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Grape Expectations

Picking out a great bottle of cabernet sauvignon at the liquor store, or even just a glass of sauvignon blanc while out for a nice meal, isn't as hard as some wine connoisseurs might make you think.

Rachel Wright
February 1, 2017

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Whether you spend it out on the town celebrating your liberating singledom, binge-watching with your boo, or giving it a shot with somebody new, we can all agree it’s a day decreed for love and good times, candlelit dinners, flowers, chocolates and — our personal favorite — wine.

Wine is the sophisticated, intelligent, I’m-an-adult-and-I-drink-in-moderation-and-to-taste impression you want to make on a first date. It’s also perfect for a night in. It has a huge role in world history (the oldest winery is said to have been founded in Ancient Armenia, in 4100 B.C.), and as Lisa Hutchcraft, general manager at Modern Spirits says, it’s a natural fit for a romantic night.

“Wine is romantic and adventurous,” says Hutchcraft, who is a red wine enthusiast herself. “I like talking to people about trying something from another country, because there are so many options, from boxed wines, which have come a long way, to a $100 bottle; the experience is different every time.”

Learning to taste wine is no different from learning to really appreciate music or art in that the pleasure you receive is proportionate to the effort you make. The more you fine-tune your sensory abilities, the better you’re able to understand and enjoy the nuances and details that great wines express.

A wine beginner might know the basic differences between a red and a white, but it’s also important to learn all the wine types and varietals.

With so many varieties and pairings, it can be a little intimidating, so let us walk you through some wine basics. Think of it as
 Wine 101, which we hope will arm you with impressive conversation starters, solid pairing suggestions and the confidence to select the perfect bottle for your Feb. 14 festivities and beyond.

The Basic Terminology
A full-bodied wine has a rich, complex flavor that stays with your taste buds. Some people describe these as “heavy” wines. Light- bodied wines are more watery and subtle, and medium-bodied wines fall somewhere in between. Dry wines have no residual sugar, so while you’ll still enjoy fruity flavors, they don’t taste sweet. All of these variations come in red and white.

The Reds
Cabernet sauvignon (Cab-er-nay Saw-vin- yawn) is a full-bodied red, with black cherry, black currant, baking spices and cedar flavors. Its grapes were originally planted in the Bordeaux region of France. It’s the most popular wine in the world, and pairs well with lamb, beef and smoked meats. Merlot (Murr-low) is a commonly known close cousin of “Cab Sav” worth mentioning that usually has a lower price point and a smoother finish.

Syrah (Sear-ah), also often known as shiraz, is a full-bodied red with a medium dryness containing blueberry, plum, tobacco, black pepper and violet flavors. With grapes planted in Australia and the Rhone Valley 
in France, these wines have intense fruit flavors and often aggressive meaty (think beef broth or jerky) tones. Syrah is best paired with lamb, and beef. Malbec, a noteworthy variation currently on list of trendy wines, is comparable to Syrah.

Pinot noir (Pee-no Nwar), Modern Spirits’ number one wine seller, is a dry, light-bodied red wine with cherry, cranberry and rose flavors often with hints of beet, rhubarb or mushroom. Also from France, it pairs well with chicken, pork, veal and duck.

Zinfandel (Zin-fan-dell) is a medium-to- full-bodied red whose name may be best known in its Rosé variation, White Zinfandel, both of which are made with red grapes. It has a broad array of flavors ranging from overripe nectarine to raspberry, blackberry, Asian spices and sweet tobacco. Its grapes originated in Croatia and it pairs well with chicken, pork, cured meat, lamb, barbecue, and Thai, Chinese and Indian foods.

Tempranillo (Temp-ra-neeyo), Hutchcraft’s favorite, is a full-bodied Spanish red often compared to Zinfandel and currently enjoying its time in the trendy wine limelight, alongside Malbec. For those planning a night in, it is a great choice for cooking and sipping.

“I love a good Tempranillo, especially to cook with,” Hutchcraft says. “I recommend Radio Boca’s Tempranillo. It’s delicious and at only $10 a bottle, it’s a fantastic price point. I use it to make an easy shallot onion reduction to pour over a New York strip, then have a glass with dinner.”

The Whites
Chardonnay (Shar-dun-nay) is a medium- to-full-bodied very dry wine with citrus, pear and apple and tropical fruits like banana and pineapple, often with cinnamon, butterscotch and toasted caramel. A French wine, chardonnay is well paired with seafood, chicken and pork and veggies.

Sauvignon blanc (Saw-vin-yawn Blonk) 
is a dry, aggressively citrus-driven white
with grapefruit, melon, kiwi, grass, mint
 and green pepper flavors. Another French favorite, this tart wine is best paired with fish, chicken, pork, Mexican, Vietnamese and French cuisine.

Pinot Gris (Pee-no Gree) is a light-bodied white with delicate citrus flavors including limewater and orange zest, apple skin and oral and cheese rind notes. Originating in Italy, but widely planted in France and Germany, this sometimes bitter wine is paired best with salad and seafood.

Riesling (Reese-ling) is known as “off-dry” white, available in variations of sweetness, and has oral and sweet herbal elements as well as lime and lemon, peach and nectarine flavors. Originating in Germany, this acidic wine is best enjoyed with chicken, pork, duck, turkey, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Moroccan and German foods.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Hop over to Modern Spirits and let Hutchcraft walk you through their wine options, numbering over 500 and ranging in price from $8 to over $100 per bottle.

Twist, Flick and Pop

Even if you don’t care about wine origins or varieties, you should know how to open a bottle without looking like an amateur. Here’s our seven-step guide to not making a fool of yourself while opening a bottle. Just don’t break the cork.

1. Check to make sure it’s a bottle with a cork. Seriously. The moment you realize you’ve been trying to uncork a screw-top bottle you’ll notice your face is a color resembling Cabernet. 

2. Once you’ve confirmed there’s a cork to remove, get rid of the foil. Use the little blade on your corkscrew to slice and pull off the foil to below the lip of the bottle. If a piece of the foil is left above the lip of the bottle, you’ll make a mess when pouring the wine. 

3. Take a firm grasp of the bottle by the neck with your non-dominant hand and place the bottom of the bottle on your hip.

4. With your dominant hand, place the tip of the corkscrew barely off-center of the cork, and push until you reach the first curl of the corkscrew. The corkscrew will need to be sort of sideways to push the sharp tip straight into the cork.

5. Turn the corkscrew clockwise and make sure you’re keeping the corkscrew centered in the cork. Turn until there’s one curl remaining outside of the cork.

6. Secure the metal lever onto the lip of the bottle and, without pinching your finger, wrap one hand around the bottle neck and the lever, to ensure the lever doesn’t slip off the lip.

7. Pull the handle, ensuring the corkscrew — now inside the cork — doesn’t force the cork out at an angle. Straight in, straight out. Pour. Enjoy.