A Northwestern student's guide to wine

    Get in touch with your inner wine-o. Photo by bonimo on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons.

    Sure, it’s not a frat party without a keg and a baseball game begs for a cool beer-in-hand, but sometimes a bottle of wine is just the touch your get-together needs. And no, that doesn’t mean switching things up with a game of slap the Franzia bag.

    Worldwide wine consumption may be on the decline, but the U.S. is experiencing just the opposite. A Mintel report attributes American wine drinking growth to the industry’s efforts to make it less “intimidating.” As a generation, we’re more open to trying new wines and don’t have the same preconceptions our parents did. Still, says the report, less than 25 percent of 21 to 24-year-olds drink wine.

    Are we missing out? Robert D. Richards, a certified specialist of wine through the Society of Wine Educators, says, “wine is a food. There’s nothing better than pairing up a great wine with a great meal.” So next time you have a special date, cook a fancy meal or imbibe with friends, trade in that six-pack for a nice sauvignon blanc. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

    But isn’t good wine out of my price range?
    Richards says no. “Price is not an indicator of the quality of wine,” he says. “You can find many very good quality wines that are inexpensive, and you can pay a lot of money for stuff that isn’t very good.”

    One trick to finding a well-priced, high quality bottle: use wine magazine ratings (try Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast Magazine). Whole Foods uses “shelf talkers” that tell you the ratings. Seek out a high rating and a low price, and you’re good to go. And remember, it’s all about what you like. “If you like it, then it’s a good wine,” says Richards.

    Aren’t there complicated rules about what kind of wines to pair with certain foods?
    Not anymore. True, the wisdom once was that whites go well with fish and other light dishes, and reds pair better with heavier meals like beef dishes. But, “there are lots of great whites that work well with meat, and reds that work well with fish,” says master mixologist Livio Lauro, from Southern Wine and Spirits. “So typically the new rule of thumb is enjoy whatever wine you like with the food you’re eating. Whatever you feel is good is the new rule.”

    Want a safe bet? Master Sommelier and director of wine education for Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois, Serafin Alvarado, has recommendations for wines that go well with everything. Like white? Try a sauvignon blanc, reisling or pinot grigio. A fan of reds? Try a pinot noir or Chianti.

    What am I tasting for when the waiter pours a taste? And why do people swirl and sniff their glasses?
    When a waiter offers you a taste, they don’t want to know if you like it or not. You are tasting it to make sure there aren’t flaws, it doesn’t taste like cork and it doesn’t smell bad. As for the sniffing? It’s not just to make you look silly. Swirling the wine aerates it and brings out the flavors and aromas. “The aroma of wine or the flavor of wine is really achieved through the nose,” says Richards. “That’s why you smell first; so when you taste, it you’re really smelling and tasting at the same time.”

    Is it true red wine is good for you?
    Yes, in moderation. According to The National Cancer Institute, red wine may inhibit the development of certain cancers. Thank the antioxidant resveratrol, a polyphenol that has been shown to inhibit cancer cells and reduce inflammation. The Mayo Clinic reports that the alcohol in red wine, along with antioxidants, may be — in moderate amounts — good for your heart, though studies on heart health benefits are mixed. Want to live forever? The New York Times reported last year that red wine may slow aging. But if you over-imbibe, defined as more than four drinks in one sitting for men and three drinks in one sitting for women, you negate the health benefits you may have otherwise received.

    When do I drink?
    Dillo Day presents the perfect opportunity to try out your newfound appreciation for wine. This year, spice things up with a wine and cheese party. No doubt your friends will be impressed, and you can brag that you kept it classy on Dillo Day… at least for 45 minutes.


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