A Master Sommelier gives you tips for how to really enjoy your wine.
White wine with fish and red wine with meat, right? Sparkling before still before sweet—but the dessert needs to be sweeter than the wine. With so many rules, it’s a wonder we manage to relax and have a good time. Who needs them? I certainly don’t, and you don’t, either. The goal is to drink something that tastes good while having a good time. If you agree, then here are some of my top tips on classic rules we can all throw out the window—and what to do instead.
You don’t need to pick a wine that will pair perfectly with your dish.
As a master sommelier I often drink what I like regardless of what I’m eating. I reach for a Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, which is a bold red wine with dark berry fruit flavors, and a kiss of vanilla from the oak, and I’ll drink that with anything from soups and salads to dessert. I like it. It tastes good. And that is all that matters.
Sparkling wine isn’t just for celebrations, and it isn’t confined to the beginning of a meal.
Many people raise an eyebrow, but I often order a bottle of Champagne and drink it throughout my meal; it works well with everything from salad to steak. The stronger flavor or texture of the food can match well with a champagne made with extended lees contact or longer aging. It also can be a great accompaniment to something “low brow” like cheeseburgers and potato chips. If you want to get people really riled up, try potato chips and caviar with that bottle of champagne—and maybe a side of French onion dip.
Sweet wine doesn’t go only with dessert.
Sweet wine. What a controversial item already. The value of terrific sweet wine is lost on Americans because we, as a whole, don’t drink much of it. When we do, it’s almost always with dessert. While it has sugar and can be a bit sweet, well-made dessert wine inevitably has a lot of acidity to balance out the sugar—which also makes it food-friendly. Not long ago I had a great dinner of fried chicken dusted with saffron along with a bottle of Sauternes. In England it’s not uncommon to start a meal with a glass of sweet wine, which they endearingly refer to as “sticky.”
White wine does not need to be very cold; and red wine does not need to be room temperature.
This is an important factor in your drinking experience: We often sip our Champagne and white wine way too cold and our red wine way too warm. The colder something is, the less we can taste or smell it. Don’t feel pressured to keep that bottle of white or Champagne in the ice bucket between pours. You can leave it on the table. Be bold! Let it warm up in the glass. When you do you’ll experience more of the aromas, flavors and texture that it has to offer.
For reds we think, “Room temperature: Okay, I’ll leave it on the counter and we’re good to go,” but that is a twisted rule that I see even great restaurants mess up. If you’re leaving your wine out to get to room temperature, it’s probably closer to 75 degrees than it is to ideal serving temperature. As a wine warms up, it emphasizes the alcohol and that throws the wine out of balance. You should shoot for a cool temperature of about 60 degrees for red. If anything, take the white out of the ice bucket and pop the red one in for a few minutes. It’ll be much smoother and more refreshing.
Rosé isn’t just a summer option.
Rosé isn’t only meant for when the sun is out—there are plenty bottles that you can drink all year long. Be forewarned: there is a lot of cheap, diluted, out-of-balance hogwash with a pink tint that gets bottled as rosé out there, so be careful about what you buy. Price often can be a good indicator—in this case, I suggest skipping that $6 bottle with animal pictures on the label and instead hunt for a well-made rosé, which is delicious and a great food companion. I love rosé in every style, from sparkling to still to sweet. Rosé champagne with duck, or still rosé and salad or fish, and sweet rosé with strawberries shortcake all are favorites of mine. There are many options, so don’t box yourself in.