by Megan Westers
Wine — it’s often associated with special occasions, holidays and sometimes, snobbery. The reason for this is most likely because there is simply so many things to know when it comes to wine: styles, grape varieties, regions, aging…the list goes on and on. For some of us, approaching wine can be an intimidating task due to the sheer quantity there is to choose from. If you don’t have a basic understanding of wine, how do you start to truly appreciate it?
Whether you’re a novice with an interest in wine and don’t know where to start, or you want to make a good impression at your next fancy dinner date, here is some basic information to get you started.
The Big Four
It’s important to know the four main categories of wine: reds, whites, rosés and Champagne. Within those four groups, you’ll find that no matter what the category is, it will be classified as either sweet or dry. While there are some exceptions, typically reds are dry. Common red wines you’ve probably heard of are Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, which are two classic dry wines.
Whites, on the other hand can either be dry or sweet. Rieslings from Michigan tend to fall on the sweeter side; however, you may discover a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc that swings to the dry side. Usually when a white is sweet, it is comprised of a specific variety of grapes. Crisp whites such as Riesling and Moscato are typically made from sweet-flavored grapes. The region grapes are grown in have a vast impact on the flavor, as well. For instance, Rieslings from France are much drier than Rieslings from Michigan.
Rosés and Champagnes are almost always dry. Much like reds, there are exceptions, especially here in Michigan, but on a worldwide level, they are generally on the dry side.
“Crisp whites such as Riesling and Moscato are typically made from sweet-flavored grapes.”
Now that you know the categories, it’s important to know which foods to pair them with. Sweet wines usually go best with dessert and, surprisingly, spicy dishes.
Dry reds are notorious for pairing well with red meats such as steak or hamburgers, as well as heavy pasta dishes with meat or tomato-based sauces. Pizza is also a common and delicious mate to dry red wine.
Dry whites taste superb with seafood, chicken, savory salads and light pasta dishes with cream or oil-based dressings.
Rosés are the perfect compliment for earthy vegetables, such as green beans and asparagus, and salads with citrus-based dressings.
Champagne can be paired with a variety of different foods. Traditionally, Champagne pairs well with shellfish–typically oysters. A bubbly like Prosecco makes a great companion to foods many people would never group into the same category–hearty stews, cake and fried foods.
Now that the basics have been covered, all you have to do is begin! Start slow, and take note of your favorite foods. Based on your mental menu, use these simple tips to begin pairing wines that compliment your go-to dishes and see if you like them. Remember, just because a certain wine doesn’t tingle your taste buds, doesn’t mean the whole category won’t create a spark. Experiment! Before you know it, the wine aisle at your local grocery or liquor store will begin to look less like the unknown and more like a tasty adventure to behold. Cheers!