Everything You Need to Know About Wine for the Holidays
Know what you’re drinking and you’ll enjoy it that much more.
The holiday season is here and your social calendar is filling up. You’ve stocked up on enough bottles of wine to bring to your various hosts until 2023 and to put on the table for your next dinner party. Question, though: What does that wine selection look like exactly?
A little knowledge goes a long way in impressing your guests or throwing off a roommate who thought she was the only one who knew what a Chablis is. Learning a few vino basics will make you feel infinitely more confident as you swirl your glass of Gamay or pop that first bottle of bubbly at your girlfriend’s Chrismukkah party. Here’s what to know.
Acidity: Literally refers to the amount of acid in a wine. Higher-acid wines are lower in alcohol and vice-versa. On the palate, acid presents itself as tartness.
Body: A wine’s “body” refers to the feeling of its weight and consistency in your mouth. A light-bodied wine will feel fresh and won’t typically have a long finish (won’t leave much of a taste in your mouth), whereas medium to full-bodied wines will have a more powerful flavor and may be more viscous and higher in alcohol.
Dry/Off-Dry: When someone asks you if a wine is dry or off-dry, they are really asking you if a wine is sweet or not. A dry wine will have a low sugar content and will not taste sweet, whereas an off-dry wine will be higher in sugar and sweetness.
Tannin: Tannin is a naturally occurring compound found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. When wine is pressed or crushed, the tannin is released into the juice and remains present in the wine after fermentation. Tannin leaves a chalky, astringent feeling in your mouth after you swallow—after some experimentation (i.e., drinking a lot of wine) you’ll come to recognize when a wine is highly tannic.
Vintage: The year in which the majority of grapes for a bottle of wine were harvested.
Why we care about vintage:
Vintage gives the consumer a good indication of what a wine might taste like. All other things being equal, heat increases sugar levels in fruit and speeds up the ripening process. A hotter year (vintage) will result in a wine that is higher in alcohol, more fruit-forward and full-bodied. A cooler year will result in a delicate, higher-acid, crisp wine. Weather is the main reason that a wine might taste different and be made differently vintage to vintage, which is pretty darn cool if you ask us.
How do I describe a wine to a friend?
Is it white or red (I hope this one is obvious)? Is it light, medium or full-bodied? Is it fruity or earthy (think smoke, cedar, leafy, etc)? Is it tannic? Is it dry or off-dry? Answer a few of these quick questions for yourself and run with it.
How to tell if a wine is corked:
Smell the wine: Does it smell like vinegar or slightly sour and musty (think: wet dog)? It’s corked. Did the smell get past you? Does it taste musty or like vinegar? Do you get a headache 32 seconds after the first sip? It’s corked.
Not all sparkling wine is champagne:
As we’ve mentioned before, many countries name their wines based on the region—again, mostly to confuse you. This holds true for the region of Champagne, where—you guessed it—they make champagne! SO. Important. If a sparkling wine is from anywhere other than Champagne, it is not champagne. It might be Prosecco, it might be a Charmat Method sparkling wine and it’s probably tasty as hell, but it’s not champagne.
WINE PAIRING FOR BEGINNERS
Pairing wine doesn’t have to be complicated: the number-one rule is to trust your taste buds—and, uh, some trial and error helps.
You don’t want your wine and food to compete, but rather complement each other. Plan for your wine to hold up to the most prominent flavor on a plate—for example, the blue cheese on a salad. Balance the flavors on your plate with those in your glass by pairing a fatty dish with a crisp rosé, a heavy meal with a bold red, and a spicy snack with an off-dry white. When in doubt, reach for a bottle of bubbly (we—and many winemakers—swear by bubbles and turkey). Soon enough you’ll know exactly what you’re doing.
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