An athletic instructor who had never had wine in her life but was willing to try, was faced with a dilemma recently when she attended a holiday party. Her host prompted her to select a wine that she already liked. When she explained she’d never had any, she was told to just pick whatever looks good…again…she had no way to judge but knew enough not to judge a wine (or anything) on pretty labeling. I told her I had some ideas for her and would write about it.
I’m going to make some suggestions to help my pal, we’ll call her “AI”, navigate through some wine. Based on what flavors she already likes to eat or drink, I will find a wine varietal that might compare. Any varietal (a particular grape) I may suggest would be found on the front label, usually under the name of the winery if the wine is made in the United States. Lets try:
If you like your coffee or tea with sweetener – try wines labeled with grapes such as Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc or a sparkling wine like Prosecco from Italy. These wines can have a slightly sweet quality. If you want more sweetener in your drink try a wine labeled as “late harvest”, “dessert” or “ice wine.” Some of these grapes were left on the vine longer and have more sugar. They can be easy to spot as they usually come in a bottle half the size as a regular wine bottle.
If you like your coffee or tea black, this may translate to a wine full of tannins – try a couple of red wines, like a California Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, and see what appeals to you. If these are not the reds offered, select one that appears to be dark, that may mean that it is from a black grape and/or the skins were left on longer. Either option may allow for a more tannic/dry wine.
Are you a chocolate fan? Try a red Port wine, which is a fortified wine and fairly sweet. If the wine is still not sweet enough for you, lay a piece of chocolate onto your tongue and roll your wine over that before swallowing. This trick works to make almost any red wine sweeter, and more palatable for some.
Do you go for cheese and crackers? Try a French Champagne, or a domestic sparkling wine that the label says was made in the Champagne or champenoise method. The winemaking process sometimes results in toast and cheese aromas and flavors.
Note: Whatever you do start by tasting like a professional. Pour only a small amount, say an ounce or two into your glass. Give it a swirl, then a sniff, and a taste. If you don’t like the wine, pour into a spit bucket. As some homes don’t put these out, go to the kitchen sink and pour in there. If asked you can say that you prefer to sample a wine before committing to a glass, and that you are watching your inebriation – the latter might help as an example to others to do the same. You don’t need to try everything offered, settle on one you like and enjoy your glass. And, as this may be your first experience with wine it may hit you harder than what you normally drink, even if what you normally drink has more alcohol. It’s all about what your body is used to.
Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years. She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com