LIFESTYLE - As soon as I mention the word “wine” at family gatherings, tensions rise and moods become serious as people grapple to remember their swanky wine jargon.
To really enjoy wine, do you need to know the pH level, the residual sugar, the acidity levels and the tannins?
“All that clutter is for you to sound clever at the expense of my pleasure,” my dad would say. He’s a veteran wine drinker, albeit he can’t even pronounce “cabernet sauvignon” and you know what? He doesn’t need to.
Wine enjoyment is relative. Through years of using my dad as a guinea pig, I’ve learnt to appreciate the most simplistic approach to wine: choose a bottle to drink and hope that you enjoy it. If you find yourself cruising through a second bottle, then that must be the wine for you. Once you’ve discovered what it is you like, you can then begin to experiment with savouring it alongside some of your favourite dishes. You will see that food changes the dynamics of wine, hopefully transforming it into something extraordinary.
Do not be intimidated by the tasting notes a sommelier gives. “English gooseberry”, “cat’s pee”, “limestone minerality”, those are flavour profiles experienced completely subjectively depending on who is doing the tasting. I’ve never owned a cat, so can’t say what it’s pee would taste like and I’m not one to go around sampling limestone either. The only gooseberry I know is the Cape gooseberry, which is markedly different to the English variety.
The reality is, someone might enjoy an aged shiraz with a medium-rare fillet steak, but there is also nothing wrong with one preferring a dessert wine, whose residual sugar sits at 300g/l, with a T-bone prepared well-done, all topped with a similarly sweet gravy. Food and wine pairing isn’t a science or a matter of right versus wrong, but rather an experimental fusion of flavours for the purpose of creating a sensational, joyful experience for you, the diner. In a nutshell, it is hedonism.
When it comes to enjoying wine, one might ask if it is wrong to add ice? The answer is simple, as it is your wine after all. For anyone who says it is not ok, what they have is not wine knowledge, what they have is audacity. As a sommelier, there’s much I have seen and have never taken offence to… an exception to this is when I once gifted my brother a bottle of 1986 Meerlust Rubicon, the year of his birth. His swift dunking of a Berocca tablet into the magnificent vintage is still, unfortunately, something that irks me to this day.