Sommeliers Claudia Tyagi from House of Pure Vin, Thomas Rowland from Papa Joe’s and Nick Apone from Old Woodward Cellar share everything you need to know about wine.
By Maxwell White
Photography by Brad Ziegler
Wine can be intimidating, and for some, so intimidating they’re afraid to ask even the simplest of questions.
That’s something sommeliers are looking to change. Instead of being intimidated by wine, they want people to enjoy and have fun with it.
Here’s a guide to wine from master sommelier Claudia Tyagi from House of Pure Vin in Detroit, sommelier Thomas Rowland from Papa Joe’s in Birmingham and sommelier Nick Apone from Old Woodward Cellar in Birmingham. Their responses have been edited.
1. If I want to get into wine, where should I start?
Thomas Rowland: There are a lot of similarities to liking craft beer. There’s so many good craft beers out there now, especially in Michigan, wine is the same way. It’s exploded in the last 15-20 years in terms of how many different types of wines are available. That’s something we’ve had to keep up with in our industry. What I tell people is you have to try a lot of wines. Go to wine tastings, talk to your friends who know wine, ask questions. Half about wine is not so much learning what you like, but learning what you don’t like, and experimenting.
Claudia Tyagi: I recommend a lot of beer people toward a Spanish white wine called Albariño. It is dry but fruity. It has some similar characteristics that people who like beer would like in wine. I’d also maybe talk to them about pinot grigio as well. I’ve actually had people defy me and say, “I dare you to find a wine I like because I’m a beer lover,” and with Albariño and pinot grigio, I’ve had very good luck.
2. What should I serve at a party?
Nick Apone: If you’re hosting a cocktail party, where people are just coming in for drinks, I’d look to appease the four to five major types of palettes. So for wines, I’d offer a heavy-style red, a light-style red, a heavy-style white and a light-style white. You may also have your sweet drinker. Look at those five categories.
CT: I never think you can go wrong with bubbles. My favorite is real French Champagne, but there are a lot of wonderful, playful sparkling wines that are very good and made just like Champagne that can substitute. Prosecco is a wine that people can appreciate.
TR: If you’re going to a party and you don’t know what the host or hostess likes, that can be tricky. But if you’re hosting a party and you’re going to have some red, some white wines, look at the ones that are crowd-pleasers, things that are easy to drink, not too complex that will go with a lot of foods. Pinot noir is a great example of those types of wines for the red side. It’s very food friendly; you don’t have to spend vast amount of money on it.
3. What’s the best way to store wine?
TR: Some wines are meant to be consumed sooner rather than later, and some wines are meant to be aged, so that does vary. But, rules of thumb, you want it in an area where there’s moderate temperature change and no direct sunlight. That’s why you see the element of caves or cellars where people store them. In the cellar here, the cooler temperature slows down the aging process and the humidity keeps the cork moist.
CT: Changes in temperature will affect a wine quickly. I also think that vibration from our difference devices, even from the motor in our refrigeration systems or air conditioning, can affect the way a wine tastes and can make it unfriendly sometimes.
NA: When storing in a cellar, keep it at 55 degrees, on its side, dark as you can get it. If you’re going to pop the wine within 2-3 weeks, don’t worry about laying the wine on its side. Just stand it upright; the cork is a good enough seal. If you have a bottle that’s perfectly aged, and you’re going to drink it, I’d stand it up ahead of time. There’s sediment in that bottle, and if you stand it up the day before you’re going to drink it, it could become cloudy.
4. What makes a wine sweet or dry?
TR: The varietal is going to have a dictation in that and how the winemaker makes it. If they’re designing a riesling or late harvest riesling, they’re leaving those grapes on the vine a lot longer; the sugar is concentrated before they cultivate them. Certain varietals just lend themselves toward sweetness.
CT: Residual sugar, and sugar that hasn’t been turned into alcohol is left over in the wine, for the most part. There are a variety of things, and there are all different kinds of winemaking techniques, but basically, sugar that hasn’t turned into alcohol will make the wine taste sweeter.
NA: It really depends at the level where you pick the grapes. The grapes that are picked first have less sugar content in them because they’re not at ripe. The grapes that are picked last have the most sugar content.
5. Why does some wine get better with age?
NA: A lot of times when a wine is built to last, it almost has like a hard shell. That hard shell is built with tannins and acidity. So, as a wine ages, the tannin structure breaks down in the wine, and it becomes more accessible, so you won’t have those mouth-drying tannins that suck the moisture right out of your mouth as the wine ages, because those tannins fall out of the wine.
TR: Not all wine does. Some wines are designed not to age, they’re meant to be consumed young, and some wines are meant to age. You need acidity and tannins. Think of it as a coat that’s zipped up in cold weather. As you warm up, you unzip the coat, out comes the fruit and everything balances out.
CT: I think it depends on your perspective a great deal. But also, especially red wines, they develop some pretty high tannin levels and acidity, and as the wine ages, it sort of mellows out, it blends, it gets its personality.
6. What are tannins?
CT: Tannin is actually an astringent that is found in the skin and the pips and the stems of the grapes. What an astringent does is it closes the pores of the inside of your mouth. Tannins do the same thing on the inside of your mouth, and that’s where that pucker comes from. It’s really a physical phenomenon.
TR: Tannins are a texture. Those tannins scrape the fatty on your tongue, helps kind of cleanse your palate, but it’s a coating. There are a lot of health benefits around that stuff.
NA: When you take a glass of wine and you drink it, and the wine completely dries your mouth out and your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth, that’s a very tannic wine.
7. What is an aerator and how does it work?
TR: It introduces oxygen to the wine. An aerator drives more air and oxygen into the wine. That aeration is important; that allows oxidation and evaporation. It helps soften it up. The true character of the wine can begin to come out as it opens up.
CT: An aerator is a fancier piece of equipment for decanting. There are all kinds of aerators, and I’d do my homework on them, because some of them don’t accomplish what they say they accomplish. I also wouldn’t recommend spending big bucks on the fancier ones. Just do the research.
8. How important is glassware?
TR: Having a large glass allows room for the wine to open up. Crystal is the way to go. The shape of the bowl, how the lip is done, some have it curved at the top so that it hits your palate right at the right spot.
CT: It can be of great importance depending upon the pedigree of the wine. There are certain things that I look for. But I don’t think you need all these really fancy, big bowls, long stems — that’s more of an aesthetic choice. What I prefer is an all-purpose tasting glass that one can use to taste reds, whites, Champagnes. It would have a rounded bowl at the bottom, not a terribly long stem, but not a short one either.
NA: One of the most important things you can do is drink wine out of a good glass. The way it’s shaped has a huge difference and a big impact on the way the wine will taste and smell. Your palate is broken into difference sense receptors. So the way the glass is shaped — the real fat glasses at the bottom and skinny at the top — those are meant to hold the wine back longer, so that when you drink it, it doesn’t go right to the back of your palate, it hits the front of your palate first.
9. How do you practice wine patience?
CT: I practice it way too much and everybody does. People should drink wine. Many times that wine patience is ill rewarded by a wine that’s over the hill. I find that one of the big regrets of my wine life is that I’ve waited too long on some things. So I say practice less wine patience.
TR: Wine patience is very hard. What I always do, if I’m cooking or something, if I’m opening up a bottle, I just pour a little bit, a few ounces, taste it. I want to know what that wine tastes like out of the bottle, because that creates my bookend.
NA: Buy magnums. A magnum is two bottles put together. It’s a good way to mitigate yourself.