New year, new to wine?

Here’s help from the sommelier

Discovering wine is an exciting, fantastic, never-ending adventure, though it can be daunting if you are new to the world of vino. Which wines are “good”? What does a wine label tell you, or not tell you? How do you know what wine to buy? What is terroir, and why is it crucial to grape growing?

Wine is exciting because it’s esoteric. It’s captivating; it’s alive. It changes taste after being exposed to the air. It changes taste when you drink it with a bite of food. It’s actually living and changing inside the bottle.

Winemakers are artists who pour their entire beings into making a wine taste, well … good. Which brings us back to what makes a wine “good”? Certainly the age-old answer of “if you like it, it’s good” would apply: smell, sip, decide yes or no. But there are other important factors.

I know tasting wine is a subjective journey, but good wines have a lot in common. They have certain scents and flavor components. The wine must be balanced, because if it isn’t, it will make you cringe. The grapes need to have come from soil that was meant for them, and that’s called terroir (tare-wah). The French, i.e., the kings of winemaking, describe terroir as the perfect mixture of place: balance in the soil, the air and winds and latitude. For example, Chardonnay grapes grow best in Burgundy, and along the same latitudinal lines, in Oregon.

The wine must have something interesting going on, a certain complexity, for people to continue buying and drinking it. Wine should enhance your food-eating experience, not diminish it. Good wines start with good grapes. It’s exactly like food – the soil and the place matter.

More ways to know if a wine is good: Its popularity, reviews, wine magazines, beverage journals, the sommelier or server in a restaurant, the director or buyer of wine in a wine shop or liquor store or a wine app like Wine Spectator that gives you thousands of wine ratings in an instant. When people ask me what wine to order, I start the process by asking them what they generally like. Do you like sweet or dry? Red or white? What will you be having for dinner? A restaurant wine list can be daunting, but really all you need to do is strike up a conversation with the experts. There are several restaurants in Fort Wayne with extensive and impressive wines-by-the-glass programs.

Good wines do not have to be expensive. Since Americans’ wine consumption has grown dramatically over the last two decades, there are some absolutely delicious and powerful wines in the $15-$25 price category. A wine’s label can help you decipher its contents – read the back label, too. Many European wines don’t tell you what the grapes are, but the bottle shape will (interesting, but another article). Most European wines are labeled by region, so just ask someone about it or use your new app!

My faves?
St. Supery Rosé 2014, $16. Napa Valley wine that is a brilliant dark pink color and tastes like strawberries and raspberries. It’s a lighter wine that was fermented in stainless steel tanks.
Cuvaison Chardonnay 2012, $25. Oh my. Rich and creamy with flavors of vanilla and clove. It’s lush, silky and a little nutty – just like me. Aged in French oak barrels which makes it taste like butter. From the Los Carneros region in Califonia.
Primus Red Blend, $15. A dark and powerful Chilean Cabernet-based blend. This wine is a big, tannic, meaty, earthy red blend. An amazing, crazy value.
Belleruche Côtes du Rhone Rouge 2014, $13. This young one from the south of France is absolutely one of my go-to wines. It’s a lighter, smooth red made from Grenache and Syrah grapes. It’s easy to drink with flavors of cherries, earth and a little pepper. It pairs well with everything from salads and soups to chicken and duck. Really a no-brainer!
Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $25. Blackberries, black cherries, plums and violets. This wine cries out for a steak with mushrooms. Napa Valley again.

Carmen McGee holds the Court of Masters Sommeliers certification and is general manager and wine director at Joseph Decuis restaurant in Roanoke, Ind.

First appeared in the January 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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