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USEFUL TERMS FOR DESCRIBING WINE
When describing wine, wine merchants, restaurant servers, and your oenophile friends will use specific language to tell you about its characteristics. Knowing these words will help you understand the wine they’re describing:
Aroma or bouquet: The smell of a wine — bouquet applies particularly to the aroma of older wines
Body: The apparent weight of a wine in your mouth (light, medium, or full)
Crisp: A wine with refreshing acidity
Dry: Not sweet
Finish: The impression a wine leaves as you swallow it
Flavor intensity: How strong or weak a wine’s flavors are
Fruity: A wine whose aromas and flavors suggest fruit; doesn’t imply sweetness
Oaky: A wine that has oak flavors (smoky, toasty)
Soft: A wine that has a smooth rather than crisp mouthfeel
Tannic: A red wine that is firm and leaves the mouth feeling dry
Wine Service Temperatures
Champagne, Sparkling, and Dessert Wine: 40° F
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio: 45-48°F
Chardonnay, Chablis: 48-52°F
Pinot Noir: 60-64°
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz: 64-66° F
Simple rules to get started pairing food and wine.
Drink what you like.
What you like to drink always takes precedence over any recommendation that I might make.
Start by thinking about the dish or meal as a whole. What are its dominant characteristics?
Is it mild or flavorful?
Is it fatty or lean?
Is it rich or acidic?
With these characteristics in mind, select a wine that will:
Keep flavors in balance.
Match mild foods with mild wines. Match big, flavorful foods with big, flavorful wines.
(For example, pair a bold-flavored Pepper Steak with a spicy, bold red Zinfandel.)
Similarly you generally want to match the richness of the food and the richness of the wine. (For example, pair a rich Chicken in Cream Sauce with a rich Chardonnay.)
You can refer to our Wine Board to see what different wines taste like.
Cleanse the palate with tanins or acids.
If you're eating a relatively rich, 'fatty' dish and thinking about drinking a red wine
(when you eat a beef steak, for example)
you probably want a wine with some good tannins* in it to help cleanse the palate.
If you're eating a very rich, 'fatty' dish and thinking about drinking a white wine
(when you eat fried chicken, for example)
you probably want to contrast the meal with a refreshingly crisp acidic wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc. You can ignore this rule for dishes that are just relatively fatty - such as Chicken in Cream Sauce - which will probably
do better with a rich Chardonnay that can match their rich flavors.
Match Acids with Acids
If you're eating a dish with a strong acidic content (such as Shrimp with Lemon or Pasta with Tomato Sauce) pair it with an acidic wine that can keep up with the acids in the food.
Acidic Wines and Cream Don't Mix
Rich cream sauces will usually clash with an acidic wine like a Sauvignon Blanc.
Think about it this way...If you squeezed lemon juice into a cup of milk, would it taste good?
Wine and Strong Spices
Strong spices, such as hot chili peppers in some Chinese or Indian food, can clash and destroy the flavors in a wine. In most cases, wine is not the ideal thing to drink.
However, if wine is what you must have, consider something spicy and sweet itself
such as an off-dry Gewurtztraminer or Riesling.
When In Doubt...
Remember that foods generally go best with the wines they grew up with.
So if you're eating Italian food, think about having an Italian wine.
This isn't a requirement, but often helps simplify the decision.
* More About Tannins
Tannins can come from many places, including the skins of the grapes used in winemaking
as well as the wood barrels a wine may have been aged in.
Tannin tastes similar to the flavor you would get if you sucked on a tea bag.
This astringent flavor is what helps strip the fats from your tongue and thereby cleanse the palate of the rich fats from a meal and provide a refined, refreshing drink.
Some studies have also indicated that tannin might help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Specifically, tannin might suppress the creation of a peptide that causes arteries to harden.
Core Grapes & Wines
Pinot Grigio / Gris
Syrah & Shiraz
Zinfandel, Both Red & White