Question & Answer Time with The Irish Wineo
Let’s face it – wine is confusing at the best of times. It can be overwhelming for some; and downright off-putting for others. This is why at the bodega, we always try to ‘demystify’ wine for our customers and clients all over the world. Especially Spanish wine! Why? Because we love it, we are passionate about it, and we want to share it with everyone who comes through our doors. Because at its heart, enjoying wine isn’t about confusingly strange tasting notes, stuffy frowns, legs, noses, or aromas of leather – it’s about pulling up a chair, forgetting the rush, and sharing a terrific glass (or 2 or 3 or…!) with friends.
At the end of the day, it’s just wine! So once you take away the fancy label, expensive glasses, and stuffy wine terms, it’s still, yep, just wine. Don’t get me wrong, not all wines are created equally, but it doesn’t have to be so cloak and dagger. And it definitely should never be seen as ‘elitist’. There are many tips/tricks to help you pick up a bottle you will love without having to remortgage your house. It’s for that reason; that I decided to answer some of the most frequent questions we get asked by our lovely customers in the bodega and help ‘demystify’ some of those right here for all of you at home. So, grab a glass, sit back and enjoy some of the most common questions asked about wine at the bodega. Maybe you’ll even learn some tips along the way to help you out on your next wine haul!
Q1. What’s your favorite wine? I’ll have a glass of that…
So, first things first – just because I love a particular wine, doesn’t mean you will. In fact, most people who work in wine, tend to have such a varied style profile when it comes to wine, that the chances of them even having ‘a favorite’ is slim to none. The point is this, we are here to help you find YOUR new favorite wine! Tell the salesperson what style wine you are looking for, and importantly how much you want to spend. There’s no point being shown an exceptionally expensive wine if you cannot afford it, equally, showing you a bottle for €5 if you want to spend a bit more. Find it hard to describe what you like? Stick with the basics. Light, bold, powerful, fresh, fruity, etc. Don’t get bogged down and overcomplicate it; keep it simple and don’t be embarrassed – we do this 100 times a day.
Q2. What wine should I drink with meat/fish/pasta dishes etc?
If you’re going to be opening the wine with a meal, tell us what you are planning on eating. We can advise you on good pairings based on your styles and tastes. Most importantly remember the salesperson wants to help you, so pick their brains and get their advice. That’s what we are paid to do and honestly, we love it. Finding that perfect wine for someone is one of the highlights of my day; whether the customers are paying €10 or €100; pairing them with the ideal wine is priceless.
Q3. I need to pick a present for a friend/co-worker/boss etc. but I don’t know what they like… Send Help!
Again, don’t try to pick one at random. Ask someone for guidance. General rules for me when helping a customer pick a gift for someone is to keep it broad. It’s best to pick something not too dry, not too heavy, not too fruity… you get where I am going with this!? Choose something that appeals to many wine styles. When it comes to Spanish wines, a nice Garnacha blend from Montsant works perfectly; or a Reserva Rioja. Both are quite fruit-forward yet complex, balanced, and most importantly smooth. A lot of wines now come with boxes, tins, or outer wrapping which can also make a nice gift. I personally love the hand-dipped wax tops; usually found in smaller productions, they have a ‘special’ uniqueness about them.
If you really have no idea what to pick – get a voucher! Who doesn’t enjoy being able to pick up wine for themselves and not have to pay!
Q4. What’s the difference between Crianza and Reserva/Gran Reserva?
This can be tricky for people to understand, as these aging categories are used all over the world; and can have slightly different specifications. The most common region in Spain to use this aging labeling system is, however, Rioja. The Rioja DOCa has a fabulous website that explains each category in detail. Read more here. They also offer free Diploma courses if you want to brush up on your wine knowledge!
Q5. Where’s the Rioja wine by the glass from?
Yes, I get asked this almost every day. Rioja is, in fact, one of the oldest winemaking regions in Spain. The grape most commonly associated with this area is, of course, Tempranillo. Here’s where things get tricky – there are over 200 different types of Tempranillo, depending on where it is grown, and a huge variation between their styles. It is for this reason that Spain, and most old world wine producing countries refer to wines by region and not grape. It is far easier to define a style by region here, taking into account terroir/climate/winemaking processes, etc; rather than just what grape is used. In contrast, new world wines, like American for example, tend to be labeled by varietal.
Q6. I like Cabernets / Sauvignons / Malbecs etc. What’s a similar Spanish style?
This will be an entire blog in itself as there are lots of grapes and lots of wines! Check back soon for the article. Until then, however, the best way to know the answer to this is to brush up on your Spanish grapes. Check out our two blogs on some of Spain’s most popular red and white varieties.
Top Tip: If you like big, bold and dry Cabernet Sauvignons, try a wine from the Priorat region, you won’t be disappointed. Love a rich chardonnay?… Pick up a bottle of Godello from Bierzo. And finally, for all of you Sauvignon Blanc lovers out there, don’t leave Spain without picking up a bottle of crisp Alboriño.
Q7. Do you do half-glasses?
No, we don’t. Please, do yourself a favor and never ask your server this, wherever you are in the world. Unless that is you want to wait 30 minutes for your next order. Order a glass of wine, and enjoy it. Want to taste a few wines? Ask about a wine flight instead. This is a great way to compare and enjoy some different styles, without falling off your chair by the end of the evening and trying to swipe your metro card attempting to pay your bill.
Q8. I’m having a party and I need some wines? What wines should I get?
I know, I know, those distant memories of parties and gatherings seem like forever away – but I promise once this ‘new normal’ finally reverts to our beloved, just normal, they will indeed return! And when that time comes – what wine will you pick? Just like question 1 & 2, ask for help. I would suggest, picking some nice and easy, fresh wines, usually keeping below 13.5%. After all, you don’t want people to pass out in your living room by the end of the night. The aim is for guests to enjoy the evening without getting too drunk. I personally always go for Mencia based wines from Ribeira Sacra or Bierzo, these are similar to a meaty style pinot noir, so are also perfect for those warmer months and sunny evenings spent on the terrace. I love them!
Top Tip: Raul Perez is known as the Master of Mencia by many. His wines are some of the most highly awarded and very reasonable to boot. Take a look at some of our favorites in the shop.
Q9. What’s the driest wine?
Unless a wine specifically says that it’s sweet, or dulce, assume all wines are dry. We are by no means lover of sweet wines here in Spain, red or white. Wines from Priorat and Riax Baixes will both be dry; just like Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Xarel.lo are all dry. The one exception to this is, of course, Sherry, however, even then they are not all sweet either. You can pick up some fabulous dry sherries. One thing to note, however, is when someone says ‘dry’, they often mean they want a wine with high tannins. This is different. High tannin wines will make your cheeks suck in and your tongue feels like sandpaper. More of a feeling than a flavor. If this is what you are looking for, pick up a nice Ribera del Duero or Rioja, which is well known for their expressive use of oak.
Q10. What the difference between Cava & Champagne?
Believe it or not; not as much as you might think! Only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne. Cava is Spain’s version of champagne and they are made in the exact same method. Better yet, they come with a much more reasonable price tag. Check out our YouTube video to become a sparkling wine expert in no time.
Q11. Why is rosé wine pink?
Sometimes rosés can be made with a blend of white and red grapes; take for instance many of the rosés from Rioja; they are made with Viura and Garnacha. However, the majority of rosés around the world tend to be made using red grapes. So why aren’t they red? Wine gets its colour from the skins of the grape. When the winemaker crushes the grapes, they only allow the skins to come into contact with the juice for a brief amount of time. This final colour and intensity depend on this amount of time. It can be anywhere from 2 -20 hours.
Q12. Do I need to decant my wine?
Yes and no! Many wines do not need to be decanted and will not change their flavor profile one way or another. However, some older wines or unfiltered wines can have a high level of sediment in the bottle. Slowly and carefully decanting these wines ensures that the sediment stays in the bottle and you get a nice clear wine in the decanter, and therefore in your glass! No one likes glugging down a lump of sediment. ** Don’t forget some old wines, may only need to be decanted 30 minutes before; any longer and you might kill it! Another reason is to ‘open up’ some wines. Many young wines can be tight or closed on the nose or palate. We tend to use the rule if it’s old or bold decant it, if not just drink it!
Q13. How did you end up here?
I get asked this on average 50 times every week. No. Joke. The answer is simple. Because I am a resourceful Irish woman, who has managed to find a career that I get paid to drink wine at work… Joking! Well, sort of! On a serious note though, people are often so intrigued about how people end up working in the wine industry and what qualifications they need to start. This all depends on where in the world you may be located. The wine industry is vast, and there are so many areas that could interest you. WSET global offers many courses open to beginners and is a great way to be introduced to the world of wine. Aside from that, get involved in your local wine scene! Join some tastings, meet some new people, and see what evolves from there.
Q14. Was that a good year/vintage?
It’s hard to ask about a particular vintage without sounding a little pretentious let’s be honest. First of all ‘vintage’ doesn’t mean old. A wine’s vintage refers to the year the grapes were picked. And yes, that is important – but not the bee all and end all by any means. Unless you’re a collector buying a wine; vintage isn’t everything. The good news is that winemaking and viticulture practices have advanced hugely in the last 20 years, winemakers now have the tools and experience to deal with any issues that may arise during the growing season.
So, yes, vintage matters, but not as much as it once did. It’s also important to take note that a great vintage in Priorat for example; may have also been a terrible vintage in Riax Baixes. It’s largely based on climate, therefore changes in weather from one year to the next could be great for some and devastating for others.
Q15. I want a wine to age for the next 10 years… I also want to spend no more than €20.
Forget about it, not going to happen! Simply put, cheaper wine does not age well. The majority of wines produced are made to be enjoyed now not to be laid down. If a wine isn’t very high quality while young; it’s highly unusual that the quality will increase with age. Yes, fine wines improve with age; but the keyword is ‘fine’. When talking about Spanish wines; thankfully you can buy some high quality picks for around the €50 mark. So do yourself a favor, ask your salesperson to recommend one of them, store it well and enjoy in 10 years. Trust us, it’s better than waiting around for a bottle of vinegar!
Q16. How do I know if a wine is corked?
Bottles can be ‘bad’ for a variety of reasons. The word ‘corked’ can be a bit overused. If, however, your wine is corked you’ll know about it! Want to know if your bottle is corked? Easy. We a load of old newspapers and cardboard and sniff it. Not pleasant, right? That’s what a corked bottle smells like. A wine is said to be ‘corked’ when the wine’s cork becomes infected with T.C.A. This is the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, and even in tiny amounts, it can cause a musty, stale smell.
If you think your wine tastes off, take it back to wherever you bought it. But, don’t forget, if you don’t like the wine you bought, it doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means you don’t like it!
Q17. Is there a difference between a €10 bottle and a €100 bottle?
How can I put this? Is there a difference between monopoly money and real money? There are plenty of good wines to be found for under €10. We sell many of them. But there is a big difference in wine for €10 and wine for €100. There are so many costs involved in making wine; from the land to the yield per vintage and even the type of oak used. All of these factors play a part in the cost of a wine. Most cheaper wines tend to have very large productions; whereas smaller productions tend to have higher price tags. Usually speaking in smaller productions, every single process of the production is monitored carefully by the winemaker. This obviously can’t and doesn’t happen in the majority of larger productions.
Q18. How long does wine last after I have opened it?
This is one that many will disagree with, but of course, I will say it anyway! This varies depending on the wine. And for the best results; I would suggest finishing within two days regardless. Whites can last up to about 5 days in the fridge; once you don’t have anything particularly strong-smelling in there that could affect it. Bear in mind though, it can lose a little bit of life and go flat. Every wine will last differently. Red on the other usually about 2-3 outside of the fridge or up to 5 days in the fridge. Yes, yes, I can hear the collective retorts about red wine not being kept in a fridge… but read on!
Q19. Why do you serve your red wine cold?
We don’t ever ‘serve our wine cold’. But our definition of what cold is in the wine world and the normal world can be vastly different. We usually serve all red wines at approx. 16 degrees Celsius. On a hot, humid day in Barcelona, sometimes cooler than that. Why? Because it will warm up within seconds; literally seconds! And if you have ever had a warm glass of red wine, you’ll know it is anything but enjoyable! Technically speaking the standard rule of thumb if you’re unsure is anywhere between 14-17’ depending on the wine style. We all know the old rule ‘reds to be served at room temperature’. (I have heard horrifying tales of people leaving them on radiators to warm them up! Lord help us!) We seem to not realize that these days no one’s rooms are 16 degrees, usually closer to 25. We can only conclude that the rule was made a long time before central heating was. Here’s a handy chart to keep you on the straight and narrow.
- Light & fruity reds: (Mencia, Pinot noir, etc) 12-13 degrees Celsius
- Medium-bodied reds: Serve between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius
- Full-bodied reds: Serve between 15 and 17/18 degrees Celsius
Q20. I want a no sulfite wine… 0, zip, zilch sulfites.
Impossible. Buy some grape juice. All wines have sulfites, they occur naturally during fermentation. No sulfites – No wine. It’s that simple. It literally can not happen. You can buy numerous wines that do not have any added sulfites. Usually many natural and bio-dynamical wines will follow this rule. But don’t expect to pick up any aged or special vintages; you can’t leave a bottle of wine hanging around for 20 years unless you add sulfites. Well, you can, but it will just be expensive vinegar. One important thing to also realize about sulfites is this, they’re not going to kill you, and they’re already in a lot of things you eat.
Q21. Should I spit wine at a wine tasting?
Well, that depends! I personally don’t spit; unless it’s 10 am and I have a hectic day ahead of me and don’t fancy being sloshed. But the choice is a personal one. The main reason most people spit is that they want to taste/compare/study each wine; that can prove fairly difficult if you’re tasting 20+ glasses of wine in one sitting.
So that’s it. 20 questions that I am asked regularly by customers just like you, every day of the week! I hope they help ‘demystify’ one of life’s greatest treasures, wine! And don’t forget, most importantly – It’s about you. It’s about the people clinking their glasses with you. It’s about birthdays, holidays, fancy dinners and nights in with friends or loved ones! Because in the 1000s of years of drinking wine, one thing has never changed; you don’t drink a bottle of wine, you share it!
Let’s hope this pandemic passes soon and we can watch you all share bottles of wine once again.
Until then, stay safe, be kind, and drink great wine.
Love & Cava,