By Maggie Walters
I've been in the food, beverage and hospitality scene for about five years now; one and a half of that in wine retail. I've viewed the world of wine from several different perspectives—as a consumer, a salesperson, server, complete novice, and professional. I feel like there's so much confusion about wine (how could there not be, with thousands of grape varieties out there growing from almost every continent) and that's not even getting into service of wine!
I want to help set a good foundation for those of you who are getting just as many mixed signals as I did when I started out (and still do, to tell the truth).
1. Don't – get the term "dryness" confused with tannin structure
This is such an easy thing to get mixed up. Tannins are what give red wine structure, and dry your tongue out. If you've ever tried a wine and your mouth immediately lost all moisture and your tongue felt like a piece of sand paper, you tried a wine with a lot of tannins. The more tannins in a wine, the more severe the sensation. I feel like this often gets mixed up with the term "dry." Dry simply means the wine has no residual sugar, aka it's not sweet. There are all kinds of dry red wines; some are velvety smooth and luscious, others are big, grippy, and bold, and many in-between, but they are all "dry," simply because they're not "sweet."
2. Do – ask for suggestions
I feel like it’s a stereotype that people in wine stores make commission and they're out to "get your money." Nothing could be further from the truth! We get the same paycheck no matter what bottle you grab. Get to asking questions! There are usually a couple of wine pros in every beverage shop excited to share their knowledge with you, even if all you want is a great wine to drink tonight on the couch for under $15 (check out my wine blog, What A Wine Geek Drinks On A Budget Part 1 and Part 2). Trust me, talking about wine and helping you find a bottle is way more fun that pulling inventory from the back!
3. Do – hold your wine glass by the stem
There's so much talk about swirling and sniffing and picking up nuances -- to me the most important thing before all of that jazz is to hold your wine glass properly. If your hand holds the bowl of the wine glass, your hand will heat the wine too much (the ideal drinking temperature for reds is right under 70 degrees), and most important, your nose will pick up smells from your hand more than the delicious wine in your glass. That bathroom soap you just used is really going to get in the way of your sniffer!
4. Don't – be afraid to try new things
There are thousands of grape varieties being made into wine and blended together in endless combinations, just begging someone to branch out from their "norm" and fall in love with them. Go to a tasting bar, (we have one at Colonial) try a grape you've never heard of, try a sip of your friend's wine they brought to the BBQ, and get to sipping! It's amazing how many people turn down a free taste of wine! IT'S FREE!! Don't get discouraged when you taste a bad one, you have to kiss a few frogs before you get a prince, right? In my opinion, the bad wines make the really good wines taste that much better.
5. Do – take pictures
I cannot emphasize this more! When you have an enjoyable experience with a wine, whether it’s at a tasting bar, a friend's house, or out to dinner at a restaurant, snap a quick pic. That way, when you go to a wine shop to find this delicious bottle you won't have to try and remember the funky grape name or place (try pronouncing the region Niederoesterreich). It also helps when you're asking for suggestions from a wine expert! A good expert should ask what kind of wines you enjoy drinking—whip out that phone and swipe through those pictures! You'll be happy you did when you get a more specific recommendation for your personal palate!
There you have it, my top five tips.
I would absolutely love to hear any feedback from this (or any of my other blogs)! I hope this is helpful, and clears up some confusion. My goal is to help people enjoy their wine more and better the chances of going home with a bottle to love.
Now get to trying some new wines!