Treat Yo’self to an Epic Wine Tasting
This week we decided to host our first-ever wine tasting. I start my Level 3 Sommelier training this summer and Rachel and Vanessa wanted me to impart my wisdom on them so they will finally be able to pick out a bottle of wine that isn’t solely chosen based on the design of the label.
For our first official tasting we decided to start with some simple pairings featuring three very different whites and three very different reds. I’m gonna break down the key characteristics of each one and chat about how they pair well with certain flavours and textures. It’s a pretty classy excuse for having six glasses of wine, am I right? We can promise this tasting will be the first of many!
- Dry white wine, we chose a 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from Stoneleigh, but any New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc works
- Rich white wine, we chose a 2015 Chardonnay from Toasted Head, but any California Chardonnay will work
- Sweet white wine, we chose a 2015 Riesling by Fritz Willi, but most German Riesling will work
- Light red wine, we chose a 2016 Pinot Noir by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, but a French Pinot Noir will work
- Medium red, we chose a 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel by Smoking Loon, but you could also use a Merlot or Zinfandel
- Bold red, we chose a 2015 Shiraz from 19 Crimes, but you could use any Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon
- Wine Glasses
Start with your lightest white and work your way through to the boldest red. Pour a small amount of wine into each glass and swirl it around. Put your whole nose into the glass and smell the different notes that come out. Take a small sip and coat your whole mouth. Now take another sip and notice the same notes on your palette. Now try a little bit of one of the food pairings. Now take another sip of wine. Different notes will come out in both the food and wine as you continue to sip and nibble…it truly is the best thing.
Our first pairing is with a dry white. The term “dry” refers to the amount of sugar in the wine. Due to fermentation, most wines, both red and white, are typically considered dry. For our tasting we chose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but there are many grapes from many regions you could select for your tasting. These wines typically tend to be high acid, light bodied and have notes of green fruit (apple, pear) and mineral (think slate, stone). They tend to be vegetal (that means flavours like green pepper or grass) and herbaceous with a crisp finish and a refreshing flavour.
These types of wines pair nicely with seafood and shellfish, light cheeses such as feta and boursin as well as herbs like thyme and cilantro that have fresh, zesty flavours. The acid in the wine balances nicely with the rich fattiness of these foods but doesn’t overpower their delicate flavours.
Our second wine is a rich white wine. We chose a California Chardonnay for this round. Chardonnay is a dry grape and gets its rich flavour from being aged in oak. Some winemakers choose to age their wine in barrels or even add dead yeast cells (known as lees – drop this word at the dinner table and trust me, you’ll impress) back into their wine after aging to add character to the grape. This process gives the wine notes of vanilla, toast and dairy balancing tropical notes like mango and pineapple or stone fruit like peach or pear.
For these types of wines we would choose richer foods like lobster with melted butter or a creamy spread to pair with. Saffron is a beautiful pairing with a rich white wine as well as parmesan, brie and fatty nuts like cashews. Your taste buds will be thanking you for this one, because this is a pretty sweet spread!
Our last white is a sweeter one. We chose a German Riesling because it has all of the characteristics we’re looking for. Sweet wines are usually made with grapes that have had a longer time to ripen in a warmer climate and have developed lots of sugars as a result. The winemaker can then stop the fermentation process before all the sugars have been converted into alcohol to maintain a higher sugar content in the wine. These wines tend to be higher in acidity to balance the sweet tropical and stone fruit. It will be medium to full bodied with a syrupy texture in the mouth. Think honey, elderflower, peach, apricot. YES.
You can pair this type of wine with a little heat like jalapeno jack or cheese stuffed chili peppers because the sweetness can balance the spice. Also pairs well with fruit like strawberries and melon. Throw in a little mascarpone and you’re laughing. Smoked salmon, dill and cream cheese? You’re talking dirty to me.
Now let’s talk red.
Pinot Noir is considered one of the lightest red wines because the skin of the grape is very thin, so wine produced from pinot noir grapes are lower in what we can tannins. Tannins come from the skin of red wine grapes. White wines do not have tannins at all. The best way to describe tannin is the way it makes your mouth feel. A high tannin wine will make your entire mouth feel very dry and almost fuzzy. You’ll be sucking on your cheeks trying to get the saliva flowing again. I know, sounds bizarre, but it’s the best!
Pinot Noir doesn’t typically have so much of this affect. They are usually low tannin, low acidity, light body and have notes of red fruit (strawberry, cherry) and vegetable (think mushroom, wet leaves). They aren’t typically oaked and would usually be enjoyed while still youthful. For these kind of wines we would serve foods with more intense flavours such as truffle and olives. The wine will be able to stand up against these foods without overwhelming your palette. Get out your charcuterie board, your pickled mushrooms and savoury cheeses. This is a very simple choice for any wine and cheese pairing night that everyone will love.
Now, for the medium red. There are so many grapes that can fall into this category. In almost every instance a grape will have a medium example and a bolder example depending on where it was grown, the soil, the elevation and weather patterns of the region. The difference between a medium red and a bold red will usually be the level of tannin, acidity and alcohol. The higher these properties the “bolder” the red is considered.
Merlot and Zinfandel are examples of grapes that would typically fall into the medium category of red wines. They can have notes of red and black fruits including blackberry, plum, cherry and currant. Some are herbaceous (mint, thyme), other have hints of baking spices (clove, nutmeg) and are more jammy. This pairs perfectly if you’re thinking of an after dinner board with more sweets and desserts. Think dark chocolate and aged cheeses, candied nuts and fresh berries. Throw in some goat cheese for a sweet savoury thing, and those crackers with all the dried fruit and nuts in them. You know the ones I mean!
Lastly, we’re talking about the big guns. Those big, bad, bold boys with high tannin, high alcohol and high acid characteristics that a lot of people look for in a wine. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are prime examples of these grapes. Oftentimes these wines will see some time in oak barrels which give them toast, smoke and pepper notes. They will have also ideally be quite aged to bring down some of the high acid qualities from the grapes. This gives them leathery and earthy flavours as well.
Bold reds pair AMAZINGLY with red meat. That rare filet is begging for a delicious, high tannin red wine. Add in the blue cheese. Go ahead, do it! Peppercorns, dijon mustard, rosemary, cranberry. Dear god. I’m done.
Wine Tasting Party
Pair your wine with this chill playlist. More than just background music, this will totally set the mood for tasting all of the wine.