You know the feeling well. You sit down at a dinner party and someone cracks open their favourite drop. Then all of a sudden you realise you don’t know what they’re talking about when they start referring to tannins, viscosity, and legs - and they don’t mean the ones attached to your feet.
All you do know is you like the stuff but don’t really know why so you sit there nodding in agreement hoping the conversation moves onto something else because you’re pretty clueless.
Well fear not, because there’s actually quite a few things you can do when it comes to pretending you know a lot about wine when really all you know is it’s not beer.
The truth is anyone can look like a wine snob without really being one. You just need to know the basics.
Firstly wine comes in white, red, rose, sparkling or dessert (sweet).
Whites are usually divided into varieties including chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, pinot gris/pinot grigio (that’s Italian, you know).
Reds are made up of cabernet Sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, syrah/shiraz, zinfandel, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and tempranillo.
That’s easy enough. But what makes a good wine?
According to Gus Lander, marketing manager of Young and Rashleigh Wine Merchants, that’s entirely up to you.
“Whatever you like is a good wine,” he said. “It's completely subjective unless it's faulty, of course.”
Lander says it helps to have a basic knowledge of a few regional varieties to start you on your journey of wine know-it-all.
Australia has a range of different climates that are suitable for wine making which in turn gives growers and drinkers a lot of variety.
“A good starting point at any wine conversation is Australia is world renowned for Shiraz, Semillon, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon,” he says.
“Warmer climates (eg Barossa Valley & McLaren Vale) produce ripe, full-bodied high-alcohol reds like Shiraz, cabernet Sauvignon and grenache while cooler regions (Mornington Peninsula) are better suited to pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wines.”
Learning about wine is easier than most people think and many would be surprised what they can pick up from a quick visit to their local bottle shop.
Lander says it doesn’t hurt to keep trying new and different wines as you’ll soon be able to tell the difference between varieties. And don’t be afraid to ask your local wine guy questions, too!
“Retailers and sommeliers love talking about wine to those prepared to listen so it's worth asking lots of questions. Most people will take the time for you.”
“And a wine course can be a great way to learn about a range of wines from around the world,” he says.
How to fake it with friends
There are a few tricks you can rely on when talking about wine especially keeping it simple or risk sounding like a know all.
“You can throw in some buzzwords to impress your mates, ‘this Riesling has an intense minerality with....a hint of wet stone and slate’,” Lander says.
But he warns this can either earn you a look of awe or a punch in the face.
Another big tip is not to judge a wine by its label or price.
According to Lander, some of the most drinkable wines out there are also the most affordable and from regions and producers you might least expect.
Food and wine
So now we have that out of the way, it’s time to really impress by matching wine with food, right? Well no, not exactly.
Lander reckons when it comes to matching wines with food, the old adage of white wine with fish/chicken and red wine with red meat no longer stands.
“Wine contains natural acidity and these acids, (as in Riesling and Sauvignon blanc), can 'cut' through heavy, spicy or oily foods,” he says.
“There are a couple of no-no's, such as tannic red wines with spicy food, which will make the wine taste sharp and alcoholic. The other one is with desserts, the wine should always be as sweet or sweeter than the dessert. Try a lemon tart with a bone-dry white wine, just awful.”
So there you have it. When it comes to wine you don’t need to be a sommelier (that’s a trained wine professional, by the way) to talk all things wine, and you don’t have to spend a lot either to be assured of a good bottle. A simple knowledge of a few varieties and a willingness to try is a good starting point for any wine drinker.