From confused to connoisser: What everyone should know about wine
With an inception dating back to 6000 BC, the history of wine is as rich as its distinct flavors. Archaeological evidence suggests the beverage first appeared in what is now Georgia and Iran. In medieval Europe, wine was lauded by the Roman Catholic Church for its use in Mass and favored over beer in Germany for its civilized appeal. Today, wine is synonymous with fine dining and to many enthusiasts, equally important as the food it accompanies. Wine bars are popping up in cities throughout the country and Houston is among rapidly growing markets. But popular as it may be, exploring the world of wine can be daunting. Red, white, dry or sparkling — the countless options are dizzying. You may feel alone in your cluelessness when friends start “label dropping,” but rest assured, you’re not. H TEXAS sat down with Tony Elsinga, Sommelier at The Tasting Room Uptown Park, for a briefing on the basics.
THE NAME GAME
While many people can name the wine most tempting to their pallet, how a wine is termed may not be as obvious. “Today, wines are generally named after the grapes they’re made from, but in the past, the beverage was classified by region,” Elsinga notes. For example, Pinot Noir and Merlot share their moniker with specific grapes while Chianti hails from the Italian region of its namesake. Dryness and body also describe wines. A dry wine has little sugar in comparison to its acidity and is not sweet. Body accounts for the weight of the beverage in the mouth and is described as light, medium or full. Body is generally related to the amount of alcohol in a wine; the more alcohol, the heavier or fuller the body.
This dynamic duo is a staple at cocktail parties and tastings. Because acid and fat play off of each other, wine and cheese are the ideal combination to fully enjoy both flavors. A dry, red wine perfectly complements hard cheese, while white wines are traditionally matched with softer ones.
Director’s Cut Cabernet with Parmesan
Caramel Road Chardonnay with Brie
Light-bodied Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs complement seafood dishes without overpowering their flavors. While white wines are often recommended for seafood, dense fish like salmon goes well with full-bodied reds.
Starborough Sauvignon Blancs
A Texas-sized steak needs a bold wine to match. A rich Malbec or spicy Shiraz will take a steak dinner from simple to superb with a few sips.
Don Rodolfo Malbec
Boarding Pass Shiraz
If your meal already has a kick, it’s best to stick with a white wine or fruity red to counter the dish’s spice, as their sweetness sooths the palate without compromising flavor.
Vegetarian food is paired best with white or light-bodied red wines. Because vegetables, fruits and grains are less dense than meat, they go best with comparably light wines.
Zind Humbrecht Pinot d’Alsace (a blend of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay)
Executive Chef, Steve Super, is cooking up an alluring aphrodisiac-inspired meal for Valentine’s Day, complete with cider braised short ribs and Mediterranean mussels in coconut milk. Couples may consider the following labels, ensuring every part of their meal includes a little bit of love.
Braccetto Rosa Regale
Infused with a hint of rose petals, this wine is like a bouquet in a bottle.
A labor of love produces this fruity, medium-bodied bottle. Wolftrap (a red blend)
For enticing the one you almost let get away.
While the aforementioned moderately priced wines are perfect for everyday consumption, on special occasions, these pricier bottles are worth splurging on.
Champagne Hernriot La Cuvee Des Enchanteleurs
Soldera Brunello di Montalcino
BV Georges de Latour
ABOUT THE EXPERT
After living in Europe for 24 years, Tony Elsinga returned to the states a bonafide wine aficionado. He started writing wine lists for upscale restaurants and won the coveted Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2005. He’s procured wine for Denzel Washington, Francis Ford Coppola and Billy Joel, and worked with Wolfgang Puck. Elsinga joined The Tasting Room in 2006 and won the Houston Iron Sommelier Competition and the Houston Cellar Classic’s Sommelier Smackdown in 2007.
Described by Elsinga as “a luxury everyone can live without, but everyone wants,” good wine lies in the pallet of the beholder. When running in foodie circles, it’s easy to feel embarrassed by a lack of wine knowledge. But according to Elsinga, one should stop feeling troubled, and start tasting. When tasting wines, take note of what you like, even if it’s not what an expert suggests or happens to be moderately priced. “People often get talked into `liking’ a wine simply because a Sommelier suggested it,” Elsinga says. “And pricier doesn’t always mean better. I’ve tasted $500 bottles against $19 bottles and in one instance, six out of seven guests enjoyed the $19 bottle.”
For more information on the wines featured in this article and wine tastings at The Tasting Room, visit www.tastingroomines.com.