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A Consumer's Guide to Choosing Wine PDF Print E-mail

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Tips for Choosing Wine
Luxurious reds with plenty of ripe fruit, like California Zinfandel, smooth the edges of sharp and briny sauces.

Crisp, refreshing whites with character and spice, such as Pinot Gris and Riesling, accentuate the bright freshness of chile-spiked seafood and vegetable dishes.

Lusty, Rhône-style reds, among them Syrah, Grenache and Syrah blends from California, enhance robust, spicy dishes with sweet, earthy undertones.

Fruity reds, like Burgundy-style Pinot Noir, balance the intensity of bold and peppery dishes.

Rich, late harvest-style wines with hints of fruit, honeysuckle and toasted nuts, as well as a delicate sweetness, echo the flavors in many autumn fruit-and-nut desserts.

Dry sparkling wines, such as brut Champagne and Spanish cava, are great with anything salty. They have a faint touch of sweetness that makes them extra-refreshing when served with salty foods.

Full-bodied, tannic reds with lots of fruit—Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, for example—stand up to zesty, braised dishes without overpowering them.

Serve a dry rosé with hors d’oeuvres
Good rosé combines the fresh acidity and light body of white wines with the fruity character of reds. This makes it the go-to wine when serving a wide range of hors d’oeuvres, from crudités to gougères.

Serve an unoaked white with anything you can squeeze a lemon or lime on
White wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Vermentino (typically made in stainless steel tanks rather than oak barrels) have a bright, citrusy acidity that heightens flavors in everything from smoked sablefish to grilled salmon.

Try low-alcohol wines with spicy foods
A hint of sweetness helps with the heat. Alcohol accentuates the oils that make spicy food hot. So when confronted with dishes like a fiery curried chicken or Thai stir-fry, look for wines that are low in alcohol, such as off-dry German Rieslings.

Match rich red meats with tannic reds
Tannins, the astringent compounds in red wines that help give the wine structure, are an ideal complement to luxurious meats—making brawny reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah great matches for braised duck legs or pan-seared sausages.

With lighter meats, pair the wine with the sauce
Often the chief protein in a dish—chicken or pork, say—isn’t the primary flavor. Think of pork chops in a delicate white wine sauce versus pork chops in a zesty red wine sauce; in each case, the sauce dictates the pairing choice.

Choose earthy wines with earthy foods
Many great pairing combinations happen when wines and foods echo one another. Earthiness is often found in reds such as Pinot Noir (particularly from Burgundy) and Nebbiolo, making them great partners for equally earthy ingredients, like bison steaks or wild mushrooms.

For desserts, go with a lighter wine


You may encounter some of the following terms on wine labels. As consumers become more educated about wine, many wineries are producing wines with special characteristics to meet the demands of their customers. Some of these terms are regulated while others are not. This guide should help you make informed choices about which wines to choose, and if you have further questions, our staff is happy to help.

Are made with grapes from certified organic viticulture, free of synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers. These wines do not contain added sulfites. Wines with no sulfite additions cannot be aged in barrels and should be consumed young. Cellaring is not recommended.


Contain at least 70% organically grown grapes. May receive sulfite additions.

Occur naturally by fermentation, but most winemakers utilize minimal amounts in production to stabilize their wines. Sulfites may be added at crush, immediately following fermentation to prevent further undesired fermentations, during barrel and tank aging, and at bottling – sometimes during each of these phases, sometimes during only one. These additions can stop fermentation, defend against microbial spoilage, prevent oxidation and help wine to age soundly.

These methods may be used to clarify wines of solids and are used based on winemaker preference, rather than necessity. While some argue for the removal of sediments in wine, others argue that unfined and unfiltered wines have more complexity and greater depth of flavor. Unfiltered wines may naturally develop cloudiness and deposits.

Is a secondary fermentation by which tart-tasting malic acids are converted to creamy-tasting lactic acids. This step is common in medium to full-bodied wines to produce a fuller mouthfeel and richer flavors, and to guard against secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle.

Is produced following the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner from vineyards managed as self-contained ecosystems. This type of farming involves a variety of preparations in a “beyond organic” style which focus on good soil, lunar cycles, integrated pest management and biodiversity among other concepts. These wines can be certified by the international committee Demeter, but like organic viticulture, not all farmers choose to submit for certification – it is helpful to get to know those who make your wines to develop trust and understanding of their processes and ideals.

Is a controversial term with no standardized certification at this time. In general the concept is based on biodiversity, integrated pest management, compost and little to no waste production. In this sense it is also regarded as a “beyond organic” style of farming which is concerned with sustaining the health of the land, its inhabitants and those who tend it. A human element of socially responsible farming is often a component: paying laborers a living wage with healthcare, and employing permanent employees versus migrant workers. Some committees are forming in the US to certify and define sustainable viticulture. We expect to see an increase in wineries identifying themselves as sustainable.

This is another term that is not officially defined. The definition will vary depending on the winegrower, but these wines tend to be produced by lowimpact farming and hands-off winemaking. Often from organic or sustainable fruit, natural wines do not utilize commercial yeasts in fermentation or other modern technologies in production, are usually unfiltered, and usually contain little added sulfite. The goal of this style is to evoke a sense of place, or as the French say, terroir, specific to the vineyard site and varietal.
Terroir refers to the contribution of environmental factors that affect the final product. With wine, this can include the type of soil, altitude, and vineyard position relative to the sun, among other factors.