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9 Expert Wine Tips

Are there rules for pairing wine and food? Is there a way to test a wine's acidity? With these tips, you'll be thinking like a sommelier in no time.
By Published Aug. 14, 2017

Last week, we published an interview with certified wine expert and Cork Dork author Bianca Bosker. Among other things, Bosker discussed how to think of scent as a tool of language, and how to ask the right questions of a sommelier to get exactly the kind of bottle you’re looking for. Today, we’ve got some more tips courtesy of Bosker. Happy drinking.

1. Make the Most of Your Sniffs

When it comes to smelling wine, you really only get one or two good sniffs before your nose acclimates to what it’s smelling. After that, you won’t be able to notice any nuances, and you’ve probably missed your chance to say something like, “This smells of honeysuckle and lemon curd.”

To get the most out of those couple of sniffs, make sure you cover as much surface area as possible. The best way to do this is to sniff while making the sign of the cross over the liquid with your nostrils so you get the aromas from every angle.

2. There’s a Test to Determine if a Wine is Acidic (or Not)

Swallow a sip of the wine and then tilt your head downward, holding your mouth open. If you feel as though you’re about to drool, it’s a higher-acidity wine. The more you feel like you’re about to drool, the more acidic the wine.

3. Pairing Wine with Food Isn’t Rocket Science

This may sound obvious, but choose a wine that’s going to complement the food you’re serving. If you’re serving something sweet, pair it with an acidic wine, and vice versa.

Another basic—and helpful—rule of thumb is to pair wine with food from the same region. Eating Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew inspired by the dish in central Italy? Pair it with a bottle from the same region and there’s a good chance they’ll complement each other nicely.

4. There’s a Wine for Every Food

Wine may have a high-end reputation (it is the perfect accompaniment to oysters, after all), but did you know you can drink it with just about any food (so long as you find the right pairing). Cup-o-noodles and a Beaujolais, anyone? (Ed's note: For more on this, check out Bosker's #PairDevil posts on Instagram, where she takes foods of all kinds and pairs them with the perfect bottle of wine.) 

5. Don’t Pay Attention to the “Red with Meat, White with Fish” Logic

Sure, there are great whites that go with fish, and there’s nothing quite like sipping a nice Bordeaux while eating filet mignon, but this whole “white with fish, red with meat” rule isn’t hard and fast. If you want to try red with fish, go for something lighter in body, like a Gamay. 

6. You Don’t Need to Spend $$$$ for a Great Bottle

Sure, there’s a thrill that comes with spending $100 on a bottle of wine (and even more of a thrill that comes with drinking from a $100 bottle of wine that someone else bought), but you don’t have to break the bank for some good fermented grape juice. If you’ve got $20 bucks in your pocket, and you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to drink well.

7. The Best Way to Improve Your Wine Vocabulary Is to Smell Everything

To describe a wine as “smelling of cardamom and cherries,” you first need to know what cardamom and cherries smell like. Bosker advises wine newbies to smell everything—your shampoo, your coworker’s lunch, whatever—and commit those smells to memory. Doing so will help you build your sense memory, which is crucial when attempting to distill the nuances of scent in a glass of wine.

8. Where You Buy Your Wine Matters

The most important decision you make when picking out a bottle of wine is picking out the store at which you plan to buy that bottle of wine. If you're planning on grabbing a bottle at your local corner store or run of the mill liquor store, you're probably not going to get a very good bottle. Look for a shop curated by someone who cares about wine. 

9. What About Hangovers?

Sorry, no advice here.

Expert Tips and Advice

Want to learn about oysters? Check out this interview with oyster-obsessed Vermonter Rowan Jacobsen. Want tips for taking better food photos? Our director of photography has you covered. How do you get the most out of your food processor? Our gadget expert Lisa McManus has some advice on the matter.   

What’s your favorite kind of wine? Let us know in the comments! And if you have any hangover cures, please share those, too.