This is an article I wrote that appeared in The Toledo Free Press of over the weekend, enjoy!
Wine can be such an integral part of our dining experience, but so often, we rely on a few rules to guide us through the complicated wine selections available. How does a novice or a veteran in a comfort zone of mid-priced cabernets widen their repertoire without sounding like a novice? Believe it or not, the answer is: “ask for help”.
Navigating a wine list? Here are a few handy rules to consider:
· Are you a scotch or a Martini drinker? Too bad, they don’t do anything for food but numb your palate, switch to wine; it will make all the difference. Good beer, that’s another story.
· See names you recognize on the wine list? Skip ‘em. Those are there to make you feel comfortable. If you want great experience, ask for help, and make sure whatever you order, it’s something the wine buyer recommends and something you’ve never heard of before. This is a sure way to elevate the experience. The wine buyer is a professional and you should trust them.
· Want the most bang for your buck? Again, the wine you’ve never heard of is the winner with the smallest markup. This pricing strategy exists to help depletions on all items on a wine list. The wines you know gets the biggest markup and the ones the buyers love the most but are obscure get the smallest. Whenever possible, order wine by the bottle instead of by the glass, this will also make you dollar stretch further as glass pours are marked up higher to accommodate the potential loss of product as it fades away. Bonus, the State of Ohio now allows you to take home opened, unfinished bottles of wine, ask your server for more details.
· Stay away from wines that have a big oak presence, this also deadens your palate, instead look for wines that are higher in acidity; this will help with any protein on your plate.
Ok, but what if you’re hosting a dinner party? What to serve? How do you make your party memorable? As always, expand horizons, here are some knock category suggestions that should be available at your local retailer, and as always ask you friendly neighborhood wine merchant for suggestions within the categories.
· Albarino-Spanish white that has awesome minerality and acidity. The best have a great “orange peel” quality. ($20 retail)
· Torrontes-Increasingly popular white from Argentina, that can range from just off-dry to steely, great inexpensive choice ($11-$14 retail)
· Pinot Gris from Oregon-This is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, but stylistically, couldn’t be more different. If Pinot Grigio tastes like Lemonade, this tastes like Lemon Custard ($20 retail)
· Cotes du Rhone-One of the most diverse and assertive red wine for pairings, Based around Grenache and Syrah, can run the gamut from red to black fruit and from soft to rich. Should be around $15
· Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley-This would be Chinon or Anjou-great spicy red that works well with fish, about ½ the price of an equal quality Pinot Noir. ($15-20 retail)
· Rosso di Montalcino-This is Sangiovese from Tuscany, but unlike Chianti, this is a much more powerful version that suits steak and all sort of rich hearty dishes. This is a steal as it is declassified Brunello di Montalcino, which are some of Italy’s most sought-after and collectible wines. ($20-$25 retail)