Sara’s Sommelier Selections – Dec 7, 2013

Flying Solo – Wine Without Food

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

One of our many roles as Sommeliers is to match food with wine in fine dining establishments in order to enhance the experience of the diner. However, Sommeliers are employed in many different ways such as a consulting in building wine lists for new or established restaurants and bars, providing insight to private collectors about the contents of their cellars, and generally helping consumers find exactly what they are looking for to enhance every occasion.

As of late, I have had requests to both pair wines to specific occasions, but more insistently to recommend wines that can be drunk on their own – i.e. do not necessitate food pairings. Although many of the wines I have recommended from previous releases could fly solo as well, here is a list of wines that can be enjoyed outside of dinnertime.

What to look for in a wine that can be enjoyed on its own? Firstly, a wine should be optimally balanced and feel harmonious. Ratios such as acid-to-sweetness, fruit-to-oak and tannins-to-fruit should be proportional such that they match intensity and are nicely integrated on the palate.

Secondly, look for wines with smooth tannins and rounded acids. Youthful rieslings that have throat-ripping acids or tough Napa cabernets are best reserved for foods that can mellow those properties, or else they need to spend some time in bottle so that the structural components can soften and integrate.

Thirdly, and perhaps counter-intuitively for some, wines work best in an aperitif/cocktail setting if they are dry or just slightly off-dry. Sweet wines are best when paired with salty, creamy or fatty foods and occasionally fruit or desserts. On their own, more than a glass or two may result in a difficult subsequent morning or, more immediately, palate fatigue.

Fourthly, a wine should be “ready to drink”, either because it has been allowed time in the bottle to mature, or it was produced deliberately for immediate consumption (a great deal of wines on the shelf fall into this category).

Conversation pieces! Wines can be icebreakers especially if they come from lesser-known regions or are made from grapes that are less common.

The final principals are reserved for those who are entertaining or a choosing a wine for a cocktail party style gathering.

Reach for a crowd-pleasing, easy-drinking wine as opposed to something esoteric, experimental or something weirdly wonderful. Often, we critics will use this language in our reviews, which should nudge you in that direction.

The last overarching consideration is affordability! With the exception of very specific circumstances, or if you have a great collection that you would like to share, most people, especially around this time of the year, are looking to stretch their dollar and get the best bang for their buck when a larger group is involved. Fortunately, there is a good deal of selection in this category. I would particularly direct you to Steve Thurlow’s 50 Best Value LCBO picks.

Here are some suggestions from today’s release that should prove most enjoyable “seule” and the reasons for why they were chosen:

De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2012 ($18.95)
BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Chardonnay is an incredibly versatile variety in terms of the styles and flavour profiles it can express, where it can be produced around the world and its ability to match an array of foods and situations. It is also becoming a la mode again (and arguably, was it ever really out of fashion?) I always like to have one familiar choice in a group setting as it sets people at ease right away. In addition, Chardonnay is the ultimate comfort wine, especially when lightly oak-aged, offering a touch of vanilla, warm butter, and butterscotch to compliment the warming alcohol. You also don’t have to worry too much about temperature here as much Chardonnay can often be very enjoyable even close to room temperature. So go ahead, leave it on the counter and finish off the bottle!

De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2012

Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2010 ($26.95)
Barossa, South Australia

Wines that are big and bold are often best left on their own as opposed to pairing with food. They risk upstaging your cuisine, whereas served solo, these wines will take center stage. The only caveat is that they can be filling so if serving before mealtime or in large quantities, be wary of this. This Saltram Shiraz consistently over-delivers – it is bold and rich but not overbearing – terrific on its own.

Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2010

Quinta Dos Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2009 ($13.95)
Doc Dão, Portugal

A romantic comedy on the agenda or perhaps a hopeful nightcap? Wines of the Dao are my aphrodisiac and their complex, delicate flavours are perfectly suited to appreciation without food. In addition, the wines tend to be dry, concentrated but not overly tannic, so they are ideal sans-dinner!

Quinta Dos Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2009

Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2012 ($14.95)
Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa

When I first tasted this prior to release – I immediately described it as a crowd-pleasing aperitif wine. Well-made, friendly and flavourful but not overly challenging, it will have you or your guests pleasantly satisfied and for a price that won’t break the bank. A side party tip – drinking white wine, or even just finishing with a glass of white, can mitigate the red lips/teeth and tongue problem that is oh so apparent in lively discussions at cocktail parties.

Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2012

Veramonte Primus 2011 ($19.95)
Colchagua Valley, Chile

Blends! Blends are often made to create a balanced wine. Many traditional blends have been established because of the grapes’ ability to compliment each other. I was particularly fond of this lush and savory blend of carmenere and syrah, which tastes a lot pricier than the tag reads.

Veramonte Primus 2011

Wishing you happy entertaining!

Sara d’Amato

From the Dec 7, 2013 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find Sara d’Amato’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!