Food

Don’t know your shiraz from your malbec? Never fear, the wine cheat guide is here

You’ll never worry about which wine to buy with dinner again. 

It’s July, the sun is shining (most of the time) and we’re all thinking about firing up that BBQ after a long, hard spring in isolation. 

According to food and drink experts, while cocktails are still trendy, wine is very much back in favour when it comes to consumer habits. “Everyone I speak to in the trade is reporting huge wine sales, and a really wide, varied mix of styles too,”  wine expert Tom Surgey, from app Pingza tells Stylist. “People are using this time to explore wine and that’s a great thing.” But can you guess the one wine-related question everyone thirsts over? “Most questions I am asked tend to be quite practical and revolve around how to get the most out of the wine drinking experience - people want to feel confident they’re picking the right wine for the right occasion,” Tom adds. 

So how do you know if you’re picking the right wine? Well, whether you chose to hit up your local pub or pop a cork (or two) on your balcony, Stylist has compiled a cheat’s guide to wine. 

Want to look like an expert? Scroll down, find a wine you know you enjoy and read on. There’s advice for dinner pairings, other wines you might like and even information about your chosen grape. Cheers!

Wine pairings
Wine tasting: Pingza helps us understand wine

Pinot grigio

Tasting notes: light and easy-going

You like your wine on the quiet, subtle side. Try other Italian whites such as soave made of the garganega grape and orvieto made of a trebbiano-based blend. Drink picpoul from France, and vinho verde from Portugal. 

White none-varietal wines from France, Portugal, Italy and Spain are also worth trying. 

They are great with starters e.g. Vietnamese spring rolls, Quiche Lorraine, ham with melon; with fish dishes like sushi, plaice. Spaghetti vongole, carbonara, but also pizza margherita matches with these wines. Or have it with a simple but tasty Salade Niçoise or a Greek salad.

Chardonnay 
(Old World and New Zealand, Tasmania in Australia)

Tasting notes: elegant and smooth 

If you like Old World and New World (scroll down for an explainer on what these terms mean) cool climate chardonnay, then you like wines with a refreshing acidity, but a round mouthful. 

There are many wines that could fit the bill, particularly chardonnay from Tasmania or New Zealand; or Burgundy sub-regions such as the Maçon. Don’t forget about whites from Bordeaux, which are usually an enticing blend of sémillon and sauvignon blanc. Dry furmint from Hungary is also a nice example of this category. 

Dishes that match are meatier starters such as beef carpaccio, charcuterie platter; salmon in any form; pasta with blue cheese like Gorgonzola and the all-time favourite roast chicken.

Chardonnay
(California, Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Australia)

Tasting notes: ripe and full 

Chardonnay is a versatile grape; it can also produce ripe and full-bodied wines. You will like your white wine at the bigger end, which probably means you like a full-bodied white and also oaky richness, such as oaked chardonnay from California, Australia, Chile and South Africa. Try viognier from France, Chile or Australia; verdelho from Spain or Portugal or marsanne/roussanne blends from France. 

Food pairing can be heartier than with old world chardonnay: try them with shellfish, dim-sum, monkfish and Indian chicken dishes.

Sauvignon blanc
(France) 

Tasting notes: cool and crisp 

You will favour lighter, crisp wines with subtle citrus and apple aromas. You’ll probably prefer sauvignon blanc from the Loire (Touraine, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé) over that from New Zealand. You should try other classic French wines such as chablis and petit chablis, and Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine. Also, Italian vermentino; and bacchus grown in English vineyards! 

They are great with asparagus, fish and chips, mussels or oysters.

Sauvignon blanc
(New Zealand)

Tasting notes: fresh and juicy 

You’re a fan of wines with plenty of fruit aromas and flavours. Sicily and the south of Italy are great for you – grapes like fiano and grillo, whites from Sicily; but also try chenin blanc from South Africa, in addition to sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, Chile or Argentina.

Have these wines with anchovies or sardines; fish soup, barbecued fish; pasta with green pesto or salad with goat’s cheese.

wine
Wine tasting: Cheese and wine, what a combination

Merlot

Tasting notes: smooth and juicy

Sunshine wines should be your thing, and quite likely merlot from Chile or the South of France. They’re mouth-filling and full of flavour, and particularly good with the BBQ. You might also want to try Italian negroamaro; and reds from the South of France such as Languedoc-Roussillon (for example, look for Fitou, Corbières, Minervois). 

Think of pairing these wines with any food containing meat and tomato. Hungarian goulash is a good match. Vegetarians think of roasted aubergines with tomato and cheese or a vegetarian pasta bolognese.

Pinot noir
(French Burgundy or Germany)

Tasting notes: elegant and energetic 

You like wines with freshness – that means wine made from grapes with high acidity such as pinot noir from Burgundy in France – such as Nuits-St-Georges; and German pinot noir. Cabernet franc from parts of France’s Loire Valley such as Chinon and Saumur. 

In Italy, choose nebbiolo: wines such as Barbaresco and Barolo, and generic “Langhe” wines. In France, you also like the elegant (and expensive!) wines of Bordeaux; and from the Northern Rhône such as Côte-Rôtie. 

Enjoy them with charcuterie platter, coq-au-vin, roast duck or turkey. Mushroom risotto would be the matching vegetarian dish.

Pinot noir
(Chile, New Zealand, Australia)

Tasting notes: juicy and ripe 

These wines burst with freshly picked red fruit. Everyday pinot noir from New Zealand and Chile probably works for you; Fleurie and Brouilly from France’s Beaujolais region; garnacha from Spain; and Chianti or other wines made from sangiovese in Italy. 

You can have the same food as with the French pinot noir plus chicken liver paté, duck confit, seafood paella and hard cheeses such as cheddar.

Cabernet sauvignon 

Tasting notes: rich and oaky (New World)

Classic Spanish styles such as Rioja are right up your tree – and New World cabernet sauvignon in particular is a grape for you to experiment with, whether from Western Australia (Margaret River) or the Napa Valley. 

Try French Syrah from Northern Rhône regions like St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhône. In Portugal, look for Douro Valley; and from Chile, look out for carménère. 

Enjoy these wines with any beef dish such as beef kebab, any lamb dishes like roast leg of lamb, think of Sunday roasts. Pizza pepperoni or any hard cheese would taste also better accompanied with these rich and oaky wines.

Wine terminology 

Old World refers to the classic winemaking countries and cultures that have been doing it for centuries, think France, Spain, Italy, etc. Mainly European regions. 

New World refers to countries more recently associated with winemaking such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina.

The idea is that the Old World wines are more elegant, classic and serious in style, the New World wines more fun and fruity. Although, as ever, a general term like this doesn’t cover the nuances and intricacies of wine, so while it has a very loose basis in truth, there are as many exceptions to this rule as examples that work. The New World makes many of the most serious, complex wines today and Old World makes loads of fun, fruity numbers too.

Vintage is simply, the year the grapes were grown.

Terroir pronounced Ter-wah means the wine tastes like where it comes from. Wine tastes like where it comes from because the vineyard the grapes were grown in is unique. They all have a different balance of sunshine, water, soil type and a unique person farming it. All those factors come together each year to give the grape unique characteristics. 

Magnum is a double-sized bottle of wine. Perfect if you have large groups and loads of fun. 

Images: UnSplash