Screw the Swirlers

A how-to article written for a Magazine Writing class.

Screw the Swirlers:

Everything you need to know

about wine and the real way to choose it

By Kayla Queen

 

In a recent article in Wine Spectator magazine, Harvey Steiman writes “When learning to match food and wine, you don’t have to learn complicated systems for selecting the right wine to enhance the food on the table. This is not rocket science. There is a simple way to make successful wine and food pairings, requiring only that you consider the weight of both the wine and the food when making a decision about what to pour with what you’ll be serving and eating.”

We don’t give a damn about that.

The world of wine is vast, scary even. There are reds, whites, rosés, not to mention wines from everywhere you could imagine. So, when a friend calls to invite you to a dinner party and asks you to bring a bottle of wine, a million questions may run through your pretty little head. What is being served for dinner? Is it pasta? Is it with red sauce or white? Is there meat? Or will dinner be steak? Chicken? Fish? All of this just adds up to a headache caused by all the stuff you’ve heard about wine from people like Steiman.

Oh, the madness.

The wine snobs will probably tell you to swirl, sniff and spit, or that only red wines go with pastas with red sauces or steaks, and only whites go with white sauces and chicken. Well, that’s just not the case. Basically, you just need to do whatever you want.

 

Consider your personal tastes.

First, you must determine what you like. If it doesn’t taste good to you, it’s not going to matter if it technically pairs well with the dish you are eating. If you only like red wines, drink reds. No one is going to condemn you to Wine Hell for having a red wine with a salmon dish, if that’s what you like. Try some different types of wine and decide which tastes you like better. Do you prefer the sweeter, fruitier wines? The sparkling wines? The tart, dry reds? The possibilities are endless.

Choosing something you would like to drink by itself is also a good place to start. If it tastes good alone, it will probably taste even better with some great food.

 

Consider your price range.

“Never before have there been so many good wines for reasonable prices,” Bill Gleason, owner of La Fontaine Tobacco and Wine Shop in Huntington, W.Va., says. Wines are available from several places in the United States, with California being one of the front-runners. There are also West Virginia wines, as well as from all the other lands of the world. France, South America, New Zealand — basically everywhere.

Gleason says there are plenty of wines that range from just $11 to $15, and to stick to your own personal budget.

“Don’t let some salesperson talk you into buying a $40 bottle when you want to spend $14.”

It is perfectly easy to get a high quality wine for a good price.

 

Consider your experience with wines.

If you have never had a drop of wine before in your life, don’t start out with a really dry red wine. That’s pretty brazen. Start slow.

“Try a sweet wine to start out,” Gleason says.

Historically, sweet wines were named for their absence of dryness, not because they were fruity or sugary. For instance, white wines are usually sweeter tasting wines, unless they are aged with oak. Then they become tart. So, if you are looking for a wine that actually tastes sweet, look for something white made with apricots or pears.

 

Read the labels.

In Europe, there aren’t typically any descriptions on the bottle, probably because they grow up surrounded by wine.

“It’s such a big part of their culture. It would be like putting a description of milk, to us,” Gleason says.

However, on the backs of American wine bottles, there will generally be something to give you an idea of what the magic inside tastes like. Sweet. Fruity. Dry. Crisp. Refreshing. These should help you out when trying to decide on a bottle within the abyss of the wine cellar of a shop or grocery store. Conveniently, many bottles also will suggest a type of food the wine pairs well with, such as “a lighter pasta or fish dish.”

 

Pay attention to the condition of the store.

“I would suggest not to do much purchasing somewhere where it’s really dusty,” Gleason says. “Corks can get dry from this, which contaminates the wine. Also, if there are bottles standing up, or if it’s sweltering hot — don’t buy anything.”

Temperature is a big deal for wine.

“People have misconceptions about what ‘room temperature’ is,” Gleason says. “They think it’s just whatever temperature the room happens to be, but if that room was in hell, it’s probably not going to be any good.”

The best temperature for wines is between 55 and 60 degrees.

“Before wine is opened, its biggest enemy is the temperature. After it’s opened, it’s the air. Air is the enemy.”

Older is not always better, either, so pay attention to the dates on the bottles. White wines especially have a shorter life span than reds.

“There is a point where wines start to break down again,” Gleason says. “Most wines have a peak of five years or so.”

 

Don’t be afraid. Of anything.

It can be scary walking into a room filled with a thousand bottles of different colored alcohol, all claiming to be either French or Italian or even Amish. Don’t freak out. Just take your time.

“Not everyone who works in a shop is going to be helpful,” Gleason says. “You just have to pay attention to what you’re buying.”

Screw caps on wine bottles are not bad. Corks were originally used because that was the best type of technology they had at the time. However, if the corks go bad, the wine goes bad. Today, there is a worldwide quantity of different types of synthetic corks and screw caps that are perfectly fine.

“Corks today are more about the presentation in restaurants,” Gleason says. “A waiter has to get a little more creative with a screw cap.”

Make choosing your wine an adventure. It doesn’t have to be a task. Ask questions about where wines are from, if they are really dry or if they will make a good gift to a friend. Just dive right in.

 

Do try to consider your dish. A little.

Now, with your tastes and tips in mind, do try to think a bit about what you are eating, because some wines tend to overpower your food.

“Red wines, especially, can often overpower a dish,” Gleason says. “Say, you’ve got a grilled cheese. It might taste smooth and creamy, but if you take a drink of red wine, it’s like pouring a bucket of water over a match. You don’t want to put out the taste, you want to compliment it.”

Gleason says this is why you will tend to hear that red wines go with beef, and the majority of people like that. But, hey, if you like red wines with grilled cheese sandwiches, go for it.

It’s also good to try to match the type of dish with the region of wine.

“You don’t have to do this, but try pairing an Italian wine with an Italian dish,” Gleason says. “But, really, just drink what you like. You gotta choose what you like.”

 

With all the types of wines, regions they come from and ways to try them out there, it is an endless opportunity to experience some really great wine. In order to enjoy your wine time, remember these tips while holding tight to the most important lesson — drink what makes you happy. Grab some dinner, some great friends and a good bottle and have fun.

 

Recipes

Eggplant Parmesan

(Kristin Steele)

 

Ingredients

2 large eggplants, thinly sliced

4 eggs

2 cups of flour

4 cups of breadcrumbs

½ cup of vegetable oil for frying

2 cups Fontina cheese

2 cups Mozzerella cheese

1 cup Romano cheese

Pasta of your choice

 

Sauce

3 red peppers, sliced and cored

5 tomatoes, cubed or 3 cans of stewed tomatoes

2 cups vegetable broth

2 tablespoon olive oil

Basil

Garlic powder

Salt

Pepper

 

Directions

Put about half of the red peppers, tomatoes, broth and oil into a blender. Blend them up until they are combined, but not pureed. Add to a pot at medium-high heat, and finish the other half in the blender. Add the other half of the mixture, then add basil, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer.

Heat large skillet with vegetable oil, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Arrange flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in 3 separate bowls. Take eggplant, and one piece at a time, dredge in flour, beaten eggs, then breadcrumbs. Lay eggplant in skillet to fry.

Once browed on both sides, place enough eggplant slices to cover bottom of large casserole dish. Ladle out some of the sauce, then add a coating of the cheeses. Repeat this step until the casserole dish is filled, and add remaining cheese to the top. Remember to save some of the sauce for the pasta.

Place dish in 350 degree oven to bake for about 30 minutes.

While it is baking, put on a pot of water to boil. Add salt. Add pasta of your choice to water to cook.

When pasta is ready, drain and toss with remaining sauce. Transfer into large serving bowl.

When eggplant is ready, remove from oven and serve.

 

This dish pairs well with Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva, a red wine.

 

Smoked Salmon with Apples

(Giada De Laurentiis)

 

Ingredients

6 (1/4-inch thick) slices rosemary or olive bread, quartered

6 ounces Nova Scotia smoked salmon

1 small green apple, such as Granny Smith, halved and cut into very thin slices

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the bread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly brown and crisp. Cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.

Arrange the smoked salmon in a single layer on a serving platter. Lay the apple slices on top. Sprinkle the capers over the salmon and apple slices. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with the toasted bread.

 

This dish pairs well with Banfi Pinot Grigio, a white wine.

 

 

 

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