In Food + Drink

Easy Ways To Sound Like A Wine Expert

Wine can be a complex subject, but it’s not hard to sound like an aficionado and impress your friends. In fact, all it takes is remembering a few key facts.

Buy from retail chains for the best value

If you are a drinker who likes lots of advice and suggestions then your best bet is to visit an independent retailer like Five Way Cellars or Annandale Cellars in Sydney, or the City Wine Shop or Armadale Cellars in Melbourne.

The staff at these stores are incredibly knowledgeable and have the time to talk to you and discover your tastes and budget. They will be able to recommend something you haven’t tried before.

Image: Bruno Cantuária / Pexels

If you know what you like then it’s hard to go past chain retailers like Dan Murphy’s, which is in all capital cities. The buying power of Dan’s means you get the best possible price, not to mention a wide selection from which to choose.

If you like to try a wide range of wines then there are several online wine clubs that will send you a dozen reds or a mixed dozen three or four times a year. If you find something you enjoy and the price is right you can then order another dozen.

Cellarmasters has a good range and keen prices but with mixed dozens possibly containing wines that aren’t to your taste, it reduces the value of the savings somewhat.

Avoid buying wines from cellar doors unless you’ve done your homework. Many wine lovers have found to their cost that wines can often be cheaper on special at their local liquor outlet than at the winery’s own tasting facility. Hard to believe, but true. Check prices on your mobile before committing to any major purchases.

Pinot gris and pinot grigio are the same grape

Image: Thomas Schaefer / Unsplash

This may come as a surprise, but pinot gris and pinot grigio are actually made from the same grape. As is grauer burgunder. In fact, the only that really differs between the three is whether you are speaking French, Italian or German.

The pinot gris style originates in the Alsace region of France and is typically rich, sometimes oily, and often sweetish, with rich tropical fruit aromas.

Pinot grigio, as made in the style of north-east Italy, is generally lighter, crisp and clean; usually vibrant with citrus and acid notes.

The same grape is called rulander in parts of Germany and Austria and sivi pinot in Croatia and Slovenia.

Unfortunately, wines that are clearly made in the gris style are sometimes labelled as grigio, and vice versa. Which adds to confusion. If you have a strong preference for one style over another, ask to try before you buy.

French wines are labelled for their region

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France has a complex and well-established array of wine laws. Most of these apply nationally, but some are region-specific.

In France, wines are labelled for their region, while in Australia wines are labelled according to the grape varieties used.

The French expect the rest of the world to know what to expect when they see a bottle labelled Bourgogne (Burgundy), Bordeaux, Rhone or Alsace.

Just remember that a white Burgundy is made from chardonnay and a red Burgundy is made from pinot noir. Bordeaux reds are usually red blends with a high proportion of either cabernet sauvignon or merlot, while white Bordeaux whites are usually blends of semillon and sauvignon blanc. Red wines from the Rhone are largely shiraz-based blends (a grape called syrah in France).

Here’s a tip: remember a couple of your favourites and surprise your friends. Many of them will not know that when drinking Chablis, a white Burgundy, they are drinking chardonnay, and that Sancerre, a Loire Valley white, is actually sauvignon blanc.

Some wine bottles can be kept for a week after opening

Image: Matthieu Joannon / supplied

You can keep a wine for up to five days if it’s been opened and then quickly re-sealed with a cork or screw cap.

Keep the wine in a cool, dark place, or in the fridge. The more tannin and acidity a red wine has, the longer it will tend to last – so a big Barossa shiraz will keep better than a lighter pinot noir from Tasmania.

Being more robust, reds tend to last a day or two longer than whites once opened.

If you leave a wine too long after it has been opened, it will become oxidised and gradually turn into vinegar. Oxidised wine tastes flat and bitter. You’ve probably had a wine by the glass in a pub that tastes like this.

Wine connoisseurs with expansive cellars of old wines can invest hundreds of dollars on wine preservation systems including Coravin, which help keep wine bottles fresh when opened. A cheaper version is the pump system known as VacuVin.

Corked does not mean wine bottled under a cork

Image: Brett Jordan / Unsplash

You may well have tried a wine that smells and tastes like mouldy cardboard. Not ideal.

Cork is a very unreliable closure for wine, which is why many leading producers in Australia and New Zealand have switched to screw caps.

Poor quality cork can lead to premature oxidation, or contain TCA, Trichloroanisole, a natural compound often found in cork that at higher levels can result in ‘musty’ flavours and aromas in wines – effectively leaving them undrinkable.

It is these effects that can lead to a wine being described as ‘corked’ or ‘corky’ and can cause an unpleasant scene in a restaurant should you believe a wine is corked and the wine waiter disagrees.

If there is a sommelier on duty, ask for their opinion. Corked wine should, under Australian law, be replaced free of charge in either retail or restaurant situations.

(Lead images: Andres Chaparro & Valeria Boltneva / Pexels)

Published 13 May, 2019