Have you ever found yourself at the bottle shop on a Friday night (or a Monday, no judging here) completely overwhelmed by the choices, names and tasting notes? To help you (and us) out, we tracked down an expert wine wizard, Wiremu Andrews from Smalls Bar, who gave us the rundown on all things viticultural.
What do all of the different names mean? Some wines like Champagne and Burgundy are named after the region, but the names are usually used to describe the type of grape. Cabernet Sauvignon for example, is actually two grapes coming together to make another grape. Cabernet Sauvignons parents are Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, so that’s a red and white grape variety and they make another grape variety. The names also refer to the colours of the grapes. There’s Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and that basically means white, grey and black, so it can give you an indication of what the colour of the grapes are as well.
Does more expensive always equal better? No, not always. There are so many things that can contribute to a wine being expensive. You can make a wine for cheap if you want, a lot of producers do. It really depends on how you make it.
Should we shop for a local Australian wine before we go for an international bottle? I think it’s really important to support local producers. At Smalls we support small producers, because we want to champion the little guy.
I think people should be trying wines from a variety of countries – Austria, France, China, Chile – because it gives them a better palate and more of a variety to work from. The more widely you drink, the more you can understand and enjoy wine.
Why do seasoned wine drinkers smell and swirl their glasses before tasting? You can perceive a lot with smell. Some people are very visual and they like the brightness and hue of a certain wine. Scientifically, your olfactory gland is situated right next to the memory gland. The fact that smells can evoke memories is a massive part of wine.
How do you determine if a wine has gone bad? If you see a white wine and it’s gone a bit brown or even lost some of it’s whiteness that points towards oxidisation, so oxygen has spoiled the wine. If it’s off, you can smell acidity. It smells like nail polish remover – you probably don’t want to drink that. Corked wine can develop cork taint, which smells like wet dog.
Do you recommend any events or experiences for someone on a budget to learn more about wine? There’s lots of free wine tastings. You’re under no obligation to buy and it’s a good way to talk about wine and check it out.
If you want to learn about wine, be active and read about it. Reading is important, there’s lots for free online and podcasts. It’s 2017, there’s so much information out there, just get amongst it.
What wine do you recommend for:
A first date? Sparkling. You don’t have to spend $150 on a bottle of champagne if you don’t want to (probably don’t want to on a first date). It’s supposed to be fun, drinking is fun. We see a lot of dates [at Smalls], the people who are most successful are open and relaxed.
Before going out to a gig? If you’re going to be dancing, I recommend a nice, fresh, crisp white. You don’t want to be drinking serious, expensive wine – go for the fun stuff.
Meeting your partner’s parents for the first time? Oh you’ve got to impress – don’t look like a cheapo. If you usually spend $10 to $15 on a bottle of wine, double it.
What would you pair with:
Avocado on toast? Avo is quite creamy. Some people put lemon on it, so you could say that acid pairs with it. Riesling has lots of acidity. Avocado is also quite textural, so you could go for a Chardonnay for more texture. Definitely not a red wine.
Takeaway pizza? You’ve got to have something Italian, so Chianti or a Sangiovese – you can get them for $20. Maybe even go further south [in Italy], something like a Primitivo.
Fish and chips? This is another thing you always put lemon on – so high acid. Fish loves white, so I’d recommend an Arneis, which is an Italian variety. The Spanish wine, Alberiño pairs well with seafood as well.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us? Be adventurous. Not everyone has the money to splash out on wine all the time, have your go-to’s, but every once in a while treat yourself. Experience what a good quality wine is, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just try lots of wine, life’s too short to drink bad wine. There’s so much out there, so embrace it and have fun.
Cute pic by Iciar J. Carrasco.