The Drunken Sommelier Mailbag: 3 Frequently Asked Wine Questions Answered
In the spirit of going back to school and getting S-M-A-R-T-E-R, we thought it would only be fitting to lob some of our favourite questions about wine at our favourite wine scholar, Steven, aka The Drunken Sommelier, so that he could remind us that there are no stupid questions, only…wait, we had a couple questions of our own!
All joking aside, Steven has tipped back a few glasses of Mt. Boucherie Pinot Gris and Liquidity Merlot (he’s not cheap, but both just happen to be on sale at the present moment) and opened up the vault, helping us all to continue living the lie that we know anything at all about wine other than that it makes us feel a little warm and fuzzy inside.
And into the mailbag we dive:
1) Vegan & Confused…
My Dearest Steven. What’s the deal with vegan wines? Are they any good? How do I know which wines are vegan if I absolutely, positively, must not pollute my body or my conscience with the remnants of any animal being?
The Drunken Sommelier writes:
Well, Paulie, it’s a strange world out there. In my little world, all wines are technically vegan, but in your world, they might not be. Here’s why. Some winemakers use products or byproducts of eggs, dairy, or fish as a fining agent in their winemaking. Fining is the act of clarifying a wine, or in lay terms, removing any solid particles that might make the wine appear cloudy. To be clear (pun intended), fining is done purely for aesthetic purposes and does not improve the flavour of the wine. The entire process of adding these animal products to an unfinished wine is precisely so that they will attach themselves to other solids or unwanted particles and then be removed from the wine alongside these solids and particles. Is it possible that trace amounts of animal products are left behind in this process? Technically, yes. Are there tangible or noticeable amounts of animal products remaining in these wines that could be measured? Not any more than the idea that there might be human skin particles from whomever handled your most recent bunch of kale. Keep in mind that many small animals are killed and/or exterminated in the process of farming common crops that most vegans deem appropriate for consumption. It should be noted that whether a wine is technically vegan or not has no real effect on its quality. Good, great, bad, and mediocre wines can be made with or without animal product fining agents. It should be noted that wines can also be fined using non-animal products such as bentonite, which is essentially clay. Finally, if you want to be sure that your wine is absolutely vegan, look for wines that are unfined and unfiltered, as some producers choose to eschew the process of fining and filtration altogether. Some wines will be labeled as such, some you might have to find out for yourself using your own research. Fining, in any case, is done purely for aesthetics, and can only remove flavour from a wine, which in many circumstances would be less desirable given that quality wines often attempt to retain as much complexity as possible. I hope that helps, and I’ll be sure not to take you to Mr. Mike’s™ if we ever meet up at some random place, exchange numbers, and engage in some sort of dalliance. I’m sure we won’t. I’m picky.
2) Old World, New World…I’m Lost!
Hey, Steve, what’s the difference between Old World wines and New World wines? I’m having a hell of a time here with my fringey relatives and was hoping to put this one to bed so I can continue explaining to them that Barack Obama is the founder of ISIS… Seriously, though, I’m groping in the dark here. Help.
The Drunken Sommelier writes:
Well, Al (can I call you Al?! You can definitely call me Al), it’s high-time that we recognize the genius of Paul Simon in addition to understanding that Old World wines come mostly from Europe, and New World wines come mostly from places that are NOT Europe. Seriously, though, Old World refers generally to wine regions that have been making wine for THOUSANDS of years, while New World generally refers to regions that have been making wine for merely HUNDREDS or TENS of years. Hear Old World? Think France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, and the like. Hear New World? Think California, British Columbia, Australia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand…are you catching my drift? Generally, “Old World” wines are made in styles that are more savoury, drier in nature, with less obvious oak influence, and better paired with food. “New World” wines are often (but not always!) made in styles that are more fruit-forward, a touch smoother, and a little easier to drink just by themselves. Not that I personally don’t drink both with food AND by themselves, just giving you a general idea of how the twain might be defined. Just be my bodyguard already and let me call you Al, OK?!
3) The Party: What to Pair with Birdie Num-Nums?
Stevie, babyyyy! I’m having a party, and unlike our last encounter, this party ain’t no party for two! There are some serious FOLK coming over to my place, and I’ll tell ya right now that they’re vaxxed, waxed, and ready for SAX! That’s a wee bit of saxophone, in case you were wondering. I consider myself a bit of a Kenny G, if you can believe it! Anyway, I’m serving up all kinds of num-nums to all kinds of very fussy family and friends. Any advice on which wines I might serve to make everyone moderately happy?
Keep it in the short grass,
The Drunken Sommelier writes:
Well, Carrie, without getting too swept up by our last rendezvous, I’d be happy to help! Though I consider myself someone who likes to live dangerously (whoa now, I still got me that good jab!), when it comes to dinner parties, I like to play it down the middle. Vanilla. Meat & potatoes. I’m looking for wines that aren’t too much of this and aren’t too much of that. Momma bear, if you will. Just right. When it comes to reds, I’m looking for wines that aren’t too tannic, aren’t too light, and aren’t too heavy. I like some fruit, some savouriness, and a little bit of weight. These kinds of wines can get by with a lot of different foods. A couple of my favourites are something like a nice Rioja from Spain, or even a good Merlot from BC (I AM drinking F****** Merlot!!!), which ticks those boxes. When it comes to whites, I don’t want anything too sweet, nothing too crazy-high in acid, and something that I don’t feel bad about getting ice-cold. It’s not a secret that many of my party-for-two playdates in the past have felt an affinity for Pinot Gris, and I’m more than happy to oblige in order to please the crowd. I definitely avoid anything like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, or Chardonnay, even if I have an excellent example of any of them available. Dinner parties are not the time to be converting people to your version of the dark side; sometimes, we just gotta let the masses be the masses and please them with our own favourite example of what they already like. Pinot Gris tends to be fruit-forward with just enough freshness and quenchability to play nicely with just about anything. Pick a good one and run with it.
P.S. Check me out on YouTube if you need some more free advice on how to not screw up your wine selections! Lord knows, you might need it!