With the holidays behind us, and resolutions and plans on our minds, a great goal is to learn how to choose and drink wine – the right way. What better expert to share some tips than Charles Krug Winery’s own Peter Mondavi Jr.
Like the James Bond of wine, Peter Mondavi Jr. comes armed with a serious artillery of wine cred that can help you impress your beloved or ‘wow’ friends with your newly gained wine knowledge.
Like his best reds (and not unlike Bond actor Daniel Craig, come to think of it), Mondavi has texture–he’s smart, well-spoken and, when it comes to wine, definitely in the know.
Along with smart advice on wine (like ever-so-lightly chilling today’s higher-alcohol red wines to make them more drinkable), Mondavi is wont to trounce wine fallacies and demystify wine snobbisms. Take his advice, and you’ll be well on your way to drinking a better glass of wine.
Peter Mondavi Jr’s tips for choosing and drinking wines are as follows:
- Life’s too short to drink the same wine over and over again, especially to usher in spring. So now’s the time to experiment! The closer the group of friends you are with the more experimental you can go. So have fun with it!
- Price is not always an indicator of quality. It’s always fun to discover the reasonably priced gem so ask your wine salesperson for their suggestions for great values. And if you don’t like the wine, it’s not a big investment lost.
- Embrace twist-offs, they are a sign of a progressive winemaker. They, like corks, are not trouble-free but the frequency of problems from a bad cork is far less.
- Planning to go out to a restaurant or wine bar? Sniff the cork that the sommelier presents, or don’t sniff it; as long as you’re not planning on eating it, it doesn’t matter. What truly matters is what’s in the glass. So sniff the wine! If it smells like wet, moldy cardboard in your glass, you’ve got a wine that is “corked.” At that point, it might be interesting to smell the end of the cork to confirm your deduction.”
- Seek out and trust the guidance of the sommelier at the restaurant, BUT give them some guidelines: your general wine preferences, (opulent reds vs. tannic vs. light and elegant, oaky whites vs. fruity vs. crisp, etc.) the food you’re eating and, perhaps most important, a price range. An informed sommelier will appreciate the guidelines and be able to give you much better service.
- A slight chill on reds (true cellar temperature, low 60’s) is perfectly acceptable, even desirable for today’s higher-alcohol California reds. It helps soften the perception of alcohol.
- Decanting is a must for decades-old red wines (with sediment) often opened for special occasions. This is done to get the clean wine off the dregs that have settled to the bottom or side of the bottles, so they don’t end up in your glass. Or in your teeth; chunks of sediment in your teeth is not a pretty thing. Or on your clothes; they can stain. For old wines, decant very gently.
- Young big reds also can be decanted (contrary to with older reds, you decant young reds very aggressively, to aerate them) but it is not absolutely necessary. It is a good show, though!
- Don’t get too hung up on food and wine pairing; it can be stress-inducing and overrated. There are some basics things that pair well, but if you like a certain combination, then it works—who’s to say you’re wrong if it’s right for you? Though I do love a great steak and a big Napa Valley Cab.
- That said, chocolate desserts rarely work with Cabernet Sauvignon. If you want to try out the combination, find a very high quality chocolate (with +/-80% cacao content) and taste nothing else except the wine and pure chocolate. In general, dessert should never be sweeter than the wine or it will make the wine taste sour, so say no to the caramel sauce and cheesecake. It’s rare, but when it works it’s ecstatic! If it doesn’t work, you still have some great chocolate with which to indulge yourself.
- Trust your own palate, have confidence with it, go with your gut.
- Lastly, no sabering the champagne bottles, especially when you’ve been enjoying alcoholic beverages. I don’t like picking shards of glass off my guests.
Profile photo credit: Marc Blondin Photography