Everything You Need to Know About Wine: An Interview with an Expert
So far we’ve talked a lot about good beers, bad beers, and everything in between (thanks, Jay). But let’s be honest, a young person’s alcohol repertoire is not complete without a basic understanding of the principles of wine. Enter Jason Malumed, CurrentGround’s new wine expert. Read his story here. It’s a story we can all hope to emulate about a desolate job market, and finding a way to do something you love. Read his interview below. Hope it helps answer some commonly pondered upon questions on wine.
Why is wine not only something people our age should be drinking, but also should know about?
To me, the thrill of wine has always been that it is a great mystery, where no matter how much you know, you can always find something interesting to keep you inquisitive and exploring. In studying wine, you get to know more than just a glass of rotten grape juice; it’s an interconnected story of people, geography, geology, climate, weather, history, tradition… you will never be bored. Plus, it tastes pretty good. Especially with food.
Any tips on how to purchase the right wine?
Go to a wine store, find a bottle, bring it to the clerk, and pay for it. But seriously, just try lots of different stuff. Don’t be afraid to experiment. When you finally find something you like, my one real tip is to not look at the front label, but turn to the back and look at who imports it (for example here you can see the importer name on the very bottom here). When you shop next, look for other wines that are from this same importer. If your palate likes a wine that a certain importer has selected, chances are you will like the other wines this guy brings in, even if they are made from different grapes or from different areas in the world. Importers tend to select a certain house style that you can taste in each of their wines; so seeing an importers name on a bottle is almost like their stamp of approval.
What wine should we either order at a restaurant, or purchase at a store, if we’re trying to impress a special someone?
I’d go with a Riesling. In every one of their many forms, these wines have crisp acidity and an amazing ability to express the piece of land where they were grown in (known as “terroir” [pronounced: terr-WAHR] in wine-geek terms), making them some of the most food friendly wines around. And, especially in many German Rieslings, this acidity is perfectly balanced by just the right amount of residual sugar. This is good because 1.) the ladies usually like this little extra sweetness, and 2.) it will show them you’re not afraid to order something a little “girly”. Plus if you are able to actually read the German wine label, they will think you are a superhero (see here, courtesy of Terroir Wine Bar)
If we’re hosting a dinner party, what wine should we buy?
You have to stick to something likeable for almost anyone. This means “extreme” wines, i.e. big, rich, jammy wines, or light, super high acid wines, might not be the best way to go. For a red, I love to use wines from the Rhone valley. You can find some great wines from the Cotes du Rhone that deliver exceptionally well for the dollar (Eric Texier Cotes du Rhone is a personal favorite). On the white side, I happen to be a big fan of Italian white wines for this situation. Just please, no Pinot Grigio. Try and find a white wine from the Friuli region of North-Eastern Italy made from Friulano (Venica Friulano is another go to). These have some more weight to them, which Chardonnay drinkers will like, but with enough acidity to keep Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio drinkers happy, and with beautiful aromatics for people who like Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
Any tricks of the trade for ordering wine at a restaurant?
Always, always, always ask the sommelier if there is one available! Even if you know wine to some extent, the somm will know exactly how the food and wines will act together and can use this knowledge to create a pairing for you that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Plus, if you let them know you are into wine, they will usually point out some hidden gems on the list that most people usually pass over because they are not widely known. And the good thing about these wines is they tend to have less of a mark up on them than the name brand wines, so you will save some money in the process of possibly discovering something new and interesting.
What are the best value wines?
Right now, I think red wines from the Loire Valley (ie. Chinon) and Cru Beaujolais (not that bubble gummy, juicy juice, Beaujolais Nouveau stuff) are some of the best values in wine. In both cases, to go from the everyday, easy drinking style to a producer’s top of the line, best wine that will age for years is only a matter of a couple bucks. In many other parts of the world, this same difference might be a hundred bucks (or worse). Oh, and Riesling. Again, probably the most food friendly wine in the world, Riesling is a wine that for not a lot of dough, you can get a wine that will drink well now and make your dining experience that much better, or cellar for a decade and come out with a wine that is truly complex and mind blowing. Plus, scientific research has shown that drinking Riesling makes you better looking.
What if we have a bit of extra cash in our pocket, and want to treat ourselves?
Eventually, when you get really deep into your wine geek-dom, everyone gravitates back to red wines made from Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France. While these wines can get obnoxiously expensive once you get past the basic level, there is also no other wine in the world that has much elegance, finesse, silkiness, age-ability, complexity, expressiveness of place, and food friendliness as red Burgundy. Find someone that has some money and has been collecting these wines for year, convince them to open a red Burgundy with some age, and sit back and get ready to have your mind blown. My first real “Ah-ha!” wine was a 1982 Robert Ampeau Blagny 1er Cru La Piece-sous-le-Bois… When I think about it now, I can still taste it.
How about the best box wine?
I’m actually a real big fan of Yellow+Blue Wines right now. These are really good. Not just good for a boxed wine, but good for wine in general. These come in a Tetra-Pak (milk carton looking thing), are all organically farmed (yellow+blue=GREEN, get it?), and are basically made from extra juice that great winemakers had left over, so you can get them on the cheap. The Torrontes is great out of their white wines, and the Malbec is as good as almost anything coming out of Argentina, today. Plus, the founder, Matt Cain, is from Chester Springs, PA, so I gotta show him some love.
Any tips on pairing wine with food?
Everyone always thinks red wine with meat, white wine with fish, but that’s not necessarily the case. My one rule is to always try to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. By weight of the wine, I am talking about how heavy the wine feels in the mouth, kind of like the difference between 2% milk and skim milk. For example, a Chardonnay from Napa, CA will have more “weight” to it (because of the ripeness, alcohol, and oak treatment), than, say, a Pinot Grigio from Italy. So, if you have a piece of white fish, with a rich, creamy butter sauce, you need to match the richness of the sauce with a heavier wine. If the same white fish is simply sautéed lightly with citrus, it will need a lighter wine so each item meshes with the other, and neither is overpowered. If all else fails, go with the mantra, “If it grows together, it goes together.” Oysters and a Muscadet wine from the Loire Valley, grown right near the ocean? Perfect. White truffles with a Barolo from Piedmont, IT? Heaven.
What are the worst wine/food pairings?
I hate to say “worst” because I respect that everyone has their own palate and likes different things, but I once saw someone drinking a big Napa Cabernet at a steakhouse with an oyster platter. I thought there was no way that could be good, so I ordered it, just to see what it was like. And it was gross. The reaction between the red wine and the shellfish left me with an awful metallic taste in my mouth, not to mention the oyster was completely blitzkrieged and overwhelmed by the weight and power of the huge red wine. But, hey, the guy seemed happy…
What are the most overrated/underrated wine regions?
For overrated wine regions right now, I’ve really been having a hard time with a lot of wines, specifically Malbecs, coming from Mendoza, Argentina. People just go bonkers for this stuff now; I think I get asked at least three time a day if I have, “heard of this great new wine called Malbec!?” With the big jump in popularity, people are now making Malbec in such a spoofilated style (lots of jammy, flabby fruit, no acid, no tannin, a little residual sugar to appeal to the “American” palate), which I have personally been struggling with. It’s similar to what happened to Merlot (and now Pinot Noir) from CA: demand shoots up, and wineries start making more and more wine with worse and worse quality.
As for underrated, I gotta go back to Riesling. People have this perception that it’s all a bunch of sugar water, White Zinfandel alternative, that doesn’t deserve our attention. Little do they know that these are some of the most balanced, food friendly, long lived, not to mention delicious wines in the world, and you can buy some of the absolute best producers for a comparatively measly figure. Did I mention I like Riesling?