Every week or so, I receive DMs from followers and friends wanting answers to their burning wine questions. While I don’t have a degree in viticulture or enology, I grew up in the business so I do know a thing or two. Taking a course on the Sensory Evaluation of Wine at UC Davis to back up that self-taught knowledge has given me further insight into the world of wine. Here are the most common questions I receive and my answers to them:
Help! I’m going to a dinner party in a few hours! Which wine should I bring?
For red, I’d recommend a Pinot Noir because it’s on the lighter side and very versatile in terms of food pairing. I’d also suggest a good red blend; it’s a crowd pleaser. For a white, I’d say a California Sauvignon Blanc because its flavor profile tends to be well-received by a mixed crowd.
What the heck is a “dry” wine?
Whether a wine is considered “dry” or not all depends on the amount of residual sugar it has. Basically, drier wines tend to be less sweet.
Seriously, why do people swirl their wine?
It’s to aerate, or get oxygen into the wine. Wine has sort of a love-hate relationship with oxygen; it’s fabulous for opening up a freshly-poured glass, but not so great if it’s left out too long and over-oxidizes. Swirling your wine at the table softens the flavors and gives off a better aroma rather than drinking it right away.
Is “oaky” good or bad?
Whether oak is your thing or not really comes down to personal preference! “Oaky” wines tend to have a smoother mouthfeel and flavors like baking spices, vanilla, caramel, even nuttiness. It all depends on the age and origin of the wood barrel in which it’s been aged. For instance, the newer the wood, the “oakier” the wine will be. Also, if the wine is aged in small barrels, it’s going to have more contact with the wood and taste oakier as a result.
I’m a beer person. What wine would I actually like?
I like a good beer, too! Because I get this question so much, I dedicated an entire post to “The Beer Drink’s Guide To Wine.”
Do I really need to chill white wine?
I always do. Chilling white is standard; however, do not over-chill your whites because you’ll find that the flavors become muted. People tend to serve white wine right out of the fridge, but I’ve found that letting it set out, open up, and warm just a tad makes for the best drinking experience. I’m also don’t suggest putting ice in your wine since it dilutes everything.
What do you do with wine that you’ve left opened on your kitchen counter for a few days?
I’ve really gotten into cooking with leftover wine! My mom adds white wine to her salmon and it’s delicious. Barefoot Contessa’s Weeknight Bolognese is one of my personal favorite recipes to add red wine to. Click here for the recipe. You can also whip up a decadent hot fudge sauce with leftover red wine; I have an entire post about it here.
Does where I store my wine really matter?
It really does! Despite the fact that you probably consume most of your wine in the kitchen, the kitchen is actually the worst place to store it. There is too much of a fluctuation in heat here, so keep it someplace where the temperature is consistent and it’s not getting sunlight. A closet is probably the easiest place for most. Don’t stand it upright, either; you want the cork to have constant contact with the wine.
What’s your trick for opening champagne?
It can seem scary opening sparkling wine or champagne, especially when TV and movies depict broken noses and shattered glass as a result. Simply remove the foil and the cage, then drape a kitchen towel over the cork and gently twist until the cork eases out into the towel. I typically do this over the sink and at an angle.
What type of wine do you typically order?
I definitely have my favorites (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Petit Sirah), but I typically ask the sommelier what they’re most excited about right now. At lot of times, it’s a wine I’ve never heard of so I’m excited to grow my palate. I highly-recommend starting a dialogue with the sommelier or wine shop owner.
Does a screw cap mean a wine is cheap?
Definitely not! Studies have show screw cap tops are just as effective as cork at keeping the air out. With a screw cap, you avoid cork taint altogether. Plus, you don’t need a corkscrew so you can get to drinking your wine quicker!
I literally know nothing about wine. Where do I even begin?!
I’d recommend a few things: sign up for a Winc subscription (click here to see what it’s all about), check out the Drink section of this blog, and hit up some wine bars. If you live in Los Angeles, Augustine and Bar Covell are excellent in that they allow you to taste a few wines before paying for a glass.