Virginia Wine Month: Beginners guide to drinking wine

Clean out your wine glasses and pour yourself a little red, white or rose to celebrate Virginia Wine Month this October.

During Virginia Craft Beer Month in August, I got a full beginner’s education about craft beer as a 22-year-old. In honor of this month’s occasion, I tasted seven wines from Hampton Roads Winery to create a beginner’s guide for new wine drinkers.

Now 23, what better way to kick off getting older than by drinking wine? So whether you’re just turning 21, transitioning from beer to wine or exploring your palate, it never hurts to know a little about the complexity of wine and how to drink it.

It also helps to take a tour — if you’re at a vineyard — and get to know how the wine is produced. Williamsburg Winery offers tours regularly.

“The more you drink, the better you get at it,” said Hampton Roads Winery co-owner Dave Sheldon.

Start tasting

According to Sheldon, wine drinkers should start with non-acids before acids, white wine before reds and dry wines before sweet ones to wipe your palate.

New wine drinkers typically will like sweet wines because it may remind them of soda. They usually then move to semi-sweet white wines, like a riesling, before graduating to dry white wines. Generally, their next step will be enjoying subtle reds, like a merlot, then a red Bordeaux and Tuscan reds before returning to sweeter wines or dessert wine and port, Sheldon said.

“That’s when you’ve made it as a wine drinker, when you’ve gone through the full spectrum. And I encourage people to work their way around, but not all in one night,” he said.

He also recommends using your eyes, then nose and then mouth when you first start tasting wines. All aspects of those senses influence the flavor you’ll get out of the wine.

Eyes: Look at the color and legs (streaks that run down the side of the glass), according Sheldon. The legs show the solids, like residual sugars, left on the glass. The more legs, typically, the sweeter the wine.

Nose: Sheldon said the nose is the most important thing during a tasting. Swirl the glass (but don’t spill!) around a half a dozen or 10 times and then sniff the wine. The swirling helps open the wine’s nose and you’ll better be able to smell the wine’s flavor profile.

Mouth: Taste it. Identify alcohol content, flavors, tannin (a preservative), citrus and sweetness. Reds should be tasted slightly cool, Sheldon said.

“Different people taste different things,” said Hampton Roads Winery co-owner and winemaker Diane Sheldon. “Everyone’s palette is different. You talk to one person, they’ll taste something else and you’re going to taste something else.”

Tasting tips

  • Cleanse your palate with an oyster cracker when you move from white to red and dry to sweet. The Sheldons said it’s good to start fresh in order to get the best flavors out of the wines. Also, rinse your glass between tastes.
  • Watch out for what Dave Sheldon called “bottle shock.” Bottle shock occurs when a wine is newly bottled and then opened. Wine typically need about a month to sit. Bottle shock also occurs when a wine is transferred or moved around a lot. When a bottle has bottle shock, Sheldon said the compounds get mixed and the wine may not be as smooth. However, the bold flavors of the wine still will be noticeable,
  • If you pour a white wine into your glass and get a brown rim, you are drinking an older white wine that has been sitting for a long time. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, Sheldon said, it just means it’s aged.

Rules and pairings

According to Sheldon, there are more than 20 pairing rules when it comes to complementing wine with food. His overall rule is “whites with lights (chicken, fish), reds with heavies (beefs).”

A pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc will pair well with an Italian meal. Chocolate and red bordeaux go great together, Sheldon said. Diane Shelson added that the winery’s petit verdot goes well with barbecue and spicy foods.

“When you start tasting you’re going to follow the rule book,” Dave Sheldon said. “You’re going to connect foods with wines and start associating them with that particular meal.”

As for that long standing debate regarding the wine over ice rule, Sheldon admit he’s all for people breaking it. But it will water down the taste of the wine.

Buying and storing wine

Luis Otero of La Bodega, a wine shop in downtown Hampton, recommends that new wine drinkers who are searching for a fine, inexpensive bottle, not go to grocery stores or warehouse stores. Otero suggests shopping at a wine merchant and to buy from vineyards who have been making wine for a long time.

“Don’t pay attention to the trends,” Otero said. “It’s up to you and your taste buds. Don’t pay attention to how how other people tell you how to taste and drink.”

At his shop, Otero helps new wine drinkers discover their taste buds and palate. He first finds out what they are interested in and the flavors they are looking for in a wine before directing them to what best suits their preferences.

“If they want to start drinking wine and don’t know anything about it, I’ll take them somewhere at middle of the road,” Otero said. “For example, reds from the Mediterranean area because they are not heavy, or a third harvest riesling that isn’t too dry or too sweet.”

When it comes to storing wine, Otero suggests refrigerating white wines to serve at 45 to 55 degrees and chill a red wine to serve at 55 to 65 degrees. If a wine is too hot, put it in the freezer and then drink, he said.

He also said new wine drinkers should look for inexpensive — not cheap — wine and pay attention to the bottle labels. If a label has history or a story, the wine tends to be better, he said. If it has a cartoonish look — like animals — it probably isn’t as good.

New to wine but love beer?

In our beginners guide to beer, Tradition Brewing Company brewmaster Dan Powell told the Daily Press that drinkers who like hefeweizens, pilsners and cream ales probably will be drawn to a chardonnay. People who prefer an Irish stout, Irish red or a porter will probably like merlot.

Powell also said darker wines like reds tend to compare to darker beers because they have more tannin and flavor. He said there is really not much of a correlation between wines and IPAs.

Wine glossary:

Chardonnay: A thin-skinned white grape variety used in white wine. Usually clear or pale.

Cabernet franc: Black grape typically grown for blending.

Pinot grigio: Refreshing, generally light-bodied white wine made from white grapes.

Sauvignon blanc: Green-skinned grape from the Bordeaux region in France.

Petit verdot: Red wine with spicier, fruiter flavors and a longer finish. Often used in blends.

Dry: All the sugar and sweetness in the wine has been completely converted to alcohol.

Sweet: Refers to the sweetness of the wine and are typically lower in alcohol.

White: Colors are usually clear, straw-yellow, yellow-green or yellow-gold. Can be dry or sweet.

Red: Made from dark-colored grape varieties. Colors can range from violet to brick red.

Blend: A well-rounded mix of multiple wines.

Medium-bodied wine: Light on tannins with a consistency of milk.

Tasting notes

During the tasting, I tried three whites, two reds and two sweet wines, all made at Hampton Roads Winery. The winery provided tasting notes and pairing suggestions. Bottles are between $17 and $25.

White wines

Chardonnay: Pear and apple notes highlight this food friendly wine. An excellent example of pure unoaked, stainless steel chardonnay. Pairs with salads, seafood, soft cheeses and poultry in cream sauces.

White Oak White: Refreshing Blend of chardonnay, seyval blanc and viognier. Notes of honeysuckle, citrus and pear.

Seyval blanc 2015: Hint of lemon, pineapple and grapefruit in this dry, crisp wine. Pairs well with seafood, poultry and pasta in white sauce.

Red wines

Cabernet franc 2015: Medium-bodied red with fruit flavor, mild spice, and a hint of green pepper and olives. Try it with pork roast, ham, lamb and salmon.

Petit verdot 2015: Inky wine with black fruit and floral notes. Pairs well with grilled steak, spicy pork, veal, lamb and sausage.

Sweet wine

Hog Island Sweet Red: Blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and norton. Can be paired with chocolate or spicy foods.

Simply seyval: Semi-sweet white wine made from 100 percent seyval blanc grapes. Lush honey and citrus notes lead to a full mouth feel and a long sweet finish.

Visit

Hampton Roads Winery

Where: 6074 New Design Road, Elberon.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday-Saturday (May-December).

More info: hamptonroadswinery.com or 757-899-0203.

Williamsburg Winery

Where: 5800 Wessex Hundred, Williamsburg.

Hours: 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday (April-October). 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday (November-March.

More info: williamsburgwinery.com or 757-229-0999.

La Bodega Hampton

Where: 22 Wine St., Hampton.

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 7-11 p.m. (if there are customers), otherwise, open until 9 p.m.

More info: labodegahampton.com or 757-722-8466.

Joseph can be reached by phone at 757-374-3134.

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