by Stella Fong
Certified Wine Professional
Steps for sipping, sensing, and savoring wine:
- Taste and feel
- Repeat until the last sip!
Classic White Wines
Sauvignon Blanc – Crisp and Fresh
Sauvignon Blanc is pale straw in color with aromas of grapefruit and green herbs. On the palate, this light to medium bodied wine shows juicy citrus flavors with crisp tartness.
Food Pairing with Big Sky Foods: Goat cheese or grilled pheasant, fresh green salad with herb vinaigrette.
Chardonnay – Rich and Smooth
Chardonnay is pale to medium yellow in color exuding fragrances of green apple from colder regions and ripe red apple from warmer ones along with pear mixed with tropical fruit and citrus. Chardonnay aged in oak imparts aromas of vanilla, baking spices and wood. On the palate, this medium to full-bodied wine ranges from racy with tart fruit when grown in cool regions, to ripe fruit and high alcohol from warmer regions. Some chardonnays can impart varying ranges of buttery flavors.
Food Pairing with Big Sky Foods: Smoked trout or trout sautéed in butter, onions and garlic.
Riesling – Aromatic
Riesling is pale to medium straw in color with aromas and flavors of tart apple and pear with honey, stone fruit and citrus. Riesling can be light to medium body and vary in sweetness from dry to sweet.
Food Pairing: Duck or goose with tandoori spices, baked with apples and onions or grilled and served with Thai peanut sauce.
Pinot Gris – Refreshing
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are one and the same grape. With scents of lemon, lime, green apple, pear and tropical fruit, this light to medium bodied wine can sometimes have nutty and warm spicy flavors.
Food Pairing: Montana Jack or cheddar cheese, or baked trout with olives and lemon, or tomatoes and capers.
Classic Red Wines
Cabernet Sauvignon – Bold and Elegant
Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color with aromas of black fruit with green olive and herbs. Oak adds smoke, toast and sweet spice. This medium to full-bodied wine has medium to high acidity, alcohol and tannins.
Food Pairing: Beef stew, coffee rubbed grilled buffalo or grilled elk or lamb.
Merlot – Fruity
Merlot is very deep ruby in color with scents of black fruits, green herbs, and chocolate with smoke, sweet spice and wood flavors. This luscious wine is medium to full-bodied with medium to high alcohol and tannins and medium alcohol.
Food Pairing: Grilled steak with morels sautéed in butter and garlic, breaded pheasant with cranberry sauce, or rosemary lamb.
Pinot Noir – Bright and Earthy
Pinot Noir is light to medium ruby with aromas cherry, raspberry, and strawberry, and tea leaves, earth and mushrooms. Oak aging adds smoke, sweet spice and wood flavors. This light to medium body wine has light to medium tannins and acidity, and medium alcohol.
Food Pairing: Roast turkey or grilled lamb chops with soy and ginger or cumin and coriander.
Syrah – Rich and Fruity
Syrah is deep ruby in color with scents of dark black fruits, black and white pepper, sweet spice, leather, earth and wood. Syrah ranges from medium to full body and can have medium-high acidity, tannins and alcohol.
Food Pairing: Grilled pork sausage, roast lamb or duck with sausage.
Zinfandel – Ripe and Luscious
Zinfandel is deep ruby in color with aromas of red and black fruits as well as dried fruits such as prunes and raisins, black and white pepper, sweet spices and oak. Zinfandel’s full body medium to high acidity, alcohol and tannins.
Food Pairing: Barbecue pork ribs, chicken enchiladas, or roast venison with cherry sauce.
Beyond Classic Wines
True “champagne” originates from the Champagne region in France and produced with the “methode champenoise” where grapes are harvested by hand, aged, and fermented with yeast and sugar. A second fermentation then takes place, which produces the bubbles found in champagne. Champagne is usually made as a cuvee or blend of three kinds of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Sparkling wines not produced in the French Champagne region are called “sparkling wines,” not Champagne but Spain has Cava, Germany Sekt and Italy Prosecco.
Cava – from Spain made with Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel Lo grapes.
Prosecco – from Italy made with Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio.
Sekt – from Germany made with Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes.
Types of Sparkling Wines:
Blanc de blancs: made entirely from Chardonnay, producing fresh and lively flavors
Blanc de noirs: white wine made from red (black) grapes, exclusively from Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes, resulting in fuller, richer or fruitier characteristics. It is often pale gold in color with hints of pink.
Rosé: produced by blending a little red wine or leaving the dark skins of Pinot Noir in the wine during processing.
Ultra Brut or Natural: driest sparkling wine.
Brut: very dry and standard for fine champagne.
Extra dry: is not as dry as brut for sugar is added to smooth the wine without making it sweet.
Demi-sec: (“sec” means sweet) or Crémant indicates sweet sparkling wine
Gewürztraminer – Spicy and Exotic
Gewürztraminer is deep straw to pale yellow in color with a perfumed nose of ripe stone fruit, lychee, oranges, flowers and mineral. Warm baking spices and tropical fruit flavors exude from this medium to full-bodied wine. Food pairing with Big Sky foods: Duck with orange sauce or pork with Moroccan or Eastern Indian spices.
Viognier – Pretty and Luscious
Viognier ranges from medium straw to medium yellow in color with aromas of white flower, apricot, peach, nectarine, honey and mineral. On the palate, its medium to full body expresses richness. Food pairing with Big Sky foods: Trout stuffed with pine nuts and golden raisins
or roasted chicken with orange scented root vegetables.
Malbec – Strong and Deep
Malbec’s inky red to purple color matches its flavors of blackberry, black olive, and black plum with tobacco, chocolate, and black licorice. Tannins give Malbec backbone along with its medium to full body. Food pairing with Big Sky foods: Steak, elk, lamb, venison, pheasant – grilled, roasted, braised.
Sangiovese – Zippy and Earthy
Sangiovese is a red-purple colored wine with bright acidity and shows flavors of cherry, raspberry, and red plum along with Italian herbs, mushrooms and earth. Oak expresses itself as vanilla, nuts or coffee in this medium-bodied wine. Food pairing with Big Sky foods: Marinara sauce with lamb meatballs or grilled grouse with olive oil, marjoram, thyme and garlic.
Wine Words to Sip by:
Acidity: How tart or sour is the wine? Does your mouth salivate? More acid produces more saliva. Acidic wines pair well with acidic food and pair better with more foods.
Alcohol: Mild wines have 7% to 10% alcohol while heavier wines have 13% to 14% alcohol. Alcohol is amplified by food, especially salt and hot spice.
Body: Consider how milk and cream feels on the palate. Cream is full-bodied while whole milk is medium, and low fat milk is light. Similarly, different wines feel differently on the palate.
Spice: For warm spices, think of the spices for pumpkin pie – cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. For other characteristics of spice, consider white or black pepper.
Sweet, Dry: Sweetness in wine goes with sweetness in food, but sweetness works best in counterbalancing spicy food and can take away the pucker in tart.
Tannins: Think of drinking a cold cup of tea when a tea bag has been left seeping for too long. Tannins make food taste saltier. Counterbalance tannins with fats and protein such as cheese and a grilled steak.
Wine Buying Wisdom
Do not be intimidated as a good wine store provides helpful advice.
Consider the occasion you are buying wine for. Celebrations afford for more expensive wines, but consider who is drinking the wine. Will they care or appreciate the money spent for the bottle of wine? Money spent on a wine does not always mean better wine.
What food is being served? In general, light wines go with light food while robust wines go with heartier fare, but spices and flavorings will influence how well the wine goes with food.
You know what wines you like so do not let ratings and price influence your purchase.
Keep wine lying down in a spot that is dark, cool, and they will not be jostled.
Ideal storage temperature: 45˚ to 64˚F.
Hint: Keep a record of wines in storage.
No storage needed for inexpensive whites and rosés as well as light-bodied, low tannin reds such as Gamay Beaujolais and simple Pinot Noirs.
Storage desired: The general rule is the more expensive the wine, the more it is created to age. Champagne, robust red wines, and dessert wines improve with aging.
Bigger is better! Buying a magnum of wine may be an ego booster and wallet deflator but the 1.5-liter bottle is, in fact, a better format for aging wine slowly.