How To Choose Wine Like A Sommelier
Sunaina Sethi is a sommelier and wine buyer for some of London’s most popular restaurants, including Trishna, Gymkhana, Lyle’s, Hoppers and Sabor. When it comes to choosing wine to serve at home, her advice is to first figure out your taste. “If you like a wine, get as much information as you can from that bottle,” she says. “Identify the grape, the region, the producer.” Use this to choose other wines you might like and build up your preferences. “Maybe it was a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough [in New Zealand], next time pick up a sauvignon blanc from another region. Or if it was from the Loire valley [in France], try more from that area. Then you can apply those preferences when you’re faced with a wall of wines in a shop.”
For expanding your wine knowledge, Sethi recommends The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson, and as for how to choose wine when it comes to food pairing, more experimentation is key. “Try different wines with different dishes – can you still taste the food when you drink that wine, and can you still taste the wine when you eat that food?” she says. “Basic guidelines like white wine with fish make sense, but with a chunky fish in a rich sauce there’s no reason not to open a red – just avoid anything too oaky and tannic. Ultimately, you’re trying to make sure one isn’t overpowering the other.”
Here are Sethi’s suggestions for how to choose wine when hosting…
Start The Meal With Sherry… A lovely fino or manzanilla at the beginning of a meal is incredible. At Trishna, we serve it with a poppadom, because it can really stand up to the flavours and it adds this great depth and complexity.
Serve Grüner Veltliner With Spice… With Indian food, [the Austrian grape variety] grüner veltliner has a little bit of sweetness, but also a great acid profile, really nice fruit and an underlying white pepper spice, which can stand up to our cuisine.
Buy Boutique Bubbles… A lot of the big brands dominate within sparkling wines, but much of what you’re paying doesn’t go into the bottle – it goes on things like marketing. So look for small-production boutique wineries. There’s some amazing stuff coming out of the UK, and in France, choose a crémant – you won’t know you’re not drinking champagne, but it’s half the price.
Go Global With Whites… Explore lesser-known regions, such as Croatia, Greece, Austria and South America. I’m interested in an all-rounder white, which has good fruit, good acid, a little bit of spice – you get a lot of that from Croatia.
Cross The Road For A Red… Under French law, for wines to be labelled as from a particular region, they need to come from a very specific area. However, you can get wine that’s grown literally on the other side of the road that’s equally delicious but doesn’t command such high prices. Wine shops will be able to direct you to some of these gems.
Try Côtes du Rhône Lieu-Dit Clavin, Clavin Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, France (made from vines that lie just outside the Châteauneuf-du-Pape border)
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Sunaina Sethi’s Top 5 Tips For Serving Wine At A Dinner Party
- Store it right – Store wine lying down, somewhere there isn’t too much temperature fluctuation. You don’t need a specialist fridge, just not next to a radiator or in direct sunlight.
- Don’t swap glasses – If you go from white wine to red, stick to the same glass. I’d rather my glass tasted of wine than washing-up liquid, so just rinse it out with a bit more wine.
- Ask whether to decant – Not all wines need decanting, but fuller-bodied bottles with a bit of age can often do with a bit more oxygen. Ask at the wine shop.
- Avoid stemless glasses – I’m not a fan because your hands warm up the glass. Plus, a stem forces you to tilt your head back more, which opens up your palette, so you get maximum flavour.
- Chill it fast – To chill a bottle of wine quickly, wet some kitchen towel, wrap it around the bottle and chuck it in the freezer.
Laura Potter is a freelance editor, writer and interviewer whose work has appeared in The Observer Magazine, The Guardian’s Saturday magazine, The Times Magazine, Women’s Health and Men’s Health