Beginners guides

On wine

Wine, I drink vats of the stuff, it’s what I drink when I’m not drinking beer. It’s what I drink before I turn my attention to my new-found favourite late night snifter, aged rum. I don’t know a lot about wine really considering how much I consume but I seem to know a little more than the average casual wine drinker who bases their selection of a bottle on what they are used to. There are serious winey types who will scoff at the simplicity of what is about to follow but frankly they can get stuffed as this is my blog and I can say whatever I like. People who sell wine properly always speak of the stuff as though the buyers are as expert as they are. Most people though have only a passing acquaintance with the contents of a wine bottle.

So I’m going back to basics, to pass on the knowledge I have gained in the process of getting a bit pissed. This is to maybe help a little the people who want to know what they might like that they haven’t tried yet because they don’t want to look silly in public or sound stupid in a shop. I’m going to be talking in pretty general terms as taste is a personal journey.

So, here goes. First things first, taste. We all have different taste buds and like the taste of different things in a different way, so what is nectar of the gods to some might be vomit inducing in others. Just because Jarvis Wine-Snob the 3rd is raving and salivating about the latest pressing of some rare fermented Argentinian grape juice doesn’t mean you will like it too. I use blue cheese as an example. You can bring me the most expensive rarest, hand moulded (literally) Stilton which has been maturing in the Queens spare knickers for a generation and I would still rather put pins in my eyes than eat it. I can’t stand the taste of blue cheese, it tastes like mouldy cheese which is what it is. I find it revolting and have no idea how people can put it in their mouth.

Wine is the same. If you like the taste and style of a certain wine that is great for you, it does not mean everyone else will like it too. Likewise if someone suggests you are a philistine if you don’t like their wine

Wine comes in two principle bottle shapes. This one, which is the Burgundy style shape

The red wines you tend to get in this shaped bottle can very often be heavy, quite alcoholic and strong, unless they are that awful Beaujolais nouveau stuff of course.

The very fine very good Burgundy’s are beyond your budget anyway so don’t worry about those. You’ll find things like Chateau Neuf Du Pape and Shiraz or Syrah in these but also Pinot Noir and Cote Du Rhone wines. If choosing a bottle in this shape, have a look at the alcohol percentage first as it can very much dictate the enjoyment or regret of the evening spent drinking the contents of the bottle. That may be obvious to some but there are many who upon finding themselves twice as squiffy as they wanted to be consult the percentage on the label at the wrong end of the evening. Check it when you buy it

Some will be so heavy you’ll think you’re going to be spitting out bits of grape and vine, others so light you’ll wonder if any grapes were involved in the making. With a bottle this shape the more you spend the better is the golden rule. You just won’t get a very good ‘cheap’ one unlike the Bordeaux styles. That though, and this is the big thing, is my personal opinion. I’m not a fan of Pinot Noir style wines, they are not to my taste. I also won’t have a Shiraz in the house. I do like a Syrah though and it’s the same grape done a slightly different way. The bottle here is my second favourite Kiwi wine. That’s the red’s, the white burgundy’s work a bit differently.

Then there is this one, which is the Bordeaux style shape

This is the shaped bottle the red wines I like best come in. Things like Cabernet’s, Rioja, Malbec, Merlot, etc. There are people who turn their nose up at Merlot. To a degree I believe based on the film ‘Sideways’ being derogatory about it which would only have been because that was a point of view some people have that Merlot is not a good wine. Let’s put one thing to rest on that. One of the worlds most famous and greatest wines, Petrus, is a Merlot. Enough said.

Almost all the wines you get in this shaped bottle in the colour red will most likely be better value and quality than the ones in the other shaped bottle that people in the real world can afford. Look at the ones from Spain. The Rioja for example, Spend £20 on a French red and it will be quite pleasant and mostly likely pretty nice. But not noticeably so over one that cost £7.50 if you know what you are doing in buying good value wines. For a special occasion spend £20 on a Gran Reserva Rioja and it will be one of the best wines you’ve ever had, most likely. Again I’m living in the real world here. The bottle here is my all time favourite Kiwi wine, the one I break out for really special occasions. I’d put it up against any Bordeaux style red you care to bring to the table.

If you have lots of money to spend on expensive wine you should go on a wine course to train your palate to appreciate wines that cost in excess of £50 as from there upwards it stops being about taste and starts being about science. You or I would be hard pressed to see the monetary value in wines costing serious money as you won’t be able to taste enough difference to justify the expenditure. Let the rich and knowledgable indulge their specialism. You or I don’t need to spend any more than £20 on a bottle of wine in an off licence for very special occasions and considerably less than that for day-to-day stuff.

In the shops when choosing a bottle of wine a primary driver should be what you are going to use it for, rather than just stocking up the wine rack. If it’s just a wine to drink in the evening with company or to get lathered then pretty much anything will do. Get the wine that fits your budget whatever that maybe but there is no point in splashing out unless you really know your stuff and are very rich. For day-to-day quaffing in the UK you really do not need to spend more than £5-£6 a bottle if you shop tactically using supermarket offers. Buy a handful of different bottle shapes as they will do different things with your food which is really what wine is all about.

Get a simple wine book with the various food types in it and buy the wines which the book says matches them. The Hugo Johnson pocket guide is all you need, funnily enough it fits right in your pocket. Stick a variety of grape styles in your wine rack and consult your little book when cooking supper. Food has a huge impact on how a wine tastes and the wine can enhance the supper. You’ve heard this or know it, so do it, it’s fun.

There are of course some funny shaped German and Italian wine bottles and also a few avant-garde French wines that come in odd-shaped bottles but a simple point is that no properly good wines for daily use come in a bottle that is not in one of the two shapes above, white or red or rose.

Learn what corked wine tastes like if you aren’t sure. When the wine waiter comes to your table don’t make a big song and dance about sniffing and tasting the wine. A quick smell will tell you if it’s corked which is all you care about. If you aren’t sure give it a quick slurp. The tasting ceremony at the table is not to test the suitability of your selection, it’s just to evaluate if the wine is ‘off’ or not. Stop all that swilling the glass and sucking the stuff through your teeth, that’s just showing off.

Whites? Much more simple. Chardonnay from the Antipodes is buttery, syrupy and allegedly dry, it’s not though, its sweet and rich, I won’t drink it. Yet Chablis from France is made using Chardonnay grapes and is a different animal, dry and crisp. If you want household cheap dry wine you are probably best heading for the Italian styles. Light and dry predominantly. If you like a fruity wine, go for Kiwi Sauvignons. I have developed quite European tastes now so find the Kiwi white’s a bit heavy and fruity, they all seem to roll into each other in terms of taste and texture.  As a rule of thumb, white wine will get you drunk quicker than red, I’m not sure why that is. White wine preference is even more dependant on personal taste than red I reckon so you choose your own. Simple, see?

So when you’re stocking up don’t just buy what you always buy because it’s what you know. You have to go a lot further these days to get a bad wine compared to some of the diesel disguised as wine from the old days. Have a poke around in some new grapes. Enjoy yourself.


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Bottoms up!

8 replies »

  1. Hi Sandy

    Glug, slurp, sip. I’m not a wine snob, but there are some things I will not drink. Aus and SA Chardonnay should have been left in the 1970s when they were most popular.

    I agree on Chablis, although I’m currently working my way thru’ a case of Louis Latour white Burgundy.

    My favourite red? Beyerskloof Pintotage, a particularly fine South African red.

    Hope you’ve had a fab weekend of imbibing x.

  2. Interesting stuff, wine. People say you have to have a nose ( or really posh people say a palate ) but I think you need a *head* for it.

    Over the years I have repeatedly learnt enough about the stuff to be moderately competent in picking one I and my company will enjoy with our chosen food. Then I have forgotten it all and had to learn it over again. Too often.

    I’ve given up now and apart from a few staple favourites, I’ve forgotten it all. Stupid or what?

    Those pocket guides are brilliant and as soon as I can learn to remember to stick mine in my pocket when I go out, I reckon it’ll be really useful.

    You see Sandy, once one has got to senile old twit status, little helps and after the second glass I lose the ability to be so picky anyway.

  3. Yes Jon, the pocket book we have and leave behind every year when we go to France so know what you mean about remembering to take the bloody thing with you. It’s all a bit of nonsense of course, fermented grape juice, that’s all it is after all. Thanks again for stopping by

  4. I’m a white wine wine fan. I love a good Chablis and usually head towards Italian wines.
    I find South African wines (there are exceptions) a little strong for me. The same with Chardonnay, unless it’s a pale one – I can’t drink it.

    Agree with all of the above – would be interested to read a blog on rum as it’s your new favourte. I ADORE rum. I like golden and dark – not that its got anything to do with wine but… 🙂

    • The Rum! Best I’ve had so far is Pussers 15yr old, but it’s a bit steep at nearly £40. Luckily we have one of the best aged rum suppliers in our nearest off licence. Amazing selection!

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