Kindred’s guide to choosing good table wine
This year during ‘Dry January’, Waitrose reported that weekly wine sales had increased by a third. Perhaps this is because Brits are drinking more during lockdown, or maybe it’s simply that with pubs and restaurants shut, we don’t have much of a choice but to turn to supermarket shelves if we’d like to enjoy a nice bottle of wine.
More of us may be reaching for a glass of red with our dinner, but how many of us know how to pick a bottle that takes the meal from good to great?
Kindred have put together a simple guide to choosing good table wine: from knowing your way around the terms used to learning how to pair flavours.
Red or white?
Most people know that a red wine pairs better with red meat, while white is the better choice if you’re having fish or chicken. But a red wine can be fruity, spicy, buttery, and more — just as a white can be zingy, herbal, creamy, and more. How do you know which one to pick?
The key to balancing flavours is to first understand the flavours in your meal, and then figuring out what types of wine flavours could enhance or complement that flavour. The way a wine tastes is typically described in terms of its acidity, sweetness, alcohol content (wines typically have 10-15% ABV), tannin, and aroma.
How to pair flavours
There are two flavour pairing methods when it comes to choosing wine: congruent pairing, where the wine and the meal have mostly shared flavours, and complementary pairing, when the wine and the meal have mostly contrasting (complementing) flavours. For example, choosing a sweet wine to have with a sweet dessert would be a congruent pairing, while having a sweet white wine with a spicy noodle dish would be a contrasting pairing. In the latter case, the sugar in the wine can help to balance the spiciness in the dish.
Neither pairing style is ‘better’ than the other — they are just different, tried-and-true frameworks for making flavours work together.
What’s for dinner?
The basic taste components of food are salt, fat, sweet, bitter, spicy, acid, and savoury (also known as ‘umami’). How would you describe your meal in terms of those tastes? For example, the main taste components of a bowl of spaghetti bolognese might be fat and salt, with some umami.
Then, think about the sort of flavours that could complement or enhance (congruent) those flavours. You should also consider whether your meal is heavy/rich or light, as this will influence its flavour profile. For example, a heavy meal might contain a lot of cream or butter, while a leafy green salad might be bitter.
Choose your wine
Next, it’s time to scan the shop shelves and decide which wine you’d like to try. While there are multiple ‘right’ answers, here are a few rules of thumb that may be helpful in narrowing your choice:
- Red wines tend to be more bitter in taste; white, rose, and sparkling wines are usually more acidic; and sweet wines are sweet to taste
- The wine should have the same flavour intensity as the food. A simple way to consider this is whether you’d use the same sorts of words to describe the food and the wine, i.e. a buttery red wine will probably work with a buttery lasagne
- If the food has a sauce with a distinct or dominant flavour, it’s better to pair the wine with the taste of the sauce rather than the other components of the meal
- Strong flavours such as bitter, spicy, and acidic don’t tend to work well with each other
- Strong flavours (bitter, spicy, acidic) generally need to be balanced with fat, sweet, or salt
Types of wine
There are certain characteristics and flavours that are associated with certain types of wine which can be useful to know when trying to decide on a bottle.
There are nine styles of wine: sparkling, light-bodied white, full-bodied white, sweet white, rose, light-bodied red, medium-bodied red, full-bodied red, and dessert/fortified.
The ‘body’ of a wine describes how the wine feels inside our mouth. The main factor that makes a wine feel heavier is alcohol content: red wines with over 13.5% ABV are considered full-bodied. Full-bodied wines also are generally richer and have more complex flavours.
In wine shops, and some supermarkets, basic tasting notes are often displayed on or near the price or product label, and usually, wines are arranged near others that have similar flavours or characteristics. If you’re in the supermarket and are feeling overwhelmed by choice, you can use an app like Vivino to scan the label on the bottle of wine to read reviews from other people who have tried it. The app collates these reviews to give an overview of tasting notes others have identified.
Drinking wine is supposed to be fun
It’s easy to get carried away when learning about wine and trying to find the perfect bottle to compliment a meal. In a way, there is no such thing as ‘the perfect bottle’ — just different pairings that taste great for you and make you feel good.
The advice in this piece intends simply to help guide you, but there’s nothing stopping you from breaking any and all of these rules if you’d like to. Enjoying food and drink is supposed to be fun, and we’re not here to tell you what you like and what you don’t.
As best put by award-winning wine communicator Madeline Puckette, on her website Wine Folly: “The good thing is, it doesn’t matter how much you know, nearly everyone can appreciate wine. In short, wine is good.”
Share this article