Expert tips for navigating through the world of wine
from our Sommelier, Mona Khalife
Today Mona Khalife, Sommelier, answers your wine questions about cooking with wine when you’re not a wine drinker yourself, buying wine, and more. Thank you, Ashleigh & Denis, our CWC-Ambassadors, for your questions.
I’m not actually a wine drinker so I’m always struggling to know the best type of wines to use in my cooking. Everyone always says to use what you would drink but that never helps me. How do I know what wines are dry or more fruity etc?
It is true that you can use the wine that you will be drinking to cook with, but it’s not mandatory. To be honest, I don’t do it myself. [Here in France], I buy wines from small appellations such as IGP or Vin de France that are not expensive. The advantage of doing so is that it states the grape variety on the label so it is easier to know which wines to use.
Here are the following characteristics for each grape variety that are suitable for cooking:
Fruity, lemon flavor, mineral, appropriate for fish and shellfish
Chardonnay (2 types):
Unoaked (no wood) fruity, apple flavor appropriate for fish and poultry
Oaked (with wood) buttery, heavier, appropriate for stronger sauces for fish poultry and even pork.
(Red wine) red fruits, medium full-bodied, soft tannins so appropriate for game meat such as pheasant or pork with a red wine sauce.
(Red wine) dark fruits, full-bodied, strong tannins. Good to prepare richer, powerful sauces for beef or duck meat even venison or special stew.
Say I’ve been invited to a dinner party and I don’t know what the host is serving. What would be the best type of wine to take?
If you don’t know what the host is serving, it is indeed difficult to choose a wine, but not impossible.
The easiest choice would be a Sparkling wine or a Champagne to serve as an apéritif.
If you prefer white wine, then I suggest going for an unoaked Chardonnay as it is easy drinking and pairs easily with fish or poultry.
Otherwise, for red wine, I recommend a Pinot Noir that could nicely pair with fish or red meat. However if you prefer it full-bodied, then a wine made out of Syrah and Grenache grape pairs well with red meat and game meat.
If you can’t make up your mind, then take 2 bottles and use the one that will suit the food best.
Everybody has heard the rule that red wine is for meat, white is for fish and rosé is for dessert. Do you agree with it?
Indeed there is a rule about food & wine pairing, red meat with red wine, and fish with white wine but as with everything, you can change those rules.
According to the product used and its sauce, the wine changes. For example: if you prepare roasted poultry with mushrooms and cream, you can drink a rich and powerful Chardonnay to match the strength of the mushrooms.
For a pan-fried Red Gunnard (fish) with Mediterranean vegetables «gratin», Rosé wines can go very well.
As for red meats, red wines are best since they match the strength of the meat while the proteins of the meat soften the strength of the wine.
There is no opportunity to open a bottle [of wine] and taste at the shop while buying and there is no wish to be mistaken. How do you choose wine at shops? Do you take into account year, country, region, percent of sugars and alcohol or maybe even label design?
It is a tough question! Since choosing wine depends on what purpose you’ll be using it for.
Some shops have tasting facilities.
When you need to choose a wine, no need to take into account the wine labels or the percentage of sugar or alcohol since they do not guarantee the wine quality.
However, the country and region will give you indications of the grape variety or the style of the wine. If you go for a wine from the North, you will find it less intense in structure than the ones coming from the South that had more sun during the year. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the wine is better, only the taste will be different.
For example wines from California are rich and heavy wines because of the soils and the long sunny periods. In contrast, Oregon wines will be lighter. Argentinian and Chilian wines will correspond to a Californian wine. Then to differentiate them you need to know what grape variety has been used. For example Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or Torrontes (for Argentina).
To make it easier I insist on asking myself what do I need the wine for? This will allow you to narrow down your choice.
However, in a good wine shop, a professional wine seller will help you by asking the questions we mentioned above to choose the most suitable wine.
If you have other burning wine questions, you’d like to ask, just post them in the comments.
For more great wine pairing tips, join our Cheese & Wine pairing class in Paris.
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