A famous Long Islander once crooned, “a bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps we’ll get rosé instead.” Turns out choosing the perfect bottle of vino isn’t so red-and-white. The acidity, the length of time it was aged in an oak barrel and body can all impact whether your wine is best served with steak and potatoes or a light salad. To help you cut through the tannins, I spoke with Metro NY district manager John Gerace of Deustch Family Wine & Spirits, who has provided wines for local restaurants like Verde Kitchen and Cocktails, Salt & Barrel and Island Mermaid.
Often used to describe Chardonnays, “oaky” is a measure of how much time wine has spent in an oak barrel. “The more time spent aging the more you get of that oak flavor.” Red wines that have aged in oak at least six months will tend to express more vanilla and mocha notes, and whites will express tropical and sweet flavors like pineapple, peach and grapefruit. Gerace suggests drinking oaky reds with grilled meats and whites with seafood dishes with butter or thick cream sauces. “The flavor in oaky whites is richer than in a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, so it pairs well with heavier foods.”
Having an acidic taste in your mouth may not be on your wine-and-dine to-do list, but Gerace says sipping a wine with high acidity can bring out the best in your food. “What [acidity] means on the wine list is how lively [and] crisp…the wine is. Imagine squeezing some lime on a fish taco.” The acidity brightens the flavors of the fish, and the same is true when you have an acidic wine with dinner. Acidic wines can also serve as a palate cleanser. After eating a pasta dish dressed in a thick cream sauce, the fat from the sauce can coat the mouth and block the taste buds from savoring the full meal. “The acidity in a great Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc cleans those taste buds off and allows you to enjoy your next bite as if it were your first.”
A subjective term, feminine wines tend to be bright, lively and expressive but not out of balance–just like your best girl. Russian River Valley produces more feminine Chardonnays. “They’re vinified to allow the natural expression of Chardonnay…to come forward so you have wines that are bright, crisp and full at once.” Vintners in this region also tend to be more restrained with their use of oak than other regions in California, which produce fuller-bodied Chardonnays. Like an LBD, feminine wines go well with anything from salads with citrus to a more indulgent dish with butter or cream sauce. If serving food on the heavier side, opt for a wine that is high in acidity.
Muscular wines are usually reds like Malbecs, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlots and Petite Sirahs, though some Chardonnays are big enough to fit the bill. “The flavor is rich and full and lingers after you sip and swallow.” Oak plays a big part in muscular wines. “It gives them a very distinct feeling in the mouth from the tannins.” Muscular wines can be savored by themselves, especially on a cold winter’s night, but Gerace thinks a great food pairing lifts them to new heights. “There’s something very special that happens when muscular red wines are paired with steaks. The fattiness of the steaks paired with the tannins…it’s perfect synergy.”
Referred to as “the Nose” by aficionados (who know that the subtleties of wine are really tasted via scent), bouquet refers to a wine’s aroma. “It’s a combination of the natural smells of the varietal that evolve when chemical reactions among acids, sugars, alcohols and phenolic compounds create new smells.” Common ones are vanilla, cocoa, tobacco, black and red fruits, grapefruit and honey, but no two people are going to smell the same thing. Trust your own nose.