Have you ever been confused by a wine list or bamboozled by the rows and rows of vinous offerings at your local retailer? Well, fear no more! Here are 17 bright ideas to help you make sense of the mystery of the vine and take you on a never-ending journey to learn, appreciate and drink great wine!
Buy wine in a bottle not a box – OK, there are some OK wines in a box but if you’re really looking for quality, I’d be putting my money into glass not cardboard. We’re lucky in Australia that we have some really affordable, great quality wines. Seek them out. You’ll thank me.
Find a retailer you like – Head to a few local shops, look at the range and chat to the expert on the floor. Find someone as interested in wine as you are and who’s willing to answer your questions, naturally and not in a wanky wine way. Wine is a thing that bonds people so find a merchant who loves wine, is happy to talk about it and to share the love…..you’ll be astounded at how quickly you fall in love too.
Do a wine course – Learn some stuff. Do it with a friend or your partner. You wouldn’t buy a white good for the kitchen without doing some research, wine’s no different and much more fun. And let me tell you, there are tougher ways to spend your time than hanging out with lushes just like you! You’ll discover some of the mysteries of wine and food matching…..who knew sherry was great with oysters? Lots of independent merchants run courses as do TAFEs and Adult Education institutions. Google and go.
Trust the sommelier – If you’re in a restaurant, this is the person who’s crafted the wine list, painstakingly working out what works with the food. At least that’s the theory. Ask the staff about what they recommend and why. Think about the flavours of the food and what flavours in the wine may complement it. Think about the weight of the wine that you like to drink. It is light or medium or heavily bodied? And don’t think too much. Let the sommelier do it for you.
Investigate wine regions and which varieties grow best there – This idea of particular varieties being suited to particular regions is not new. The French even have a name for it – terroir – and whilst it sounds terrifying, it’s really just common sense. Some things grow better in some places than others and it’s all about the climate, the soil and the topography, the vine’s natural environment. For a start, if I was thinking Riesling, I’d be thinking the Clare Valley. Semillon – Hunter Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon – Coonawarra. Pinot Noir – Tasmania. Chardonnay – Yarra Valley and Shiraz – Barossa Valley. Of course, this list is not definitive but it will help direct you to a pretty safe bet.
Live dangerously – Take a risk, choose something you don’t know. We all know that we love ‘Savvy’ but have you tried a Spanish Albarino or an Austrian Gruner Veltliner? Push the boundaries, give it a go and see where the journey takes you. I guarantee you won’t look back. And after all, how dangerous can it be?
Don’t be swayed by the label – A picture tells a thousand words and we’ve all been guilty of being fooled by a good looking label and not just on a wine bottle I’m suspecting. However, some of the finest wines have the most uninspiring labels – they let what’s in the bottle speak for itself.
Be swayed by the label. If you see a great looking label that makes you smile, the chances are the peeps behind it are clever. We can only hope they’ve instilled that creativity into their winemaking. Give it a go. Nothing looks more impressive than a fancy label! It’s a bit like picking a racehorse by its name or colours….go on……take a punt.
Read the back label – If you like the story, buy the wine. The world of wine is full of stories behind what’s in the bottle. Fascinating human interest and history and there’s lots of information on the back label….where the wine is from, how it’s been made, who made it, some idea of what it will taste like, alcohol by volume – lots of interesting stuff. If the words speak to you, speak back and buy it.
Get online – If you’re genuinely keen to learn or trying to find a bottle for that special occasion, get online and do some research. There’s loads of reviews and content online and many sites offer a free newsletter that will regularly pop into your inbox and tell you about new releases and old favourites. Find a wine writer whose style you like, find out where they write and read their columns. Try some of their recommendations and if you’re happy with them, keep on reading and buying and trying. It’s all in the pursuit of good wine.
Buy Australian first – The Australian wine industry has been suffering lately – our high Aussie dollar has done nothing for exports. With a rapidly changing climate and Mother Nature throwing fires, floods and frosts at farmers, it’s been a tough time. Support our own first and help to keep our wine landscape buoyant. There’s some really great wine in this country and we should thank the passionate producers by showing them support and that means buying Australian.
Travel a bit – Whilst I am a passionate supporter of our industry (see point 11), there are a whole lot of people who have been doing this for a whole lot longer than us. Maybe we can learn something from them. If you really want to understand the history of wine, you need to drink some wines from the old world. That means Europe and if you buy well, it may well rock your world. If nothing else, it will push the boundaries and introduce you to a whole different way of doing things but best to know your own backyard first.
Go to tastings – Don’t be afraid to go to your local and see what’s happening. There are literally free tastings on nearly every Saturday at a retailer near you. Drop in, sip, sample and talk to the staff. They’re always willing to share their favourites and make some recommendations and talk to other punters. Who knows, you could just pick up some terrific tips.
Meet the makers – There’s nothing like talking to the person whose name is on the bottle. Visit vineyards and cellar doors when you’re driving around the countryside. Talk to winemakers at festivals, farmer’s markets etc. There’s nothing like going to the source and no-one can share the vision, passion and experience of the wine better than the person who made the stuff. Most of them just love talking about their babies.
Use good glassware – Buy the best you can afford. There are some very fancy glasses out there, specifically shaped for individual varieties – and they work. Once you decide on your favourite varieties, invest in some really smart glassware design to enhance wine- drinking. It will make you feel special and will present your wine in the best possible way. If you can’t afford a whole set, just buy one for yourself. Make it your special drinking glass – and enjoy it.
Plan ahead – If you’re having folks over for dinner, think about the flavours of the food and what might work with it. Consult the ‘flavour wheel’ or invest in a book called ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’ that will help you work out the flavours that you’re looking for in a wine to compliment your food or if you’re cooking a particular style of cuisine, choose some wine from that area to work with it. The Europeans particularly, make wine with their regional food in mind and have been forever. It’s likely to work.
Use technology – There are any number of wine or wine and food matching apps available that will help you understand wine, scan a label to get tasting notes or suggest some ideal wine and food matches. Get into your app store, search for wine and see what happens. You’ll be astounded at what’s available.
- Kathy Lane is the owner of FireWorks PR Promotions & Events in Melbourne who specialise in the wine, food and lifestyle industries. Kathy has been working with wine for over 25 years and drinking it for even longer. Not surprisingly, she loves her work. www.fireworkspr.com.au
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