There’s a perfect wine for every occasion.
Photograph: Rawpixel/Getty Images/iStockphoto
There are as many ways to enjoy wine as there are thirsty people, and in moderation, none of them are wrong. If you want an intricate discussion of grape variety, provenance or winemaking technique, there will be a winemaker (or a wine label) delighted to go into detail, but for those who just want to be able to pick a rich red that will work with a slice of beef that is perfectly possible, too.
And, while wine won’t make itself (leave those grapes entirely alone and you’ll get vinegar, or something close), it is very much a natural, agricultural product, and so winemakers have a strong interest in sustainability. After all, if the climate crisis continues unchecked, our wine regions will change irreparably – a possibility worrying enough to drive us all to drink.
Here, then, are the basics in three steps: what is it, where is it from and, really, how sustainably is it made?
Which grape variety?
The easiest way to pick a wine is by colour, but white wine can range from almost colourless to deep gold, while the scale for reds goes from cherry-pink to ruby velvet. Rosés, too, can be paler or darker, and there’s information in all those gradations.
Those very pale wines tend to be light in flavour – pinot grigio, such as Lindeman’s Bin 85, is the archetype – which means they go with pretty much anything. If you like a bit more excitement in your glass, the grassiness of new world sauvignon blanc is wine’s Marmite – you either love it or hate it – but chardonnay is the most variable of grape varieties. The fashion now is for leaner, more rigorous versions that still offer up a noseful of stone fruit and light spice, all of which are found in the contemporary-style Lindeman’s Bin 65.
For those looking for lighter, fruitier reds, gamay, the grape of beaujolais, is your best option. It’s immensely versatile, and will work with patés, charcuterie boards and cheeses as well as Italian staples such as pizza, pasta – as will Italy’s own sangiovese, the grape that makes chianti. For a richer, more powerful wine, something good for red meat, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz will all do the trick; and Argentinian malbec is a heavenly match for steak. Experiment: you might find the slight pepperiness of shiraz thrilling, in which case a Lindeman’s Bin 50 is a great place to start. Those two grapes also blend excellently, as you’re likely to find out after opening a bottle of Lindeman’s Cawarra shiraz cabernet. And then there’s pinot noir. A lighter grape that can be earthy and intense when planted in the right places, pinot is highly variable, but Lindeman’s Bin 99 provides a fine introduction to this delicate varietal. If you’re keen to understand it better, you may want to explore …
Different grapes have different characteristics – but where they’re grown plays a part too. Photograph: Jean-philippe WALLET/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Where is your wine from? It’s easy to find out: the bottle will tell you. But vines, like people, adjust to their living conditions, and a pinot noir from sunny Languedoc, cooled at night by Mediterranean breezes, will be very different from one that ripened on the chillier hills of landlocked Burgundy, or in the gravelly, riverside soils of New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels. Riesling from the steep hills beside Germany’s Mosel river is more austere than the lush, tropical expression of the same varietal from the Clare Valley in South Australia.
Prices will differ too: the harder it is to make the wine, the more expensive the end product is likely to be. One of the reasons Australia is so great at well-priced everyday wine is all that sunshine, ripening the grapes without any help from the winemaker.
And of course, the best food matches change depending on the wine style, so those Aussie rieslings, with their tropical and citrus fruit, go well with shellfish or Asian dishes, while their German cousins suit white meat such as chicken or turkey. Food and wine-matching is a game with very few rules: what you eat and drink together will depend on your personal tastes and what you have in the fridge or the wine rack. And it’s a game with endless variations, because the wine world is so generous and diverse. It’s partly to ensure it stays that way that winemakers have become increasingly committed to …
We all want to protect the planet, so that generations to come will be able to enjoy it as we do. And we would like those future generations to be able to enjoy the incredible variety of wine that exists today. So wine companies are stepping up to make sure that they produce, source and distribute their wines as sustainably as possible, with tracking and certification to inform consumers what they are doing.
Many have begun farming organically – encouraging biodiversity by avoiding pesticides and herbicides in the vineyard and only using organic yeasts in the winery. Some choose to follow biodynamic principles, a complex set of rules intended to nourish and revitalise the soil. There are different certifying bodies for organic and biodynamic wines, but the bottle should give an indication of whether the wine has been made in accordance with one or the other. Sustainability, meanwhile, concentrates on the company’s role in the community as well as their behaviour in the vineyards and the winery. After all, if anything takes a village, it is surely saving the planet.
Some forms of sustainability are harder to discern than others: if a winery tries to reduce water or energy usage or carbon emissions, for example, you can’t necessarily tell by looking at the bottle. However, national certification bodies, such as Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, help members improve their own practice (environmental, social and economic) in both vineyard and winery. One prestigious international qualification is Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE), which is issued by the French ministry of agriculture and testifies to exceptional environmental practice on the land. Treasury Wine Estates, owners of Lindeman’s and Penfolds, among many others, has just received HVE certification; while Lindeman’s specifically has been working with the Carbon Trust to measure and reduce its carbon footprint, certifying it to carbon neutral last year.
Companies are understandably proud of these sorts of awards, and have information about them on their websites. So, if you want to drink healthily for the planet as well as yourself, check the label and check the website. Your reward will be a better drop … and a thriving planet.