid it'll wear off or someone will remember the Antifreeze scandal and it will all come to a screeching halt :laugh:

I'll heartily agree with the Fuzzy Navel vs. Cosmo analogy, though. :smile:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I must jump in and state that Gruner Veltliner is the white grape of AUSTRIA, not Germany. 

The wines are delicious and very food friendly, but BONE CHILLING DRY (think fignernails on blackboard), and generally not sweet in the least. 

The wine categorization system in Germany is based on the ripeness of the grapes at the time of harvest.

I have to correct a few things here.

1. The term "german varietals" refers to grapes in the germanic region, not to the political borders of modern-day Germany. That is why german varietals are grown to this day in . . . ITALY, as well as in Austria. Also, some of the best rieslings in the world come from Austria, debunking the myth that Austians only make good GVs.

2. GV is certainly not "bone chilling dry." While it is certainly not as sweet as, say, an auslese riesling from the Mosel, well made GVs tend to be lower in acidity and therefore appeal to sweet wine drinkers looking for more food friendly wines.

3. In general, the ripeness level of the grapes in Germany are indicative of the eventual residual sugar content of the wine.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I must jump in and state that Gruner Veltliner is the white grape of AUSTRIA, not Germany. 

The wines are delicious and very food friendly, but BONE CHILLING DRY (think fignernails on blackboard), and generally not sweet in the least. 

The wine categorization system in Germany is based on the ripeness of the grapes at the time of harvest.

I have to correct a few things here.

1. The term "german varietals" refers to grapes in the germanic region, not to the political borders of modern-day Germany. That is why german varietals are grown to this day in . . . ITALY, as well as in Austria. Also, some of the best rieslings in the world come from Austria, debunking the myth that Austians only make good GVs.

2. GV is certainly not "bone chilling dry." While it is certainly not as sweet as, say, an auslese riesling from the Mosel, well made GVs tend to be lower in acidity and therefore appeal to sweet wine drinkers looking for more food friendly wines.

3. In general, the ripeness level of the grapes in Germany are indicative of the eventual residual sugar content of the wine.

1. By Germanic varietals in Italy you must be refering to Alto Adige. Alto Adige was Austrian unitl WW1 and to this day is more Austrian in character than Italian. Traminer (Gewurztraminer) is named for the town of Tramin in this area and Tramin is considered the modern home of Traminer - not Germany. The Reisling Italico of Italy is not the same varietal as the Reisling of Germany. There is some Rhine Reisling in Italy but not much.

By the way - what myth are you refering to about Austria only making good GV? I see review after review on other varietals.

2. One man's sweet is another man's dry. I'll agree with Katie here also - for me these are dry wines.

3. An Auslese in the Mosel does not have the same impact of sweetness as one from the Rheingau or Rheinhessen. There not only variations in region but from vineyard to vineyard and producer to producer. Katie's statement is correct and the legal reference on the label is based on sugar at harvest. If you doubt this just try an Auslese Trocken.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First, I think the original post was a request for suggestions about "dry" wines that someone who liked sweet wines would enjoy, not for recommendations for sweet wines. I stand by my recommendation taht someone who likes sweet wines and is looking for a dry wine should look to gruner veltliner.

Second, I said -- if you read closely -- that the ripeness at harvest is indicative of the residual sugar of the eventual wine, not that the classification system is based on residual sugar. While I acknowledge that differences exist, I have not had, for example, a TBA that is in any way less sweet than a kabinett.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...