Alex Guarnaschelli Blogs: Everything You Need to Know About Wine
Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-auchool Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
“Is it 5 o’clock yet?” I find myself saying this from time to time (alright, maybe sometimes a little more than time to time…) and as my dear friend Geoffrey Zakarian regularly tells me, “It’s fiiiiiiive o’clock somewhere!” True enough.
Sometimes I have one of my favorite cocktails: Aperol with a splash of sparkling wine, seltzer and ice. Or sometimes I like to kick back with a friend and drink some good wine.
Now don’t get the wrong impression, I have had a few glasses of boxed wine, wine from a can, you name it. But I have tasted the full gamut of wines on all levels and each one has its time and place. Of course, budget is always a big factor with wine. You don’t have to be fancy or over the top to enjoy a good wine moment. It’s also surprising how much money you can spend when buying a bottle of wine (or how little).
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I have found it really helpful to learn a little bit about my own personal tastes in grape types. I also often consider if I am drinking it with (or without) food. I will go with a lighter-bodied white if I’m just drinking and a fuller white if enjoying it with some food. I love a glass of rosé with spicy appetizers and sparkling wine with oysters on the half shell or crudités.
So while wine is so subjective, I will share with you some things I enjoy about wine drinking and maybe they will offer you perspective on finding your own style or taste!
First and foremost: the grape variety. What kind to buy? I personally love dry white wines because they are so refreshing on their own and also great with food. I love a dry, crisp white with a piece of fish or lighter meats like chicken. Grüner Veltliner, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay are three of my favorites. You can often find an affordable Grüner. I love many American produced chardonnays but I am also a sucker for French wine, it’s true—particularly, a good sauvignon blanc.
As for red, while it (sadly) doesn’t get along with my stomach, I love it so. I love a full-bodied Oregon pinot noir and peppery and tasty grapes from the south of France like Mourvèdre and Grenache. I love a good blend from the Rhone Valley and they can often be found at affordable prices.
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What about glassware? I have tasted wine in anything from the finest crystal to a coffee mug. Generally, I am a bit of traditionalist: I gravitate more towards glasses with stems. Something about stemware reminds me that I am drinking something special but hey, that’s just me.
I like a red wine glass with a nice wide opening so the air mixes with the wine and changes the flavor as it opens up. A smaller glass of a similar nature is my favorite for white and a classic champagne coupe are the three major distinctions I make. Beyond that, it gets a little too complicated and fancy for me. I just want to taste and enjoy the wine.
When tasting, feel free to say what you taste as you experience it. Think it tastes like gasoline? Almonds? Pomegranate? Grapefruit? So be it. I have found the most organic and true reactions to the layers of flavor in wine have made it the most fun to drink and taste.
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How do I taste wine? When you take a sip, let a little air in your mouth to mix with the wine as you taste and swallow it. Air can bring out different flavor notes in the wine! I love to swirl the wine for the same reason. Air changes the wine as it opens up and that starts happening as soon as you open a bottle.
You can “wake” a bottle of wine up even faster by decanting it. Decanting is when you gently pour a bottle of wine from its bottle into a decanter to allow air to hit the wine and get the flavor to open up. My dad always opened the bottles of red hours before eating so they would have time to breathe before drinking. Decanting is often reserved for full-bodied reds. Sometimes I will open a bottle of red at the beginning of a meal and allow it to open up while I have a first course with a nice glass of white. And some nights I just drink ice water from the tap.
Variety is the spice of life! Just don’t let your experience of wine be clouded by what you think you should know. Open the bottle, pour and enjoy the moment!