Atlantic Canadian liquor stores and wine purveyors are bringing more of the world’s wines to our dining room tables. The variety is great, but with so many unfamiliar bottles on the shelf, how do you choose the right bottle?
Understand wine styles. There are lots of complexities to this, and many different examples from all over the world, but getting a feel for when to drink the six basic categories will simplify things.
Light, crisp whites and sparkling wines: Fresh, crisp whites like Pinot Grigio, Chablis, and Sauvignon Blanc, and crisp sparkling wines go well with salads and fish, plus work as a nice aperitif.
Aromatic whites: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, muscat, Torrontés, Viognier, and Tidal Bay blends offer intense floral and, sometimes exotic, fruity notes. These are great sipping wines and go well with spicy food and some fish dishes.
Full-bodied whites: Oaked Chardonnays are the most common; other include oaked Bordeaux and Rhone-style blends. These full-bodied wines suit roast chicken, pork, and creamy seafood dishes.
Light reds and rosés: These aromatic (think cherries and raspberries) wines, such as Gamay, Pinot Noir, and dry rosé from various grapes, are perfect with chicken, duck, pork, salmon, and charcuterie.
Old-World or bistro reds: Think about Chianti, Côtes du Rhône, basic Bordeaux blends, and everyday reds from Portugal and Spain. These offer savoury herbal aspects alongside fruit. They are great with a range of meat dishes, tomato sauces, and cheese.
New World or big reds: These are the heavy hitters, such as Argentina’s Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, California, Australia, or British Columbia, and Merlot or Shiraz. Other reds in the full-bodied style are usually spicy, with ripe dark fruit (blackberry, cassis, and dark plum), and feature oak complexities such as vanilla, coffee, and chocolate flavours. They can work with meat dishes, but the dish must be equally big in flavour.
Think about the occasion. What food are you serving, who is coming, and what is your price range? Match the occasion and food style to the wine category, and then start thinking about specific wines that will meet your budget. For example, if it is a steak and frites dinner, and you want to do it on a budget, look for Old World bistro reds with a good reputation that are priced under $20.
Ask an expert. Many newspapers and magazines feature regular wine columnists. It is common to see people walk into a wine store with a clipped newspaper column in-hand. Wine writers taste a lot of wines, and act as a filter. They often write about low-risk wines that will satisfy you without denting your wallet too much.
Look at the wine scores, but read the full reviews too. It will offer advice on what occasions and which food the wine pairs with best. If you have more than one wine writer in your market, find the one whose palate is most in tune with yours. That takes some experimentation, but it’s fun.
Most major Atlantic Canadian wine stores have at least one trained wine person. Some have several on staff all the time. That person might be a sommelier, as is the case at a private store like Bishop’s Cellar in Halifax. Staff may have other wine training, such as from Wine and Spirits Education Trust or in-house training. Seek their advice. They will have questions for you too, about the food you are serving, styles you like, and brands you enjoy regularly.
Remember, no one is judging you when you are shopping for wine. Relax, read, ask questions, and listen. Soon you will be home enjoying a good wine.