Your Down-to-Earth Wine Guide

Love wine but not entirely sure how to get *into* it? Or even order it? You're not alone! Learning everything from grape varietals to the latest trendy wines—or even how to describe what's in your glass—could be a full-time job. To help out, we asked Ashley Ragovin of wine subscription service Pour This all the questions we'd been too shy to ask.

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So what's the deal with chilling reds? Is it a total faux pas? And what about ice?

"Throwing a bottle of red wine in the fridge is a great idea! Especially in this ridiculous heat," explains Ragovin. "Gamay-based wines in general, like Beaujolais, are great for chilling! Lower-acid, lighter-bodied reds including German varietals like St. Laurent and Trollinger are easy to enjoy chilled, and many Italian reds work, too. But I prefer chilling down the whole bottle before I open it rather than pouring anything over ice. Adding frozen water won't cool it as effectively, and it'll just dilute the wine."

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Try This: Les Déplaude de Tartaras, Ciel d'Orage

"I love chilling this blend of syrah, gamay, and pinot noir."

What's an elegant way to salvage a broken cork situation?

"This depends on how bad you busted it! If half of it broke off, you can still go in for a second round and get the bottom half out by gently employing the same technique with a wine key," says Ragovin. "The trick is to use a wine key that's simple and small: the bigger the contraption, the less possible this becomes. If it's beyond repair, and you're drinking something that's not too special or old, you can just push the cork in the bottle. If we're talking special or very old wine, push the cork inside the bottle and then strain the wine into a decanter through cheesecloth or a mesh strainer."

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Try This: Weingut Dr. Randolf Kauer, Riesling Kabinett Feinherb

"Avoid the whole thing altogether, and grab something light and summery that has a screw cap! Try this dry German riesling from producer Dr. Randolf Kauer."

Why is rosé mainly a summer thing? Doesn't it taste just as great in the winter?

"Are hot dogs just for baseball games? No. Rosé tastes good all damn year," Ragovin says. "It's a widely varied category, so there's much to explore! Heavier, meatier ones are savory and hold up really well with steak, even. It's a fresh way to enjoy a rib eye and vegetables without weighing down the meal with a heavy Bordeaux."

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Try This: Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie, Corbières Rouge

"This rosé is syrah-based, beautiful in color, and has texture and weight that are substantial but still delicate."

How do you tactfully ask for the cheapest wine at a restaurant or store?

"The best way to get your money's worth is to look for a value, and not a specific dollar amount. Try hunting for wines from lesser-known parts: a Loire Valley white or vinho verde from Portugal, rather than a pinot grigio, for instance," explains Ragovin. "The wines people default to are more likely to get made on a commodity scale, so when you buy the cheapest, you're not going to score a deal, you're going to be stuck with a below-average wine. When you order something like sparkling gringet, chances are high that you've found a little treasure."

Try This: Quinta de Ameal, Loureiro

"This Portuguese vinho verde is the best in its class!"

What in the world are wine legs? Are they a real thing?

"'Legs' refers to how a wine clings to the side of a glass, implying body and weight, which reflect the levels of alcohol and tannin," says Ragovin. "This was once a kind of pretentious way of assessing quality by sight. It's one of those silly habits, like smelling the cork, that got romanticized somewhere along the line, but you can certainly determine a wine's merit by smell and taste alone. Just close your eyes and try it!"

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Try This: Cappellano Barolo Chinato

"I love the way an after-dinner wine clings to the glass because of its residual sugar. Try this aromatized, fortified wine from the master producer Cappellano."

What the deal with wine vintages? And why does wine differ year to year?

"Wine vintages are important if you're drinking wines made by a real producer—not a mass-produced or factory-made wine. It's the date the grapes were harvested, and everything that happened throughout the year—the weather, natural disasters, drought—all of it impacts the grapes and thus the wine," says Ragovin. "There are certain years where everything just goes so harmoniously in favor of the grapes that, in the hands of a good winemaker, they become hallmark vintages. Things can also totally go to shit, and that's what you'd call a bad year. Of course, a great year in Champagne may be a terrible year in California, but a little Google search is all you need if you're not sure."

Try This: Vallée, Bérêche Grand Cru Champagne"Drinking vintage-dated wine from epic years requires a financial commitment in most cases, but if you want to ball out, look for Champagne from 2002 or 1996. That's an experience for a special occasion."

What's the best way to read a wine label?

"This will vary a lot. Where it's from will dictate what legally must be on the label. But a few things to look for are names of vineyards, producers, and grapes. I like to drink wines that were made by real winemakers, not big companies—and those people are usually proud of the land they farm on," Ragovin says. "They'll likely put a vineyard or site name on a label, their domain name, and the grape. I'd say avoid wines with names that sound like hipster bands or hashtags, and look for wines that speak of where they come from. Another tip: check the back label and get to know importers you can trust. They're working hard to bring great wines into the country."

Try This: Paolo Bea, San Valentino Rosso

"An all-time favorite here is anything from Paolo Bea. The wine and the labels are stunning across the board. The labels give you detailed information about the vintage, the grapes, and the philosophy. The only catch? They're in Italian, but that's what iTranslate is for!"

Why do certain wines suddenly become more popular than others?

"Like with anything, wine trends exist. I found that trends in wine—orange wine, natural wine, pétillant-naturel—have really existed for ages, but are newly discoverable for consumers because there's so much more access," says Ragovin.

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Try This: Johan VIneyards, Pét-Nat Pinot Noir

"The word 'natural' is currently en vogue, for sure, but don't get caught up in that. It's totally ambiguous and hard to define. But do get to know pétillant-naturel—a gently sparkling, funky, but clean category of wine that's affordable and, in most cases, truly satisfying and delicious."

Are certain wines specific to certain glasses?

"I like an all-purpose, androgynous glass for everything—even sparkling," Ragovin says. "That said, certain glasses concentrate aromas and let a wine unfold at its best, if we're being formal. But I'm not formal, and I love a tuxedo with a bare ankle. So I say, use what you love."

Try This: Rinaldini, Pronto Lambrusco

"Drink this lambrusco in a tumbler—that's right, a stemless, regular drinking glass."

What are the must-know terms for describing wine?

Acidity: "People think they don't like wines because they're 'tart,' but acid gives a wine balance, structure, and nerve," Ragovin says. "If a wine is balanced and has good acidity, it quenches your thirst and makes your mouth water at the same time. Think about the sensation and satisfaction you get from a perfect lemonade."

Dry: "This is a technical term that actually refers to how much sugar is or isn't in a wine," explains Ragovin. "But, usually, people ask for a dry wine because they want that gripping thing in the mouth, but that's actually caused by tannin. Just a little knowledge you can drop next time you're out and about."

Fruity vs. Sweet: "A fruity wine is like a juicy plum; a sweet wine is like plum-flavored candy," says Ragovin.

"Just use adjectives that actually define what you like. Who cares if it's a wine term? The more you drink, the better you get at spelling this out," Ragovin says. "Anything goes, really. You can call a wine stinky, loud, chewy, aggressive, sexual—whatever you feel is right, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise."

Try This: Scribe, Skin Ferment Chardonnay

"Speaking of sexual, Scribe's skin-contact [a longer fermentation process with the skin on] chardonnay is pure magic. It's on heavy rotation in my house these days."

For more on the Pour This subscription service, see pour-this.com.

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