Trouble interpreting wine-speak? Hit the state fair’s wine garden

Wine is complicated enough, what with all of the different kinds of wine and all of the different places in the world where wine is made. So what does the wine business do to make wine even more complicated? Invent wine terms, giving it a language all its own.

This is troublesome for anyone who likes wine, experienced or not. Even today, after two-plus decades of doing this, I’ll read a wine description and have no idea what it means. So you can imagine the difficulty wine-speak gives beginners.

How to get around this problem? One way is to stop by the Wine Garden at the State Fair of Texas between Sept. 30 and Oct. 23, where The Two Wine Guys, John Bratcher and myself, will speak again this year. We’ll be at the wine stage Monday through Thursday at 1, 3 and 5 p.m., and will be happy to answer any questions.

The best way? Taste wine, and learn the differences:

• Sweet wine vs. fruity wine: Many California red wines, like Toad Hollow’s Erik The Red ($15) are fruity, which some wine drinkers often confuse with sweetness. Think of a sweet wine, like riesling, as iced tea with lemon and sugar. Think of fruity wine as the tea with just lemon. The latter is fruity (the taste of the lemon) but not sweet.

• Food friendly: Does the wine pair easily with food? If so, and if it doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the food, then it’s food friendly. Usually, but not always, food friendly wines have more simple, straightforward flavors, such as a New Zealand sauvignon blanc like Nine Walks ($10). Drink this with summer salads, roast chicken or boiled seafood, and the wine complements the food, which is about as friendly as you can get.

• Previous vintage: Wineries release a new vintage every year, which is the current vintage. But what happens when retailers haven’t been able to sell all of the previous year’s current vintage? It becomes the previous vintage, and retailers cut prices to get rid of those wines to make room for the current vintage. It’s not unlike what car dealers do — cut prices on last year’s models to make room for the new models. The Australian red blend Pillar Box Red 2008 used to be $12 or $13; you can find it these days, since it’s a previous vintage, for as little as $10.

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Ask the wine Guy?

What’s the difference between a grape varietal and a grape variety?

Nothing, really. Varietal is the more technical term for the grape variety.

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Couscous jambalaya

Serves 4-6, takes 30 minutes

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 c couscous
  • 4 1/2 c chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-6 cups cooked chicken, shrimp, sausage, or beef

1. Place the olive oil in a large saucepan and warm over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion, bell pepper and celery, and sauté until the onions are soft, 5 or 6 minutes. Add the garlic and couscous and mix well, coating the couscous with the oil.

2. Add the chicken or other meat and stir. Add the stock and salt and pepper and mix well.

3. Bring to a boil. When it’s boiling, cover, turn the heat to low, and let the couscous steam for 7 to 10 minutes. It should be moist but not soupy.


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