“There is a lot of mystique regarding wine and there shouldn’t be,” said Scott Spencer, founder and owner of Houston Wine Merchant, 2646 S. Shepherd Dr.
A good wine also isn’t all about the price tag. Many wines that are inexpensive are enjoyable. When looking for a wine, it’s important to pay attention to what’s in the bottle.
“Characteristics to look for in a wine are the fruit flavor, the alcohol, the acidity, the complexity and the tannins (astringents),” Spencer said.
The more in-balance these characteristics are, the better the wine will be, which will also cause it to be smooth and flavorful.
“Like fine food there should be a lot going on, complexity, in the taste, but no one characteristic that is dominating,” Spencer said.
Wine drinkers use more than their sense of taste. If possible, watch the wine while it’s being poured.
In general, Spencer said wine should be clear and bright. If it’s cloudy or has a lot of particles, that’s a hint the wine might not be optimal.
Then swish the wine around in the glass, because this allows more of the aroma to be released. The aroma should be fresh and appealing.
“Taste the wine, swish it around to cover your entire mouth before swallowing,” said Matt Romans, wine buyer and sommelier for The Classic, 5922 Washington Ave. “Then take a moment to think about what you’ve just tasted. What flavors and textures and feelings stood out to you.”
Experiment with different wines. Pay attention to which wines you like and which ones you don’t. Sometimes a wine will give you a taste you weren’t expecting but is intriguing.
To help develop a taste for wine, it helps to taste different ones. The best way to do this is at wine tastings. Some places offer them for free, including Houston Wine Merchant, which has them every Friday from 5:30–7:30 p.m. and Saturday from 2-4 p.m.
Whether at a bar, a store or a wine tasting, it’s important to remember to ask questions. If you’re curious about why the wine you’re drinking tastes the way it does, don’t be afraid to ask.
“Wine is very subjective. People taste and like different things about different wines,” Romans said. “Everyone has their own unique palate. Something I consider to be an amazing wine may not appeal to everyone.”
Wine is a lot like food in the respect that there are thousands of different types. But basically, there’s red, white, sparkling, dessert and fortified wine.
“Most wines have little to no sugar, but some of the greatest in the world are sweet dessert wines,” Spencer said. “Fortified wines are dessert wines that are fortified with a little extra alcohol.”
Port, Sherry and Madeira are examples of those types of wine.
With so many different types of wine, it can get confusing on what kind of wine pairs well with certain foods. Spencer provides a cheat sheet of sorts to follow.
Fresh seafood is usually going to pair with white wine, but heavier fish such as salmon and sea bass will go nicely with a lighter red, such as Pinot Noir. Grilled meats will typically pair well with red wine, with the exception of grilled chicken, which goes well with a heavier white, like Chardonnay. Spicy foods, including Cajun or Szechuan Chinese, will pair with something a little sweet, like a Riesling or something a bit spicy, like Gewurztraminer (which means “spicy grape” in German).
“Picking a bottle at a store can sometimes feel like a shot in the dark,” Romans said.
However, you can still ask someone in the store what they would recommend. There’s also different apps and websites that have rating systems that can help you choose a wine.
A tip that Spencer gives when picking a bottle of wine is to smell the cork, if there is one. If it smells musty or like wet cardboard, that is another hint that the wine is not up to par.