It took me a LONG time to develop a ‘sophisticated’ wine palate. I once believed that wine began and ended with White Zinfindel. As I grew older, I began stepping outside of my food and wine comfort zone and discovered a whole world outside of Soul Food and White Zin.
The food part was easy because I discovered that no matter how the fancy the restaurant – everyone serves chicken and it’s hard to mess up chicken. The wine, on the other hand, was a bit more tricky. While hanging out with my more cultured friends, I would notice them ask for a wine menu and read it with great interest. I, not wanting to feel left out, would also request a wine menu; however, as my eyes glazed down the extensive list, I had no idea what I was looking at or what I was looking for. Sometimes I got lucky, but sometimes I wanted to ask for a refund and a Crown and Coke. I knew that I had to do better. After some trial and error, I have found a few reds and a few whites that are staples on most menus and allow me to be considered “a cultured friend.’
Let’s start with the white wines. The classic is a chardonnay because it is one of the more versatile wines and goes well with seafood. It generally has a fruity flavor that can range from apple and lime to tropical fruit depending upon where its produced and in what type of container. Some people find it a little dry when compared with White Zin. Riesling, my favorite, has a sweeter taste and goes well with spicy foods, poultry and pork. As the wines age, they embody more of a honey flavor coupled with their natural green apple, pear or lime flavor. The sauvignon blanc also goes well with seafood, poultry and vegetable dishes because of its grapefruit and grassy flavors. A relative new comer on the wine scene is the Moscato. This dessert wine is gaining popularity, especially in my social circle, because of its soft and fruity flavor. In the United States, it is derived from the black muscat and orange muscat grapes.
Red wines tend to be more of an acquired taste because they are very dry and are served at room temperature rather than chilled like white wines. Merlot wines are the softest and generally better to start your red wine experience. Their flavors range from blackberries to plum and chocolate. Cabernet Sauvignons have a stronger flavor than the merlot and can embody flavors of vanilla, cedar, chocolate or coffee. Cabernets and merlots are best with beef because of the strength of their flavors. Pinot Noirs, on the other hand, have a cherry, raspberry or strawberry flavor and are best paired with salmon, poultry and vegetable dishes.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any brands in describing these wines because each distributor has a different methodology of developing their wines thus the differences in tastes. The most important thing to note is which wines are best paired with which foods and to have a general idea of what they will taste like before you order. I recommend hosting a wine tasting.
Invite a few friends over that also have an interest in developing their wine palate. Each person can bring one bottle of wine. You can mix whites with reds or focus on white wines during one event and reds during the next. Wine is meant to be enjoyed not chugged so take your time, sniff the aromas and see if you can tell what flavors are present and begin sipping away. Be careful because wines can get you drunk pretty quick. If you get started now, you may find yourself introducing your family members to your favorite wine during the holiday season. Then, you can be considered ‘the cultured family member.’