Off the Vine: Tips for choosing a dinner wine

September 12, 2012 

Why is it that at one moment life can be a barrel of laughs and the next you can't tell whether you're coming or going? In many ways vintages for wines are very similar to the ups and downs of life -- some years it is too cold and the fruit never has a chance to ripen, in others the temperature is too hot, the fruit can be over ripe. Extreme changes in the weather can wreak havoc on the final outcome of the fruit that goes from the vine into the finished product -- that bottle of wine you purchased to enjoy with dinner.

So how do you decide what wine to choose for dinner on any given night? Well, a very wise old man told me years ago that there are really only two things you need to know about a particular wine: whether you like how it tastes and are you are willing to pay what it costs to purchase a bottle.

Obviously, the first decision that you have to make is whether you are choosing a wine to pair with a particular meal - or are you going to pick a varietal and then cook something that complements your wine?

It can be a tough decision. Start by choosing the varietal -- Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, for example -- that you want to drink and then decide what to cook for dinner. The next decision is much more difficult, especially if you are not looking for a specific producer.

The 2007 Marchesi de' Frescobaldi "Castelgiocondo" Brunello di Montalcino is a great example of a wine that benefited from exceptional growing conditions. It started with the mildest winter since 1950, followed by

a very mild spring that produced just a small amount of rain and little heat which allowed for a very sound and healthy beginning for the fruit growing on the vines. This 2007 Brunello is garnet in color, with some very spicy overtones that will make this a great pairing with a slow-cooked bottom round roast and root vegetables.

One of the best ways to determine what you like in terms of taste is to visit restaurants or wine shops that hold wine tastings on a regular basis at a nominal cost.

As well as providing the opportunity to taste a number of wines, it allows you to ask questions and possibly learn why you like the flavors contained within one particular wine instead of another.

Attending these tastings with friends provides for an inexpensive chance to taste wines and compare your tasting notes with people you enjoy.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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