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How To Choose Wines

How To Choose Wines

We have all had the experience of going to a restaurant and not recognizing any wines on the wine list. If it is a good restaurant the staff will be familiar with the wine list and will be able to make some recommendations for you. In other cases, the restaurant may publish the wine list onto their website so that you can check beforehand. Another simple option is for you to arrive earlier than your companions and you can research the wines on your phone before anyone else arrives.

However more often than not no such help will be available and you will have to work out which wine to choose on your own. Below are some simple guidelines that can help you make your wine choice:

1. Know what wine style you prefer to drink

There are several key wine styles:

White Wine
a. Light and crisp i. Unwooded Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Dry Riesling, Dry Sauvignon Blanc
ii. Flavour of citrus, green apple, mineral, herbs or grass
iii. Eat with appetizers, light chicken dishes, seafood, light pasta dishes
b. Off dry and fruity i. German or Alsace Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Alsace wines, Moscato
ii. Floral, perfumed, peach, melon, citrus
iii. Spicy Asian dishes, smoked meats
c. Aromatic and flavourful i. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc,  Viognier, Pinot Gris, Alsace Gewurztraminer, Argentian Torrontes
ii. Lychee, pear, apricot, mango, melon, kiwifruit, passionfruit
iii. Salmon, sea bass, pork, cured meat

d. Complex, savoury, dry and medium bodied 

i. Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay, White Burgundy, Loire Sauvignon Blanc
ii. Mineral, citrus, savoury, yeast, green apple, pencil shavings, hint of vanilla
iii. Light creamy seafood dishes, chicken in a white wine and butter sauce
e. Full bodied and rich i. Californian Chardonnay, Barossa Chardonnay
ii. Sweet vanilla, pineapple, fig, toasty, hazelnut
iii. Cream sauces, lobster with butter, roast turkey, salmon
Red Wine
a. Light bodied and fruity i. Beaujolais Nouveau, French Bourgogne, mid priced New World Pinot Noir, Italian Dolcetto
ii. Red fruits such as strawberry, raspberry, red cherry
iii. Appetizers, soft cheese, pizza

b. Medium bodied and fruity

i. Cotes du Rhone, New Zealand Syrah, French Merlot or Cabernet Franc, Italian Valpolicella and Montepulciano
ii. Raspberry, cherry, plum
iii. Lamb, grilled chicken, pasta, pizza and rare steak
c. Medium bodied, savoury and complex i. French Burgundy, Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, Chianti, Italian Barbera
ii. Plum, cherry, spice, earth
iii. Duck, goose, rabbit, mushrooms, lamb
d. Full bodied and smooth i. Barossa Shiraz, Californian Cabernet Merlot, Italian Ripasso, Chilean Carmenere, Spanish Tempranillo Cabernet
ii. Plum, vanilla, cassis, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, blackcurrant
iii. Steak, sausage, lamb, rich pasta dishes
e. Full bodied and firm i. Plum, vanilla, cassis, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, blackcurrant
ii. French Bordeaux, Australian Margaret River or Connawarra Cabernet, Italian Borolo, Argentian Cabernet
iii. Steak, roast red meat

2. Know which wine producing country or regions you prefer

Rather than knowing wine style, you can also choose based on the countries and regions whose wines you prefer. There are several easy points to remember:

a. Old World versus New World Wines

The Old World refers to the European countries of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Georgia and so on. The New World refers to everywhere else – Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, China and so on.

Although this distinction is becoming more and more blurred due to the transfer of wine making knowledge and styles across borders, in general Old World Wines are more savoury and mineral whereas New World Wines are softer and more fruit forward.

b. Cool versus warm versus hot climate wines

Cool climate wines (such as Champagne, Burgundy, Germany, Alsace, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania, New Zealand and Canada) tend to be higher in acid and lighter in style with less alcohol. Warm climate wines (such as Bordeaux, Rhone, Languedoc-Roussillon, Piemonte, Chianti and Valpolicella) tend to be medium bodied with fine tannins. In contrast, hot climate wines (such as Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, California, Mendoza in Argentina and Sicily) tend to be richer, full bodied and higher in alcohol.

3. Know which are the better vintages in regions where the climate is variable

Europe tends to have more climatic variation than New World countries and so it is important to recognize the better vintages from each main region. For example, great vintages for Bordeaux for red wines in the past ten years include 2010, 2009 and 2005; good vintages include 2012, 2008, 2006 and 2003; whereas vintages to be cautious of are 2013, 2007 and 2004. In Burgundy, great vintages in the past ten years for red wines include 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2005; good vintages include 2011 and 2003; and vintages to be cautious of include 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2004.

4. Understand the basics of food and wine matching

– Match like with like (white wine with white meat, sour dishes with higher acid wine, sweeter dishes with sweeter wine)
– Match the weight / richness of the dish with the weight / richness of the wine (light dishes with light wines, heavy dishes with heavy wines)
– Match the key flavours in the sauce with the key flavours in the wine (a pepper sauce will go with a peppery Shiraz, a herb sauce will go with a herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon)
– Match a dish with chili with a sweeter wine to cool the heat of the chili
– Match a rare steak with a young tannic wine
– Match a salty dish with a sweet or high acid wine
– Match fatty / oily foods with high acid wines
– Avoid chili dishes with tannic wines
– Avoid oily fish dishes with tannic red wines

For more see Food and Wine Matching.


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