There’s a classic refrain amongst most Sommeliers, it goes as follows: “drink what you like.” I know this suggestion may run in direct opposition to the strict rules your wine snob friend lives by. Yet, it’s the best way to drink wine. I always tell guests or restaurant owners that I speak with that the point of a wine expert is to people drink what they enjoy drinking. Sometimes that requires finding new wines that a person has never tried before, but more often, it requires helping them remember the name of the wine they loved drinking the last time they were in the restaurant. If someone doesn’t like Sauvignon Blanc, don’t try to change their mind. Just get the Pinot Noir that they know they enjoy. That being said, there are wines that are often completely misunderstood. When this is the case, I feel it is my responsibility to step in and offer insight. Therefore, here are three of the most misunderstood wines that are prevalent today.
This sweet, French wine is perfection in a bottle. At least when it’s drunk under the right circumstances. Sauternes is most often found near the bottom of a dessert menu next to some other overpriced dessert whiskeys and sparkling wines. In truth, this is a complete shame and I wish restaurants would knock it off. Sauterne is not only a dessert wine; it is perfect at all stages of the meal when served with the proper food option.
Wines are classified by region. The broadest this classification chart goes is into two large categories : old world and new world. Old world refers to Europe while the new world makes up everything else. Just the way it is, everyone has to accept and move on. However, one way this divide is greatly felt is in the makeup of the wines. A sommelier once described old wines as condiments. They are only ever truly tasted when paired with foods. Unlike new world wines that can be consumed at any time regardless of accompaniment. Sauternes is one of the greatest examples of this truth. When sauternes is drunk all by itself, the acidity overpowers the taste, leading to subtle notes of honey, apricot, and other sweet flavors. This is in stark contrast to when sauternes is paired with blue cheese or a salty washed rind cheese. When this beautiful connection is made, the wine’s taste turns to pure honeycomb. The sweetest, most refined nectar on the planet. This perfect concoction is so infrequently tasted because restaurants stick the sauternes on the dessert menu. If you’ve looked at a dessert menu recently, you’ll note that there are few blue cheeses listed. Therefore, the wine is being completely wasted. If you have the opportunity, do yourself a favor, and treat yourself to sauternes and a pungent cheese. Also, don’t wait until dessert, order it with a charcuterie board to start. It’ll be the best start to a meal you’ve ever experienced.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
Steakhouses should be the number one distributors of cabernet sauvignon. Quite possibly, they should be the only distributors of cabernet sauvignon. I’m about to say something that may seem sacrilegious to wine aficionados. Cabernet Sauvignon is overrated. People love to talk about the full body or really tasting the tannins. Here’s the thing though, most people don’t want to taste tannins. Yet, tons of cabernet is sold at grocery stores every day.
It may be necessary to breakdown a couple things before this shellacking of cabernet sauvignon continues. Don’t fret, eventually I will sing the praises of this wine varietal and give insight into how to drink it. First, though, let’s discuss tannins. Tannins are essentially a chemical that promotes bitterness in a wine. When you’re drinking a hearty red and it feels like there are little acidic daggers stabbing your mouth, those are tannins. So, why would someone want bitter daggers stabbing them at the dinner table? Really, they don’t. What they want is the affect when tannins cover over fat. This is why steakhouses should be selling out of cabernet sauvignon every night.
Fatty, well marbled steaks like the ribeye, filet mignon, and Zabuton are perfect partners for a cab sav. This is because the acidic tannin molecule bonds with the fatty steak molecule and smooths over the entire taste experience. Similar to sauternes and harsh cheeses, the fat folds back the strong tannin flavors and allows for subtleties to bloom. By pairing steak and cabernet sauvignon you will truly taste a cab sav in its truest form. Please stop drinking it at parties with random snacks along the table. A carrot is not going to help the wine taste better. Unless, of course, you like the flavor. Then you do you.
- Sparkling Wine
Sparkling Wine is most often Champagne in disguise. Due to stringent naming regulations within the European Union, wines outside of Champagne Italy cannot use the namesake, even if they share the same grapes. Even so, the United States has some terrific sparkling wines that are perfect for celebrations and after dinner. There’s one food pairing with sparkling wine that stands above the rest. Yes, it’s better than seafood or a green apple. It’s quite simply, raspberry sorbet. I know, raspberry sorbet at the end of a meal sounds endlessly boring. It’s not. It’s the perfect ending to a heavy meal. The brightness of the two dishes will leave you feeling happy and light on your toes. In addition, the alcohol in sparkling wine makes you thirsty. The sorbet acts as a lubricant for the inside of your mouth. Making the combination perfection. It’s like having a fireworks display set off in your mouth. You’re welcome for the recommendation.
Wine is as much an art form as it is science. Vineyards are always adapting to a changing world. Every dinner is a brand-new experience. If you know the kinds of wine you like, keep doing what works. If, however, you want to break out of your comfort zone and try something new, give one of the three options above a whirl. No matter which strategy you choose, so long as the company is good and the food is great, the wine will taste terrific.