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A wine romance: how to taste wine – and what to eat with it

Henry Jeffreys
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Fenea Silviu/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Fenea Silviu/Shutterstock

It’s easy to see why wine connoisseurs can be figures of fun: the swirling, the sniffing, the sucking and swilling, and after all that, they spit it out! What’s that all about?

Ultimately, it’s all part of getting as much flavour, enjoyment and information out of the wine as possible – which doesn’t seem quite so bizarre. After all, says Graham Nash, wine product developer at Tesco: “The important thing to understand when tasting and drinking wine is that it’s for enjoyment.” And you can elevate that enjoyment with a few expert tips. So, glass at the ready and bottle in hand, let’s get tasting.

How to taste
We tend to serve our reds warm and our whites cold. Actually, cooling some red wines (depending on their starting temperature) a little will make them taste more fragrant and fruity. Similarly, serving white very cold can mute the aromas and flavour. Try the 20/20 guide: put your red in the fridge for 20 minutes before serving, and take your white out 20 minutes before.

Make sure you have a clean glass with plenty of room to swirl so you don’t accidentally cover your neighbour in wine. Pour yourself a little. Don’t take a sip yet. You can learn a lot from the colour. For reds, a pale colour is normally a sign that the wine will be lighter in body. A deep colour in a white could mean that it’s oaked or has some maturity, and may have more complex flavours.

Tesco Wine boxout

Now, give the wine a swirl, this opens it up and releases the aroma. Have a gentle sniff. Does it smell spicy or is there some vanilla? This might be a sign that the wine has spent time in oak barrels. Is it fruity? If so, what type of fruit? What about other aromas such as flowers, vegetables, honey or nuts? Finally, have a think about how strong the aroma is.

At last, you get to take a sip, but don’t swallow straight away! Swirl it around the mouth so that it coats your teeth. Then with the wine still in your mouth, breath in a little. This will make a gurgling sound and you will feel ridiculous but this helps bring out the flavours.

In a red wine, the first thing you might notice is the tannins, which feel like something you get in a strong cup of tea. Do they grip the mouth? What about the body, is it voluptuous like an Argentine malbec or is it light like a beaujolais?

In a white, notice the level of sweetness. Is it bone dry like a chablis or off-dry like a classic German riesling? In both red and white, there will be acidity: is the wine sharp or soft? Can you feel any alcoholic warmth? Look for spicy or toasty notes, a sign of oak maturation.

Now swallow. Yes, that’s allowed – you don’t have to spit unless you have dozens of wines to taste.

Finally, it’s time to put everything together. Nash has some pointers for what to think about: “The length of wine – in other words how long the flavours last after you’ve spat it out or swallowed – can be a good indicator of quality. How different components, such as fruit, tannin, alcohol and sweetness come together; are they all in balance? Is everything harmonised?”

At the end of the day though it’s your personal taste that matters. “There’s a difference between deciding what’s a ‘good’ wine and deciding what you like,” says Nash. A wine could be impressive to some people but not be your cup of tea – or, rather, glass of wine. The pointers here are to help you explore and experience the wine.

Food and wine matching

“The most important thing,” says Nash, “is don’t feel the need to be tied by traditions and what you think you should do. If you want to enjoy red wine with fish, then that’s fine.” The red meat with red wine, white meat and fish with white “rule” is much too simplistic. Instead look at flavours, a highly spiced beef dish is going to require a very different wine to simple roast beef, for example.

Related: Message in a bottle: an easy six-step guide to reading wine labels

Matches made in heaven …
Rare meat and tannin love each other: the tannin softens the meat and vice versa, so sturdy wines such as red bordeaux taste fruitier and more delicious.

Opposites attract: with fatty food, go for wines with high acidity, such as pinot noir with duck, and match salty blue cheeses with sweet wines, such as port with stilton.

But when it comes to flavour, look for likenesses: try a buttery chicken with a buttery oaked chardonnay, while lemon juice loves a lemony wine such as an albariño.

Local wine with local food: goat’s cheese, very popular in the Loire, goes perfectly with a wine, such as sancerre, from the same area.

Tricky customers
Beware vinegar: while fish, chips and champagne are a flawless threesome, few wines stand up to lots of malt vinegar so be sparing on your chips.

Pay attention to sugar: ideally your wine should always be sweeter than the dish you’re eating. Sweet puddings, then, need very sweet wines.

Watch out for chillies: spicy food can numb the palate or make tannic wines taste bitter. Nash recommends a fruity white, ideally with a little sweetness, such as a German riesling.

So that’s wine matching 101 – ideal for enhanced appreciation and sounding like a pro in wine Zooms and (one day) wine bars. But, ultimately, it’s your glass. When it comes to wine and food appreciation, as long as you’re enjoying it, you’re doing it right. Cheers.

From familiar favourites and brilliant brands, to exceptional wines created with the Finest winemakers – there’s the perfect pairing for every food, mood, reason and season at Tesco. Explore the range at Tesco.com