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How to bluff your way as a wine connoisseur

There's nothing worse than being mocked by a wine snob who judges you as you sip your ‘house red' (because who cares, you like it!) 

There are many situations where it helps to be able to hold your own in the wine stakes and it's not as hard or mysterious as you may think.  


The root of it all

Know your terroir. Soil and a ‘sense of place' is the key to all great wines. Terroir is a set of characteristics (climate, soil type, topography, nearby plants) that influence grapes where they're grown.

It's difficult to learn these tiny differences around the world. So, start with a wine you like and scrutinise why. A wine from volcanic soil on one continent will have parallels with others across the globe.

Also, terroir can help you identify bargains. A well-known vineyard with a high price might be less enjoyable than the higher standard of wine from lower classification of vineyard next door. 


Trust your sommelier

Or, ‘trust your somm' as somms tend to say. No matter how fluent you are in wine chitchat, someone always knows more than you. These people are often called Sommeliers. Respect.

Every decent restaurant has one and it's ok to use them. The key is actually to not to get lost in their wine list. Instead, seek their opinion. To extract the best information from them, consider the style of wine you like to drink.

But be flexible, they love to broaden your palate. And isn't that the idea?


Learn a few key terms

Knowing a few more key words will help you take charge of ordering wine for friends.

Tannin: In short, tannin is ‘texture', and it can make wine taste dry. Most commonly, tannin is found on grape skins or wood.

Red wines will showcase tannin found in their skins. And white wine fermented in barrels will be dryer from the wood contact. Just for a curve ball, white wine left on skins for extended periods may be more tannic, or more textural – that'll impress them.



More useful terms:

Aperitif: Wines drank at the start of the meal, before food.

Aromatic wine: Sounds like a smell? There's more to it. Aromatic wines will smell like they did back when they were grapes. They include gewürztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc and Riesling.

Biodynamic OR organic wine: Avoid the mainstream ‘organics' and look for wine made by, well, farmers. Understanding ecology, the energy and spirituality of wine makes a better drop.

Cru: You will see this on French wine. It means ‘growth'. A Grand Cru is above a Premier Cru – but hint: it's not always better. Use your palate.

Old World: Traditional wine regions of Europe and Africa.

New World: Other regions including Australia, NZ and the U.S.

Residual sugar: The amount of sugar left after fermentation. Hint: This helps identify sweetness, even in ‘dry' wines. 

Varietal: Wine coming from a single grape variety.

Vertical: Tasting the same wine over a series of different vintages.


Matches that impress

Common food and wine matches will help you orchestrate the perfect meal. You don't have to have the knowledge of a sommelier, but some basic wisdom gets you started.

Duck & pinot noir: The classic fatty bird and a light earthy wine. So French. So Perfect.

Lamb & cabernet sauvignon: Mint and lamb is timeless. A common descriptor in cab sav is, yep, mint.

Barbera & anything: Well, maybe not oysters or fish. But, the intense acid in barbera can cut through fatty, oily, rich and salty foods.

Chardonnay & chicken: The wine of white meat. Oaked versions will step up to smoked food too.

Riesling & the rest: Riesling's sugar and acidity goes with fish or pork and it stands up to the strong flavours and spices of Asian food.

So go forth. Drink and discuss. It's the best way to navigate those cloudy waves inside your wine glass.

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