Wine has been around for a long time, and I’m not talking about that half-consumed bottle of Merlot you’re still saving for when your current love interest kicks you to the curb (have some confidence!). We don’t know when wine was first made, but we do know that it has been enjoyed by everyone from the Greeks to the ancient Egyptians to the Babylonians, who even ran a type of wine shop. But only now is wine becoming as popular in the U.S. as it deserves to be. It’s time for everyone to educate themselves about something so rich in history — and flavor — since it’s quickly becoming a part of American culture the way it always has been in Europe.
This month, Blast asked Julie Bonaventura, the creative director of Busa Wine and Spirits, to help us get down to the basics of vino.
Lesson One: Choosing and buying a wine
"All you have to do is just sip and see what you like," said Bonaventura. It’s that simple. Once you’re aware of what flavors you tend to like, let the experts take it from there. Most stores, like Busa, have educated wine experts on their staff who are happy to help. Tell them what flavors you enjoy, specific wines you like, and your price range.
"Say, â€˜I don’t want red wine.’ Then you’ve eliminated half of the search. Then let them know, â€˜I like spicy’ or â€˜I like fruity.’"
If you choose to go it alone, consider trying different wines from one brand you know you like, suggests Bonaventura. They’ll most likely carry a range including a pinot grigio and a chardonnay and then move to red with a Shiraz, a Merlot and a Cabernet. This way, you’ll be comfortable with both the brand and the price.
When picking out a bottle, don’t be sucked in by a sexy label. "People tend to go for a fun label or something that they know, and really the best thing to do is just flip that bottle around and read the back, because the back is going to tell you what it goes well with and what kind of flavors the wine will bring to you," said Bonaventura. She noted that if you’re shopping for a dinner party, make sure you have a sense of what you’ll be serving so you can pair the food and wine accordingly.
If you’re picking out a gift or something for a holiday party, go for a nice neutral wine. Bonaventure especially loves the Coppola’s line — as in Francis Ford. They have a nice variety with nothing too overbearing. She raved: "I love his movies, and I love his wine!"
Also, be sure to look at the points a wine has been given. Many stores advertise the wine rating. Only buy wine with a rating of 90 or above — you’ll be able to find every price range.
"I don’t feel you have to be an expert to buy wine; I don’t feel you have to be an expert to buy the best wine either,” Bonaventura said. “The best wine is whatever you enjoy. You don’t have to buy a $40 bottle of wine to think it’s the best. You might buy a $50 bottle of wine and not enjoy it.”
Lesson Two: Drinking at dinner
When you’re serving wine at home, be sure you’re serving it properly. A white wine should be chilled for at least 20 minutes before you serve it. A red wine should be decanted right before your guests arrive. "It’s breathing, just how you and I breathe," said Bonaventura. "Air is going in and air is coming out." You can buy a decanter at places like Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, and HomeGoods.
Before you sip, cleanse your palette. You don’t want any other flavors interfering with the taste of the wine. Water works fine. Then take a sip and let it sit on your tongue. It should tingle and taste all the different flavors. Never gulp your wine. Next, take a bite of food and then another sip of wine. "If it’s a perfect pairing, you’re actually not even going to notice a change,” said Bonaventura. “If there’s a difference in the wine — if it strikes you differently — then that’s a negative reaction."
When pouring wine for your guests, only fill the glass halfway. Red wine glasses are made bigger and rounder so the wine can breathe, with the intention that it will not be decanted.
One last tip for your holiday parties: Red wine spills can be tough to battle. So what’s the one thing that always gets out red wine? White wine! Just get to it right away.
Okay, so now you’re the perfect host, but you’re still overwhelmed when you crack open the extensive wine list at your favorite restaurant.
Remember: Go with what you know you like and take your time ordering. Asking your waiter is the best way to navigate the list. One thing you should always do is ask for a taste. Most restaurants offer tastes of any wine offered by the glass. "There’s nothing wrong with doing it. It’s perfectly free, and more people need to take advantage of it," said Bonaventura.
But, go for the bottle over the glass. There is a massive markup on wine in all restaurants, so you’ll get more for your money this way. Don’t think you’ll drink it all? No problem — most places will re-cork the bottle for you and let you take it home.
Most importantly, consider your meal when ordering wine. Ask your waiter what pairs best and check to see if the menu offers suggestions for each entr©e. "I think a lot of people don’t realize that wine can actually ruin your food, too,” said Bonaventura. “If you choose a wine that’s not complementary to the food, the wine will change its flavor. So, you might think the wine has gone bad, but really it’s not the best pairing."
Lesson Three: Rules are made to be broken
It’s extremely important to pair wine and food accordingly. You’re probably familiar with the old “white goes with fish, red goes with meat” rule. Disregard it completely. Nowadays, it totally depends on the wine. Many whites are heavier and can nicely complement something with cream or meat. Reds have so many different varieties these days, and many lighter ones pair beautifully with fish. Try a wood smoked salmon with a heavy, oaky chardonnay, then try it with a medium-bodied oaky red. Both will pair nicely. "I definitely don’t think those rules are valid anymore, and rules are always made to broken — especially with wine," said Bonaventura.
Other rules to ignore?
One of the biggest misconceptions about wine is that it always gets better with age. In fact, most wines are meant to be drunk within a couple of years. A great example of a wine that breaks all the rules is Beaujolais Nouveau. This wine is released annually on the third Thursday of November and offers a glimpse at the European vintage (this simply means the year — in this case, 2009). It’s bottled as soon as the grapes are squished. Beaujolais Nouveau is recognized around the world as a fantastic wine. This year, especially, it is being praised. Head to your local liquor store and pick up a bottle for about $8.99. Yup, you can get a wine lauded by connoisseurs for under $10. This red wine also pairs nicely with a salad or fish. "It’s great tasting, it’s really, really fresh, and you can taste that in your glass of wine. I don’t think for beginning wine drinkers that it’s important to look at the date or to see when it’s bottled. They really need to focus on what they like," said Bonaventura.
Another rule some people blindly follow is to throw out a bottle when the cork breaks. Bits of cork floating in your wine do not mean the bottle is “corked.” It’s fine. An actually “corked” bottle of wine means the wine has been contaminated with something called TCA — and you’ll smell it. (Don’t worry about what TCA is. It involves fungi and mold — ew.) To avoid corked wine, winemakers are using plastic corks and screw tops more and more. These don’t mean the wine is cheap or crappy. You just don’t have to worry about your bottle being corked!
More winemakers are also doing boxed wine. Again, this doesn’t mean the wine is of poor quality. When wine is boxed, it’s vacuum sealed so the flavor is locked in and your wine lasts longer. It’s also not breakable (perfect for those out-of-control wine ragers).
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to wine. As the industry evolves, everything changes. Not sure what to believe? Comment below and we’ll de-mystify the myth.
Lesson Four: Learning about wine
Taking a class is, of course, a great way to learn. But if you’re looking for something a little less expensive, you can’t go wrong with wine tastings. They’re free to attend. You can go online to find out when their next tasting is. Experts are always on hand to answer any questions you have.
Bonaventura also recommended keeping a wine journal. Tear off labels and paste them in your book. Record your thoughts on the wine — how it tasted, smelled etc. Many wines have easy tear-off labels for this very reason.
There you have it! Now that you really have the basics down, we’ll step it up a notch next month. Happy New Year. Cheers!
Busa Wine and Spirits has six independently owned and operated locations in Salem, Reading, Woburn, Burlington and two in Lexington.
I learned so much from reading this. I’m totally gonna check out a free wine tasting soon.
This is so cool! I never knew there was so much to learn about wine..i want to go have a glass right now!!
Really disappointing. Not all Gen-Y’s are rule breaking morons when it comes to wine or life. Last month’s article with Ken Zraly was articulate and informative. But then again, he’s clearly educated. “Squished” grapes? I’d ask if this woman was a college roommate of a Blaster and that’s why you wasted copy space on her… but I doubt it. If so, she should get a refund on the tuition. Yup, stick with the experts.
I’m not entirely sure what your complaint here is, Sean. Maybe you could articulate it better yourself. Are you implying that to be a true wine enthusiast you must follow every rule, lest you be forever a moron?
In my experience, the only rule about wine worth following (and the one I hear almost exclusively from every sommelier I talk to) is to drink what you like. Wine offers a great, detailed world that anyone can get lost in, learning about every aspect of production and consumption, but the true beauty of it is how accessible it can, and should, be to everyone who wants to. It sounds to me like you’re a little too much of an old-guard wine elitist. Taking issue with someone’s wine suggestions because they said “squished?” Give me a break.
You makes some excellent and articulate points, Andrew. Do you work for Busa?
I was not implying that one must follow rules to enjoy or appreciate wine. You are quite correct, wines DOES offer a rich and detailed world. One where there IS much to be learned. Perhaps someone could teach Ms. Bonaventure.
My complaint is with interviewing someone who clearly knows nothing. And I don’t take issue with someone’s wine suggestion simply because they quite incorrectly used the word “squished.” Maybe the comment about choosing a wine because they like a film director pushed me in that direction. But give ME a break, I could hear her gum cracking as I read.
The real issue is my frustration with my fellow Gen-Y’s who set the bar so very low and seem content in their mediocrity. Here, she seems to be quite the expert! Cheers.
Andrew de Geofroy is the Blast ombudsman
As the newsroom rightly pointed out, I work for Blast, not Busa, and as Ombudsman it’s my job to address concerns about our reporting and evaluate comments so we can explain our choices, not only to our readers but to our staff, and hopefully improve and gain a better understanding of the entire process, on both ends.
I think the real problem in your criticisms of the article (and I don’t intend to say that your criticizing us is a problem — quite the opposite), is the context with which you’ve juxtaposed your complaints. This is an article on basics very much for the beginner, and makes no attempts or pretenses about being anything but that. If this was a detailed article on the intricacies of the wine industry, I can understand being frustrated at some of the simplistic nature and omission of certain facts, but from what I can judge of the intent of this article, they’re not relevant. As the article clearly states in the first graph, wine is not as popular here as it is in many other countries. As a growing fad here, I think it’s reasonable to write an introductory article.
Given that most of your ire is directed towards Bonaventura, I went over most of her quotes just now, and the gist of the advice she gives is essentially on how to find what you like, and to drink it. I think some of the context could have been framed different — some basis for understanding the rules, instead of just saying ignore them — but I think you’re taking a little too much offense at some pretty sensible advice for a new wine drinker. Bonaventura might not come off as sounding like a wine expert, because she’s not talking about expert-realm material. You’re assuming she doesn’t know anything simply because she’s not talking about it, and in my opinion reading too much into her simplification for a beginner’s guide. Indeed, looking at Bonaventura’s quote about Coppola, I’m sort of hard-pressed for how you’ve decided one is necessarily related to the other: it’s a logical fallacy to assume that because she loves his movies she loves his wine. The quote is “I love his movies and I love his wine!” It isn’t “I love his movies, and therefore love his wine!”
As far as offering criticism, which we do appreciate getting at Blast, there’s an important distinction between criticism, which is often helpful, and just being a jerk. We invite questions, comments, and criticism. In addition to serving as Blast’s ombudsman, I am the copy editor, and as such sometimes have to send out emails to writers explaining why I changed something or cluing them in to common style mistakes they make. Being able to give worthwhile criticism doesn’t just include a valid point when you have one, but in the delivery. If I write an angry email to a writer calling him mediocre, an idiot, incompetent, etc., I’m just going to be angry, he’s going to be hurt and angry, and nothing gets solved. Your comments seem to only serve your own desire to point out someone’s fallibility. You would have better results and be taken more seriously if you can provide your criticism in a constructive manner. To just rail against someone for the sake of meanness without any inkling of compassion or desire to help or improve them is a far greater mediocrity than any I’ve seen working for any magazine. Everyone makes mistakes, including you, and we don’t succeed as people by having everyone calling us idiots for it.
I appreciate your recognition of my articulate points, and in your reply you did a better job of articulating what actually bothered you with the article, though your conspiracy that I must work for Busa to come to their defense is a bit of a leap. From your concerns with the article, you seem to know a bit about wine. Maybe you can offer to write something you might approve of better, or offer some suggestions to Erica.
Andrew, I appreciate that time and effort you have taken to respond. I didâ€™t see this as the proper forum to write a dissertation on my views, but because you have clearly missed my point almost across the board, I feel compelled.
Before I begin, I want to be clear that I was not criticizing Ericaâ€™s writing. Iâ€™ve already stated that I enjoyed her Oct. article about wine, but in general I enjoy her voice and her perspective. If your defensiveness comes from believing I was throwing stones at your colleague, you can stand down now. If your defensiveness stems from interviewing someone who came across sounding ridiculous, wellâ€¦
I will start by correcting your assumption that I have formulated some conspiracy theory that you work for Busa. A bit paranoid of you, but that was not the deep structure of the question. Asking you if you worked for Busa was my tongue in cheek way of saying if you, Andrew, who does not work for Busa could make such excellent and articulate points, then why couldnâ€™t you find someone from Busa who could?
My first post began by stating simply that I was disappointed. True, the article is about wine basics for the beginner â€“ or more aptly, the 20-30 something finally getting around to enjoying quality not quantity. And though I whole-heartedly agree that itâ€™s reasonable to write an introductory article given this demographic (though I completely disagree that wine is a new or growing fad in the US) in my opinion regardless of the basic content it still warrants an expert voice; clear and informative. First grade math textbooks are not written by first graders.
If the only thing the reader can expect to learn from Bonaventura is the epiphany to find something you like and drink it then as I said in an earlier post, a more colorful â€œmanâ€ on the street article would have provided as much useful information. You are spot on. It should have been framed differently with some facts and less filler. And that is what I found so frustrating, not the topic or the depth of information but the lack of clarity. What we got from her instead were silly sound bites. She does not come off as sounding like a wine expert because she isnâ€™t one. Are you suggesting that she could sound more articulate and knowledgeable, but chose not to because the article was about the basics? Hmmm. Let that just sit there and breathe for a minute. And if that is true, again I say letâ€™s raise the bar a bit. I found Ms. Bonaventura to be like cheap champagne; not much taste, not very crisp and too bubbly to do anything but give one a headache.
There really isnâ€™t a problem with my criticism. The problem is confusing criticism with critique. I think itâ€™s appropriate and expected in your duties as copy editor to be to teaching and building through your critique of the articles and their writers. As a reader of an article that offers an opportunity to respond with my opinion, Iâ€™m not bound by the same responsibility. An opinion is just that. You can love it, you can hate it, you can disagree with it but it canâ€™t be wrong.
If the mission of Blast is to represent our generation, I ask that you do so by finding the best and the brightest to interview. Youâ€™ve certainly done a fine job of staffing. Why stop there.
What exactly makes you think Ms. Bonaventura knows nothing? This column is for beginning wine drinkers who don’t know a lot about wine. In addition, the tone of Blast (and this column) is often humorous. These quotes add to that tone and make it a fun article to read. Why does a funny comment about Coppola mean that she only drinks this wine bc he makes it? I also don’t understand what sets the bar low here. Re-read the article, then make a comment. If you’re such an expert, then don’t read the column, it’s not for you.
Jane, the article begins by telling the us (the reader) that will we be helped to understand the basics of wine not that we will be reading a quirky and fun commentary. Erica did a fine job of that a fews months back.
If we are lead to believe we are going to learn something, someone smart enough to use a different name when commenting on her own article should be interviewed. We differ in that I didn’t find her comments funny, just useless. You may as well have walked into any wine store and interviewed the patrons. Which would have made for better reading, I’m sure.
I enjoyed reading last month’s article with Ken Zraly. I’m looking forward to next month when it’s “stepped up a notch.”
“If youâ€™re such an expert, then donâ€™t read the column, itâ€™s not for you.”
Ah, yes. There’s that low bar again.