You know the difference between red and white (with your eyes open) – but how can you bluff your wine-knowledge without the years of study?
So you know the difference between red and white (with your eyes open), but that is as far as your wine knowledge goes. Years of study, tasting and general hard work can make anyone a wine expert, but if you haven’t got time for that, there is still opportunity to impress your friends and bluff your way through a sommelier’s wine list.
Region or Grape??
Drawn a blank on whether something is a region or grape? It is easily done, for years Beck thought Rioja was only a red and not a place in Spain. Labelling styles can vary, we don’t all have a PHD in geography, and terms like ‘Old World’ / ‘New World’ are tossed about to add to the confusion.
The rule of thumb here is that Old World wines – those made in and around Europe – label their wines as regions rather than grape variety. New World – your Australian, Chilean, Argentinian and US – label theirs as grape. Old World labelling is mainly down to tradition as wine making practices were, and still are, highly regulated to help showcase a region’s characteristics.
While there are hundreds of regions out there, and even more grape types, getting familiar with the core set can be enough to pass your bluff:
- White grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris/ Pinot Grigio
- Red grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/ Shiraz, Pinot Noir
If you see a region labelled wine, it will usually be made of of these:
- Bordeaux, France – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc (Red)
- Burgundy, France – Pinot Noir (Red), Chardonnay (White)
- Cotes du Rhône – Châteauneuf du Pape, France – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (Red)
- Barolo and Barbaresco, Italy – Nebbiolo (Red),
- Chianti (Tuscany), Italy – Sangiovese (Red)
- Rioja, Spain – Tempranillo (Red)
- Mosel, Germany – Riesling (White)
Look, sniff, taste, spit/swallow
Okay, we have all gulped down a glass of wine without giving it too much thought. It’s either been drinkable or undrinkable. But this type of behaviour is a no-no for a wine-know. For expert standing, it is all about tasting your wine. This involves not overfilling your glass, staring long and hard, swirling, sniffing, swirling again, and then taking in a small amount of wine while you make an audible sucking noise. Pause and try to decipher those smells and flavours.
Don’t diss Chardonnay
“Oooh, I hate Chardonnay” is a common phase that makes wine-knows grate their teeth. That’s because some of the world’s greatest whites are made from this grape. Have you ever said – “I hate Chardonnay but love Chablis”? Well, it’s Chardonnay. Love Champagne? It’s for the most part Chardonnay. A social chameleon of a grape – Chardonnay is a creature of its environment and handlers. It can be cool and crisp, creamy and buttery or bold and oaky. So remember, don’t diss a Chardonnay straight off – ask where it is from and its style – and then make a face.
Choose your vessel carefully
You might think it’s hipster to be drinking out of jam-jars, mason-jars, candle-stick holders or whatever the kids are now doing, but this is another no-no for wine-knows.
Think oversized for big reds and ultra-thin for bubbles. It’s all about helping the wine to breathe, develop and keep their fizz. There are a number of brands eager to help you achieve wine–know status – they are expensive, you are likely to break them, but my God, you will be taken seriously.
Try the different – go funky
Most wine –knows love a Riesling, anything from Austria (try the Gruner Vetliner) and good Cabinet Francs. So to pass as a wine-know, you should occasionally put down the Pinot Grigio and go off-shelf.
Expand your vocab
“Mmmmmm…… fruity” is just not going to cut it as a wine-know. You will need to expand your vocab and introduce words like: Floral (when it’s usually white but you can’t taste much fruit); Herbaceous (you know, when some red wines taste “green”), Lean (lacks fruit and anything else. Note: seen as a criticism), Complex (when you think you can taste more than three things); Tannic (that dry mouth click you get after drinking a big red). And remember, anything you say must be said with confidence.
Sherry is (back?) in fashion. It is more than Bristol Cream and no longer seen as the stuff in your nan’s dusty drinks cabinet that has been opened and there for years. Sherry is recognised by wine-knows as one of the most undervalued wines out there. So embrace the Jerez, pour out the Fino (or Amontillado or Oloroso), and partner the tapas. Remember – Sherry is served chilled and the lighter ones should be dis-guarded a couple of weeks after opening.