We all drink it. Most of us like it. But how much do the majority of us know about wine (beyond the fact that we usually go for a nice, hearty Rioja?).
On a recent wine tasting evening we realised how much we didn’t know about wine – and how inexpensive it can be to buy and enjoy really good vino. We decided we wanted to know more so asked independent Liverpool wine trader Devin Stewart (right) to give us an introduction to wine – buying, tasting and generally getting a better appreciation of the stuff – without getting blasted.
Devin offers a personal wine shopping service, so if you fancy dipping your toes in you can ask him to provide some wines tailored to your taste and delivered to your door – or book him for a wine tasting event.
However, if you’re looking for a couple of recommendations or just want to bluff your way through some dinner table wine chat, we’ve got that covered too. Here’s our Surgery on how to buy, drink and enjoy wine.
1) Work out what you like
Work out what you want from wine – do you want it to accompany a good meal or simply enjoy it for what it is? If you want to get into wine you can find out all sorts about a bottle from the internet – the vineyard will almost certainly have a website so you can find out about the grape and its characters.
If you like a bottle of wine, find out about it from whoever’s given it to you, served or sold it to you. Or if you can find someone who knows about wine, talk to them – they’ll be able to recommend some more you might like if you can tell them what you usually enjoy.
If you like Rioja, for instance, there’s a good chance you’ll like Malbec. With white wines like the New Zealand Sauvignon you might like the Sancerre.
2) You can buy good wine from supermarkets
I don’t buy a lot of wine of supermarkets but there’s certainly good wine available. I recently did a tasting with a group of chaps – we drank some of mine and some wine they’d brought from the supermarket, compared and contrasted and there was some good stuff there.
What I’d tend to stay away from any wine that’s branded by the supermarket as they’re fixated on volume, not quality. A good analogy is music. Girls Aloud used to make great pop music; it’s very well produced, well-packaged and it looks great – but I wouldn’t listen to it at home.
I’m a big Tom Waits fan – every song has a story; every instrument in that song is there for a reason; every track has a lot of thought gone into it. There’s a lot of Tom Waits in his music. Supermarket-branded wine is fine for what it is; it does the job but it’s not the best wine you can get.
Also, beware of offers that may seem tempting. I recently saw some Isla Negra wines advertised in a supermarket as half-price at five pounds. You could never say that one of those bottles of wine was actually worth ten pounds. So I’m a little suspicious of the sales.
3) The more you pay, the more you’re paying for wine
That might sounds obvious, but if you buy a bottle of wine you’re paying around three pounds for taxes and duty.
Pay a fiver and that doesn’t leave a lot of money to spend on the wine, especially given that it’s probably been transported from abroad. I’m hard pushed to name many good bottles of wine you can pick up for five pounds.
For ten or twenty pounds you’re hopefully paying a much larger proportion of your cash on the wine itself.
4) Look to Argentina and Portugal for good, inexpensive wines
You can get inexpensive wines from those two countries that are consistently good, with a little more depth to them. They both deliver. Spain, outside of the Rioja region, is also a good bet. Jumilla offers some excellent value.
A lot of Southern French wines have a lot more charm than their price tags might suggest too, though this is my personal opinion.
5) Don’t think of Cava or Prosecco as cut-price Champagne
It took me a while to get my head around Cava and Prosecco. Sparkling wine from throughout the world is often an imitation of Champagne; they use the same grapes and procedures. But with Cava and Prosecco in Spain and Italy you need to remember what they’re designed for. It’s not necessarily to have the richness or complexity as Champagne.
I’m a late convert to Prosecco – it’s not too alcoholic and it’s a wonderful celebration drink. The cork flies across the room; there’s a pop and there’s fizz but that’s where the similarity to champagne ends.
If you remember that they’re not imitations of Champagne you can enjoy them for what they are. There’s more Prosecco in my personal stash than anything else at the moment.
6) Some suggestions
For a tenner I’d suggest Gran Cerdo – the Fat Pig – that’s a very good expression of a young, vibrant Tempranillo from the heart of Rioja.
The guy makes it biodynamically – it’s chemical-free – and the label tells the story of the bankers who refused him the money to get his business of the ground. You can get that for under a tenner and I think that’s a bargain.
If you want something nice – perhaps as a gift or for a dinner party – I might look to Puglia in Southern Italy.
Some of the Primitivos have such a depth of flavour it’s mind-blowing for £15-20 – or you could get a good Burgundy for around the some money.
7) Ignore wine snobs
The thing I love about wine is that you can just drink it and enjoy it – you don’t need any knowledge of it to simply enjoy drinking it. But, like music, if you don’t feel it then what’s the point? You’re better off listening to something you like; it’s the same with wine.
If you do want to make more of it you can put your wine into a decanter to let it breathe a bit – or just pull the cork and let it breathe for an hour.
As far as tasting is concerned you can buy tasting glasses if you want, though they’re hardly necessary. Most of your taste is through your sense of smell so I do recommend having a good sniff.
My wife asks me, when she’s drinking wine, if she can detect certain flavours in there – as far as I’m concerned if you can taste it that’s fair enough.
Drink it – and see if you like it. I’m sure as Hell not going to tell you what you can taste!
You can buy any of the wines mentioned directly from Devin using the link below