016 Teetotalers No More (Part Three): Whiskey & Wine
Family, Community, History, Food and Culture
In this third part in our series on exploring alcohol as a post-Mormon, we’re doing something a little different. Join us as Chloe sits down with a wine expert and a whiskey enthusiast to dive into the wide-ranging worlds of wine and whiskey. First up is a conversation with Janet Beeby, a Seattle-based sommelier, who shares her passion for wine and its relationship to community, culture, and history. She breaks down some basics about how to experience wine and make it more accessible for everyday enjoyment. She is followed by a chat with Pete, a friend of the podcast and a whiskey enthusiast. He shares the story of how he became interested in whiskey, breaks down some of the basics, and makes a few recommendations on where to start with whiskey. He also discusses the value he has found in the shared experiences and community building aspects of his new hobby.
The color and astringency level of wines have to do with both the types of grapes used and how long the juice is allowed to sit with the grape skins and seeds. White wines are made from white grapes and the juice has little to no contact with the grape skins. Red wines are made from red or black grapes, and the juice is left in contact with the skins to develop color and astringency. Rose wines are red wines with limited grape skin contact, while orange wines are white wines where the juice has been left to sit with the skins for a longer period of time, giving the wine an orange hue.
When you drink a glass of wine, several characteristics of the wine come together to contribute to the experience. The body of the wine, or the way the wine feels in your mouth, is affected by both the alcohol content and the vessel the wine is aged in; oak barrels tend to create wines with a fuller body. Acidity creates a tingly sensation in the tongue and cheeks, and tannins leave a bitter, dry feeling in your mouth. Alcohol is perceived as heat in throat, and the difference between an 11% ABV versus a 15% ABV is noticeable. The sweetness of the wine is sensed on tip of tongue.
When looking for everyday wines, value brands are the way to go. Value doesn’t mean cheap; value wines are well-made, but less expensive. To find good value wines, shop for a value region; the cost of living and cost of production are lower in these areas. Value regions include Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Chile, Italy, and parts of France. Luxury regions include Washington and California, due to high cost of living, high land prices, and higher production cost. Another way to find value wines is to look for less common varieties - for example, Touriga Nacional from Portugal or Nerello Mascalese from Sicily.
Wine is meant to go with food, and a great pairing can really elevate the flavor of both the food and the wine. Wine produced in a particular region often pairs well with foods grown and produced in that area: “what grows together, goes together.” For instance, the savagnin blanc variety of grapes grows in the Jura region on the border of France and Switzerland, and when wines made in this area are paired with a fondue made of regional cheeses, both the wine and the cheese sing in ways they don’t on their own.
When considering pairings, one of the easiest things to do is think, “like goes with like”. Examples of complement pairing could include a light-bodied acidic wine alongside a salad with a vinaigrette dressing, or macaroni and cheese with a full-bodied buttery Chardonnay. Contrast pairings can work as well - a rich fried chicken could be paired with a higher acidity wine like a Pinot Grigio; the acidity of the wine will cut through the richness of the chicken.
Different wines have different ideal serving temperatures. Red wine is best served between 62-68 degrees, or just below room temperature. White and rose wines are best at 49-55 degrees, not straight out of the refrigerator. If the wine is too cold, you lose many aromas and flavors and tend to perceive mainly ethanol. Sparkling wines should be served chilled.
There are several types of wine glasses: white wine, which are smaller-stemmed, thin glasses; red wine, which have a larger bowl; flute glasses for sparkling wines; and a number of other specialty glasses.
To be classified as whiskey, the spirit must be made from fermented grain mash, go through a particular distilling process, and be aged in a wooden cask. As whiskey ages in these wooden barrels, the type of wood, whether the barrels are new or used, the weather, and other environmental factors can affect the flavors of the final product.
There are a number of varieties of whiskey, some of which include Bourbon, Scotch, Irish, Japanese, Rye, and Tennessee (of which Jack Daniels is a well-known brand).
Bourbon is an American whiskey that is made from a mash containing at least 51% corn, aged in new charred oak barrels for at least two years. To be considered Kentucky Straight Bourbon the entire process of fermentation, distillation, aging, and bottling must take place in Kentucky.
To be called Scotch, the whiskey must be made entirely in Scotland. It is made primarily from malted barley and is matured in oak casks for at least three years. The oak casks do not need to be new, so distillers will use previously used bourbon, wine, brandy, and other types of barrels to impart different flavors into the Scotch. There tends to more experimentation with flavors because of this.
Irish whisky is similar to Scotch; the mash is primarily barley, but the copper pot distilling process produces a somewhat lighter, fruitier flavored whiskey. Jameson is a commonly recognized brand.
Japanese whiskey is also similar to Scotch, but made in Japan. Japanese wood is often used for barrels, and the resulting spirit tends to be a little lighter, fruitier, and more floral.
Rye whiskey is a traditionally American whiskey made from a mash that contains at least 51% rye, and is aged in charred new oak barrels.
When purchasing wine glasses to use at home, it’s just fine to stick with one type of wine glass; the white wine glass is versatile and can be used for everything.
Once a bottle of wine is open, try to drink it within about four days. It won’t spoil in a few days time, but it will lose important flavors and aromas. There are various devices available on the market that help try to extend the life of an open bottle, and some wineries use screw top bottles.
As noted above, most wines are best when they are not extremely cold. If you prefer a cold wine, try a beverage meant to be served chilled, like a sangria or mimosa.
When beginning to experiment with wine, start with light-bodied and simple wines, and ask for recommendations to pair them with the right food.
Don’t feel embarassed by how little you know about wine; it can be overwhelming for many, even seasoned enthusiasts . Have fun learning, researching, experimenting, and tasting as you develop your understanding of the world of wine.
Whiskey is probably not the best place to start for brand-new drinker who isn’t accustomed to the flavors and sensations of alcoholic beverages. Try other cocktails before trying a sipping liquor.
When you do feel ready to try whiskey, Pete recommends going to a bar to do some tasting. Start with entry level Bourbon like Basil Hayden's, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10 year or a Scotch such as Glenmorangie 10 year or Glenlivet 12 year. Try using a Glencairn whisky glass instead of a tumbler; the shape of the Glencairn glass helps focus and open the aromas of the whiskey.
Whiskey cocktails are another way to introduce yourself to the flavors of whiskey. Try a Whiskey Sour (whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar) or an Old Fashioned (bourbon, sugar, orange, and bitters).
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