8 Things Wine Pros Wish You Knew

We asked wine experts from around the country what they wish their customers knew.
By: Alex Van Buren
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Advice from the Pros

Don't know much about wine, but you know what you like? You're not alone: Between varietals, vintages and vineyards, the world of grapes can feel overwhelming. To help cut through the noise, we've reached out to sommeliers, wine shop owners and vintners across America. Here are their invaluable tips — the things they wish you knew — so you can enjoy that glass of vino that much more.

 

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Be Cool — But Not Too Cool

Though it's tempting to stash beer and wine together in an icy cooler, don't overdo it, says Josiah Baldivino, co-owner of Oakland shop Bay Grape. "Your whites shouldn't be ice-cold," he says. "When you do that, it's like putting a plastic cover on a leather couch. As soon as you put it on ice, it's going to cover all [the wine's] nuances. Chill it, open it, let it breathe and stay open, and let it get a little warmer. The first glass is going to be kind of cool, it's going to warm up over time, and you're going to see that change and experience that change. Same thing with red. Red wines should be a little chilled."

 

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Talking About Money Is Not Taboo

Something echoed by nearly everyone we spoke to was that the more you can tell a shop owner or sommelier about your budget, the better. If this feels awkward, try this tip from New York City sommelier Kimberly Prokoshyn, of Rebelle: "If you don't feel comfortable saying out loud how much you'd like to spend, use the prices on the page as a silent guide. Point to the price and ask for something 'like this,' and the sommelier will understand. It narrows down the list, and helps us recommend a great bottle for you."

 

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Expand Your Horizons

Even the most-devoted oenophiles can fall prey to what John Keife, proprietor of New Orleans wine and cheese shop Keife & Co., calls "varietal tunnel vision." Maybe you have a favorite grape, he says, but "there are literally hundreds of grape varietals available in the United States. You're missing out if you only drink Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir." A better approach, Keife suggests, is to describe to the merchant or sommelier the traits you'd like in the wine. Try on words such as "full," "light-bodied," "earth-driven," "fruit-driven," and even "young and lively" versus "mature and reserved," he says, and you may find your new favorite bottle.

 

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A Rosé Is a Rosé Is NOT a Rosé

"People have this perception that rosés are very sweet," says Wölffer Estate vintner Roman Roth. But, he insists, that's a hangover from the '70s, '80s, and '90s, when a lot of cheap, sweet white Zinfandel and rosé flooded the market. It gave the pink wine a "sweet and cheap reputation," he says. Ask about dry rosés, he says, which pair quite well with food, are often lower in alcohol, and can hail from regions as diverse as Provence, France, and Long Island, New York.

 

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Open Your Heart to Me

Break out the notes function on your phone, because a popular refrain among professionals is that they wish guests knew what they've loved in the past. "If they can tell me what they have liked before, be it a $5 wine or a $500 wine, I can take that knowledge and find something comparable on our list," says Casey Gamblin, a sommelier at Herons in Raleigh, N.C. She adds, "Know how adventurous you want to be; if you know that you want to stay inside your comfort zone … let me know."

 

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Go Ahead, Be a Diva

Morgan Calcote, wine director of Charleston, S.C., restaurant FIG, loves to lavish attention on guests. "You want to taste four different white wines before deciding on which glass you'd like? No problem," she told us. "You want to pair with each course or dish? Again, no problem. You want to incorporate some sweeter wines in the savory side of the meal? Challenge accepted." Calcote suggests asking about off-menu items and being particular: "The last thing I want is for a guest to feel like they have to drink something they selected." If it's not to your taste, she says, "no big deal; we've got something on the list that is. I love working together with guests to find something that makes them smile after the first sip."

 

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What Grows Together Goes Together

Got a pizza on the way home and you're making a quick stop at the wine shop? You're right to look to the section marked "Italy" first. "When ordering wine, a good rule of thumb is, 'If it comes from a particular region, you can consume it with food grown or raised in the region,'" notes sommelier and Food Network personality Daisy Martinez. For pizza, you might want a sparkling Lambrusco to balance the heaviness of the pie — or Chianti, or Barbera, depending on the pizza-loving sommelier you ask. (Any of these is a better bet than that bottle of Beaujolais.)

 

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Not All Rieslings Are Sweet

As is true of rosé, "not all Riesling is sweet," says Baldivino, of Bay Grape. "You have all sorts of Rieslings. Depending on where it's from will determine whether it’s sweet or not. Germany is the trickiest; it's hard unless you read the label and know the producer." But with other countries, he notes, such as Australia and Austria, you'll almost always land a dry, crisp bottle. So don't throw all Riesling out the window just because you've had one sickly sweet one!

 

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