Grape expectations

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In the year that I've been writing the Vino File column for Alive, more than a dozen wine shop owners have told me about 51 different bottles of wine from Italy, Austria, Oregon, Australia, France, Ohio and many other places.

I stumbled over pronunciations, struggled to keep France's growing regions straight, and I learned about everything from soil content to licensing. (And all of the above is still ongoing.)

To the unfamiliar, it's enough to make your head spin. Luckily, shop owners were more than happy to explain. And explain again. Because wine shouldn't be the inaccessible, pretentious lifestyle accessory it's somehow made out to be, they stressed.

They might not approve of its lowbrow uses, though.

You see, I was just six months out of college when I was thrown into the world of wine. Specifically, Ohio University. The only wine I'd seen in my time there was in a box, and part of a game that, from what I remember, involved lots of spinning in circles.

So what have I learned since then?

I've gleaned enough tidbits here and there to add up to exactly what journalists are trained to know: a little about a lot. Without getting into the far-ranging details of specific wines, here's a look at what I've discovered.

Serve it up

If there's one thing I hear most often from wine shop owners - besides that wine shouldn't be intimidating - it's that there are no longer rules when it comes to wine-and-food pairings. Suggestions? Sure. But take them as just that.

Craig Decker, owner of The Wine Guy Wine Shop, considers himself the perfect example.

"I drink red wine exclusively," Decker said. "The fact is, if I'm eating chicken, fish, pasta or steak, I'm drinking a red with it."

The key, though, is creating a balance. Pairing a complex, full-bodied Bordeaux with something like a light shrimp dish is like matching a 125-pound wrestler against a heavyweight, Decker explained.

One can't overpower the other, or there's no balance. That's why lighter, brighter wines are usually set against lightweight dishes like seafood or veggie stir fries; buttery chardonnay makes sense alongside fattier meats; and heavy, complex reds usually take on the thickest, sauciest meat dishes.

"And, yeah, certain wines do go better with certain styles of products," Decker said. "But your dining experience is a better one just because you drink what you like and not necessarily what's supposed to go with a meal."