Getting acquainted with wine can be intimidating. We’ve all been there. Deciding if you’d prefer red or white wine is often the easy part, but from there the bottle racks can be a blur of labels and languages. With the right approach, you can narrow your search for the wines that you will enjoy. The truth is that wines aren’t that different from people. We’ve got more similarities than you might think.
Take the bottles, for starters. Although they may look the same at first glance, look again. Not only are the bottles different sizes, but even different shapes. Different kinds of grapes (called varietals) are made into different kinds of wine, so they often have different bottle styles. As you get to know wine, you’ll learn that the bottle shapes help you to know what kind of wine is in the bottle. Different wine regions have different requirements for labeling wines so the actual varietal may not be listed. People come in all different sizes, shapes and colors, too. Some of us are even easier to see through like the clear bottles rather than the tinted glass.
Looking beyond the bottle, both people and wines have personality traits. Some wines can be quite forward while others are more reserved. Some people are earthy, and so are some wines. Wine can be almost sharp (called acidic) like your favorite cynical friend or tobacco-chewy (called tannic) like a burly football player. Just like people, it sometimes takes a few hours for a wine to open up and show you its personality. First impressions can be deceiving.
Wines can be sultry, like pinot noirs with their uniquely velvety texture. Some white wines want to party in your backyard, just like your neighbors. Some wines want to make you think about them, such as a Bordeaux that practically taste-shifts in your glass. Some wines demand your attention, while others are happy being wallflowers. Other wines, such as Sauterne (a dessert wine), prefer to be savored, like a discussion about your favorite book with a close friend.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses, too. My philosophy is that your strength can be your weakness, depending on the situation. For example, if you won’t change your mind on an issue, you may be considered stubborn. On the other hand, it’s that same steadfastness that may help you to persevere in a trying situation. Wines are no different. Depending on the circumstance, you might prefer a bold and brassy wine to stand up to a heavy seitan dish. At other times, that same wine could overpower the delicate flavors of an herbed risotto. Certain people in our lives are the ones we want to enjoy a movie with, while other friends respond better to a vigorous hike. It’s all about matching. We’ll get into wine pairings more in the future, but for now, let’s stick to the connections between people and wine.
It’s no secret that some of us age better than others. It’s ideal to enjoy a wine at its prime. Realistically, that’s not always the time we pop the cork, try as we might. Some wines are made to be enjoyed shortly after production, while others improve over time. Some people end up flabby, some wines do, too. Some wines tighten up, similar to people who become stuffed shirts. Other wines get richer over time, just like some people. None of us remain unchanged throughout our lives.
The key to enjoying wine is to like what you drink. It takes some exploration and some thought. When you drink a wine that you enjoy, think about what you like about that wine. The same goes for a wine you don’t like. Maybe it’s the fruity flavor that grabs you, or the almost jammy texture. Perhaps it’s an herbal component or a citrusy aftertaste (called the finish). On your next visit to the wine store, it will be easier for the wine clerk to direct you to another wine you’ll like based on what you’ve tried and liked or didn’t. As you try a few more wines, you’ll start to see relationships between them. The more you can communicate at the wine store, the better the chances of finding the wines that you are sure to enjoy.
A common misconception is that wine is simply fermented grape juice, which would make it automatically vegan. Sometimes during the wine-making process, substances will be added to a wine to ‘correct’ or balance the flavor profile. Often wines are filtered or fined to remove the grape material and make a more visually appealing wine. The processes can use animal products, but don’t always. There are vegan alternatives. To make it even more confusing, each year’s wine (called vintages) may be made differently from one year to the next! So a wine that might be vegan one year may disappoint you the following year.
In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites that are confirmed to be vegan. Prices may vary.
- 2008 Renegade from Renegade Wine Company: Washington State wines are one of my biggest wine weaknesses. This lovely red blend from Horse Heaven Hills appellation is a second label of Sleight of Hand Cellars. With a medium body and flavors of red and dark fruit, this wine is perfect with a vegan pizza. This wine drinks bigger than its price tag. This is one to wow your friends. ($12.99)
- Evodia 2009 from Evodia Cellars: This wine is 100% garnacha (called grenache in French) and is from Spain. The biggest impact on a wine is arguably the vines (sorry, winemakers) and this is from old vines. Bright and juicy fruit is complemented by a hint of spice. Fun fact: Evodia means aroma in Greek. Try this one with a seitan stew. ($11.99)
- St. Innocent Pinot Gris 2009: Not a complex wine, this one is a perfect patio sipper and a terrific example of an Oregon white wine. With a lovely mineral undertone, the overall taste is bright, fruity and a little spicy. Try this one with a grilled Portobello burger while dining in the sunshine. ($19.99)
- Ladybug White Cuvee III from Lolonis Vineyard: From 50 year old vines in Mendocino, California, this is a wonderful warmer weather wine. The blend is fruity yet dry, and even a little zesty. It is racy enough to stand up to spicy food so try this with your favorite Asian dishes. ($13.99)
Wine is meant to be shared, just like wonderful vegan food. With a little effort, you can find many incredible vegan wines. Just like vegans, they’re out there. Sometimes, you just have to look a little harder to find them. Trust me, it’s worth your effort.