What's for Dinner?

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  • By Brett Chappell
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What's for Dinner?

The scene plays out a few times a day. A customer will walk in and say, “I need a bottle of wine for dinner tonight. I’m not sure what we’re having; I’m going over to a friend’s house and want to take them something.” Decisions, decisions. Well, let’s figure this one out...

The scene plays out a few times a day.  A customer will walk in and say, “I need a bottle of wine for dinner tonight.  I’m not sure what we’re having; I’m going over to a friend’s house and want to take them something.”  Decisions, decisions.  Well, let’s figure this one out.

First, have a budget in mind.  “Something nice, but not too expensive,” is not a budget.  Give the gift a dollar figure in your head.  Your not-too-expensive may be way-too-expensive to me.  At Unwined, our wines, all good, start around ten dollars.  Give a ten dollar range like $30-40, then we’ve got something to go on.

Second, will it be red, white, or sparkling?  If you know what your host(ess) likes, buy that.  If you don’t know, choose what you like (you may have to drink it).

Third, sit back and relax.  I have enough to go on now, and this is the thought process I use to help find that perfect bottle.

There are in essence six elements that I take into account when I chose a gift wine: sugar, acidity, weight, tannin, fruit, and wow factor.

Sugar.  Unless you say, “I want a sweet wine,” I will suggest a dry wine.  Most sweet wines need specific foods to taste their best.  I want that wine to taste great with your dinner so you’ll 1) look like a champ 2) smile and 3) remember me, your neighborhood wine guy, with fondness.  If I do suggest a sweet wine, TAKE HEED.  I often suggest taking a sweet wine and cheese for a gift.  The tastes are complimentary, and you look like a real gourmet.

Acid.  Food likes acid.  Your mouth likes acid.  Acid carries flavor, acid makes our mouth water, and acid lightens flavors.  If you give someone a wine on the slightly acidic side, the chance that the wine will go with dinner increases threefold.  Often I’ll suggest something from Europe because the cool climate of the Old World calms ripeness and heightens acidity.  That acidity is refreshing.

Weight.  Cabernet Sauvignon can be heavy, Pinot Grigio can be dainty.  We want something middle of the road here, usually.  The season will determine the food, therefore heavier in winter, lighter in summer.  Some of the go to grapes for medium weight red wines are Pinot Noir, Grenache, or Barbera and for wine whites, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Riesling.

Tannin.  This is the one element that I steer clear of when choosing a gift wine, unless you tell me that your host likes BIG wines.  Tannin is the thing in wine that causes your mouth to pucker and dry out like a green banana does.  Tannin must have fat in order to pair with food.  If I know that your hostess is serving a nice piece of red meat, then I’ll choose a big, tannic wine.  Otherwise, beware.  Tannin and fish don’t like each other.

Fruit.  Fruit is sweet, but not sugar (candy) sweet.  You need fruit in wine or the wine will taste dry and dead.  I am going to choose a wine with beautiful fruit.

WOW factor.  Who doesn’t like either a surprise, a little extra something, or a good story?  I’ll try to make sure that your gift has one of these.  It’s the part of the wine that you can tell your host about.  (It shows that you did your homework.)

Last, but not least, is quality at Unwined. We are tough judges and all of our wine is tasted by someone who works here.  Our ten dollar wine is as much a value as any other.  Rest assured, our wines are vetted.

 These two wines would impress me if you brought them to my house (and I’m picky).

Cecchi Vino Nobile de Montepulciano  2011  $34.99

Dry, medium acid, medium weight, medium tannin (from bottle age), still youthful fruit, and 2011 vintage WOW factor. Montepulciano is a hilltop village in western Tuscany. The majority of the vineyards, are located on the eastern facing slopes of the village and benefit from plentiful sunshine and wonderful drainage. Being Tuscan, the main grape of Vine Nobile di Montepulciano (VNM) is Sangiovese, locally known as Prugnolo Gentile. While Sangiovese must comprise at least 70% blend, other local varieties are allowed to be blended. Cecchi,  as well as other Vino Nobile, are elegant expressions of Sangiovese. They show a bit more polish than many Chiantis and less power than Brunellos. The wine has well developed cherry and plum flavors with notes of violet. The wine would show off game birds, rabbit, veal, and lighter preparations of beef beautifully.

Domaine Jean Paul & Benoit Droin Chablis AOC 2014 $26.99

Dry, medium high acidity, medium high weight, bright fruit, and 14th generation family winery WOW factor.  Domaine Droin, operated by winemaker Benoit Droin, is one of the top producers of modern Chablis. Though the family viticulture history stretches back to the early 1600s, Benoit is an innovator in Chablis, running one of the most modern winemaking facilities in northern Burgundy and producing a bigger, riper style of Chablis while maintaining the regions signature focus and minerality. Fermented and raised entirely in tank, the 2014 Domaine Droin Chablis AOP is a middle ground between the traditional and modern, a steely, vibrant cold climate Chardonnay that also manages to maintain plenty of green apple and citrus peel driven fruit flavors. Far from internationally styled, it still has the flinty minerality that Chablis lovers crave.  It would be a perfect accompaniment to raw oysters or a hunk of Epoisses.

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