Ah wine, the nectar of the gods. If only some people who drink it didn’t think they were the gods in question, aimiright? If you’ve always wanted to cultivate an appreciation for wine but were afraid you’d develop a rather unfashionable chip on your shoulder as soon as you popped the cork on that first bottle of Pinot Noir, we’ve got excellent news. It is in fact possible to appreciate wine without the associated haughtiness.
No kidding! To point you in the right direction, we’ve drawn up a handy list of dos and don’ts that will pave the way to a sincere love of wine without any added airs and graces.
DO be open to new experiences
The first thing you want to do when you set out to learn more about wine is taste as many as you can. Make a point of tasting widely – try wines from Stellenbosch, Paarl, Constantia, the Orange River, Namaqualand, the Swartland, Breede River, Robertson and further afield. Compare different varietals from each region to see if you can spot the subtle differences in flavour profile. Feeling a little overwhelmed with choice? Make your way to a boutique wine store in your area and ask to be informed of their scheduled in-store tastings. This way you can join in and learn more about a given winery’s vintages one at a time.
Bonus tip: If you’re really into it, get yourself a notebook. When you’re on a mission to experience as many wines as possible, one tends to run into the other after a while. Making notes about the wines you taste (mostly why you liked it) essentially means you’re tailoring your own personal Platter guide. Alternatively, you could always invest in a handy app.
DO experiment with food & wine combinations
Food and wine pairing is an art. Sure, there are the basic rules – white wine with white meat and light, summery dishes; red wine with red meat and heavier, winter-style foods – but those are by no means set in stone. For instance, a nice chilled Barbera (Italian red varietal) pairs wonderfully with a fresh Caesar salad, while a bold, nuanced Chardonnay brings out the unique flavours of venison. Think of your eventual pairing as a tango – the flavours of your food and wine should leave space for one another instead of trying to occupy the same dimensions. E.g. if your dish is heavy and rich, your wine should be fresh and tart. It’s all about balance.
DO look out for immersive tastings
Whenever possible, choose to have your wines poured by the person who made it. There is something truly magical about being guided in the appreciation of a wine by the maker who was there from the beginning, shaping it all the way from vine to glass. Sure, you’ll be able to taste the final product just as well as the hands of a promoter at Tops, but it’s a whole different ballgame when you have the opportunity to sit down at a table with the cellar master who pulled it all together. Bonus points if you take part in a tasting on the actual farm – the flavour of the wine in your glass is influenced by everything from the soil in which it grows to the foliage that surrounds the vineyards, so an in-situ tasting will really open your eyes (and nose).
DO invest in some kick-ass glasses
Consider it tools of the trade. You don’t have to mortgage your house to invest in a set of Riedel, but a nice set of elegant glasses for red and white wine will stand you in good stead. Why? First of all – it turns wine into an occasion, much in the way that a nice centrepiece can upgrade dinner to an event. Secondly, the shape of a glass actually has an impact on how you taste and smell its contents. Don’t believe us? Check this out.
DO consider room temperature when serving wine
Don’t assume room temperature is the temperature of the room you’re in. South Africa is HOT. In summertime, the ambient temperature in our homes can be far above what is normally considered ‘room temperature’. As such, you can feel free to chill your red wine or even (horror of horrors!) plop a block of ice in the white wine to cool it down. Sure, you’ll water down the bouquet of the wine a bit, but when you’re sweating bullets in the middle of February that should be the last of your concern. Taste and appreciate the first mouthful for all its intricate complexity and then make sure you can enjoy the rest of your drink.
DON’T diss screw caps
Listen, we get it, corks are old school and lovely. It’s that whole tactile and auditory thing behind pulling it from the bottle with a theatrical *pop*. Enjoy it when you encounter it. However, don’t diss the humble screw cap. Sure, it’s not as romantic, but your wine is also far less likely to be oxidised as a result thereof, and you’re going to pay a better price because of it. Screw caps are a more cost-effective bottling solution and holds up better under shipping and transport conditions, which means the wine’s structure remains intact and the winery can sell it to you at a better price. Win-win.
DON’T get twisted into knots over the lingo
If you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about when you comment on a wine, you’ll need some vocab. It helps your cause if you’re pronouncing the terminology correctly, so listen and learn while you’re out there exploring, but don’t get twisted into knots over it. When it doubt, ask. A sommelier or winemaker is unlikely to scoff if you’re making an honest attempt to build out your knowledge by asking them how to pronounce the name of a varietal or to explain a term they used to describe it.
DON’T assume more expensive automatically = best quality
Sure, a R500 bottle of vino is likely to be tastier than an odd bin find, but who exactly is keeping score? If you can afford to shell out those Leopards every time you buy a bottle that’s your prerogative, but there are plenty of well-priced wines out there that stand their ground. Once again, your local boutique wine trader is going to be your best source of information. Ask them to show you their own mid-range favourites and you are likely to uncover a few gems.
DON’T think you’re too young to start a collection
Having a wine collection doesn’t mean you need a house with a cellar. You can start collecting at any point. Choose wines that are likely to age well (reds normally fare better than whites), invest in a wine rack that keep your bottles elevated horizontally, and choose the coolest, darkest spot in your house or flat to store your wines. A temperature-controlled storage unit is nice if you can afford it, but in lieu thereof, try to control the temperature of the area in which you store your wine as best as you can. Feeling handy? Check out this DIY closet-to-cellar conversion…
DON’T be judgy about other people’s wine vibes
Finally, and most importantly, don’t be a d*ck, be lekker. It’s as simple as that. If someone rocks up to your braai with a bottle of sweet sparkling wine, get them a champagne glass and allow them to enjoy it without giving them a lecture about what real wine is, or going on a rant about sparking VS MCC. In the end, wine appreciation is all about finding what you like and revelling in the joy of discovery. Feel free to gush about your new favourite vintage until the cows come home but remember to extend that same courtesy to the people around you. To each his own, right?
Following these guidelines is sure to pave the way to a life of wine appreciation sans douchebaggery. Now all you have to do is go out there and explore. The South African Winelands await – happy trails and godspeed!
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Writing Anna-Bet Stemmet