If you’re a wine novice or just a casual drinker like me, the easiest way to determine what you like is simply to try different wines. But who wants to spend 10-15 dollars per bottle just to discover they are disappointed with their choice? There’s an easier way! Do a wine tasting. Here in the Northwest, I have an extraordinary opportunity to discover amazing Washington wines straight from the source.
My husband and I recently did our first Northwest wine tasting at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. I have done tastings before, but this one was incredibly informative. Perhaps it’s because Joe and I were the only ones on the tour and we could ask all the questions we would have felt just plain dumb to ask in front of a group.
If any of you are feeling the same way, I thought I would break down some of the highlights from my vino lesson. Disclaimer: I
am not an expert on the topic, but these were some of the points I picked up and I hope they will be helpful for you to keep in mind as you’re standing in the wine aisle at the grocery store.
*Dry Wine: If you hear or read this term, it usually means a lack of sweetness. Keep that in mind depending on your taste.
*Color of White Wine: The color of a golden Chardonnay doesn’t come from the grape itself, it comes from the oak of the barrel it was aged in. It’s the oak that often influences the flavor. If you like Chardonnay but not an oak-ey flavor, looking for “unoaked” on the label – yes, there is such a thing!
*Why you eat bold, red wine with meat: the wine has a tendency to latch on to moisture. It will go straight for your tongue and leaves you with that “cottonmouth” feeling. But when you eat meat, the fat blocks that process and you’re left with the best notes from the wine.
Age Difference: A big question I had… what’s the difference between a 1985 wine and a 2009? Answer I got: the wine continues to change in the bottle as it ages. The later you leave it, the more of a caramelized flavor you’ll get from the fruit.
*Price Difference: Is a $40 bottle of wine better than a $10 bottle of wine? Not necessarily! I’ve heard that before, but I didn’t know why. It could be the $40 dollar bottle comes from a new winery and they simply need to drive up the price to compensate for their high overhead. It could be that the wine comes from a small producer and it charges a higher price to compete with the huge, established wineries that can charge a lower price. Or it could be a rare wine from a really established winery – a wine in demand, if you will. Bottom line: Price is dictated by more than one factor so stick with what you like and don’t just grab an expensive wine because you think it’s going to knock your socks off.
*Ice Wine vs. Late Harvest Wine: Ice wine is the last call for grape harvesters. The grapes are left on the vine in anticipation of a freeze late in the season. The grapes will ideally be close to looking like a raisin so the sugars are extremely concentrated. If they are frozen, they are then pressed under extreme pressure and you get a wonderfully delicious and sweet dessert wine. Fun fact: Mother nature dictates the process (unless a harvester manipulates the freezing process), so in many cases so one year you may get none, hence the higher price of this wine.
Late Harvest wines are also sweeter. The grapes are removed from the vine after the sugar in the fruit has had time to concentrate, but the sweetness level is not as high as Ice Wine.
*Wines With Late Dates: “Older” wines could be compared to George Clooney. Distinguished, experienced, and just plain sexy. But beware: a lot can go wrong in the aging process. If the wine is allowed in sunlight or not stored properly in a cool area your wine will taste more like Keith Richards than Clooney. Its often best to buy an older wine from a trusted wine shop, or as close to the winery as you can get where you’re assured to get the best product.
We brought home two wines from the Chateau: a 2008 Merlot from the Cold Creek vineyard in eastern Washington. It was spicy on first taste out of the bottle which is why we poured it through an aerator. Tip: let your red wine sit for another 15 minutes before drinking just to let oxygen to its job. It will taste SO MUCH BETTER!
The other was an Eroica Riesling: so fresh and delicious. Great if you love a mild flavor.
Disclaimer: This blog neither endorses nor discourages Chateau Ste. Michelle.