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College wine guide: a comprehensive introduction to wines for when you’ve graduated from boxed to bottled

How to taste it, drink it and buy it.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Contrary to commonly held college belief, there’s more to the art of wine than big bottles of Barefoot Moscato or communal bags of Franzia passed around at the annual fratalina wine mixer.

There’s also a space in which wine exists beyond the oft-assumed solidification of its relationship status with the upper-class. If you’re looking to get more serious about your wine consumption, the following guide offers an introduction to the wide world of wine and its flourishing presence in the Twin Cities.

Wine Basics
“Wine is like bottled history,” Drew Horton, enology specialist for the University of Minnesota’s Grape Breeding and Enology Project, said. Horton isn’t wrong — when you look at it through the right lens, every bottle of wine tells the story of its production and its origins through its labeling, body and overall character.

In its simplest description, wine is fermented grape juice made using wine grapes. Wine has existed for centuries, with its earliest known origins tracing back nearly 8,000 years ago, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The different characteristics of a wine (sweetness, acid levels, body, etc.) emerge after the fermentation process, according to Sarina Garibović, co-founder of Twin Cities-based, woman-owned sommelier service ženska glava.

When it comes to differentiating between types of wine, the key factor in doing so lies in identifying the grape variety used, according to Garibović. White wines are made using white and black grapes that are fermented without the skins. Orange wines, which have grown in popularity over the last few years, are essentially white wines made with the skins intact. Red wines use black grapes that are fermented with their skins, which is the reason the variety has high levels of tannins. Tannins, a form of texture found within a wine, come from the grape skin; the degree of their presence in a wine is dependent on the thickness of the skin.

“When you have oversteeped black tea, and take the last sip — that’s tannins,” Garibović explained. The dry sensation in your mouth comes from the tannins, and being able to gauge that dryness is one way to gain a better understanding of the wine you’re drinking.

Tasting Wine

“I encourage all beginning wine drinkers to taste wine blind,” Horton said. “Wine fires up all of the senses.”

He recommends grabbing a few friends and selecting a type of wine you’d like to try. Have everyone purchase a variation of said wine and once you’re together, figure out a way to conceal the bottle. Pour a glass of each, close your eyes and take a sip. From there, discuss the wine and ask yourself whatever questions come to mind. Think along the lines of: Is it sweet or bitter? Dry or invigorating? What else are you tasting? Once you’ve completed the whole verbal dissection, work your way through wine reveals and put a name to your descriptions. Horton says that exercises such as this are the key to best understanding a wine.

If you’re curious, the type of glass you’re sipping out of matters only slightly. According to Garibović, there are two important aspects that a wine glass should fulfill. First, the glass should have a wide-enough bowl to allow for it to be filled a third of the way. Second, the glass should enable you to swirl the liquid inside, a step that introduces your wine to oxygen and creates volatility in the aroma compounds – a fancy way of saying that the wine’s aromas will become more noticeable before you take a sip of it. Garibović recommends an all-purpose wine glass to check these boxes, noting that a stem is useful but not necessary.

Buying Wine While it’s unrealistic to expect the typical college student will spend significant amounts of money on top-tier, expensive bottles of wine, Garibović still urges people to invest in a quality wine that fits their preferred flavor profile as opposed to buying cheap bottles.

Garibović and Horton both highly recommend heading to a wine shop in the city to find your perfect bottle. Their employees, whether certified sommeliers or wine connoisseurs, are the ideal assistants when it comes to selecting the right bottle that falls in line with your budget and palette.

“Go and be a regular at a good wine shop and talk to the people that work there. They are the most likely to figure out how to get you the best value,” Garibović said. Her recommendations for wine shops in the Twin Cities include Henry & Son, 1010 Washington Wine & Spirits and North Loop Wine & Spirits.

Food Pairings
While those you run into at a wine shop will offer ample advice on wine and food pairings, Garibović offered her general rule of thumb — keep the weight of the dish and the wine at the forefront of your mind when it comes to pairing. A light-bodied wine, like a Riesling or Pinot Noir, should not be paired with a butter-laden pasta dish or a hearty steak. Likewise, a full-bodied wine, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, should avoid dishes like a lemony orzo or whitefish. “Every sip should make you want to take another bite,” Garibović said. And while the relationship among food and wine is meant to be complementary, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from sipping on something you simply enjoy the taste of while eating.

Is there any shame in buying an aesthetically appealing bottle at Total Wine, pouring a room-temperature glass, enjoying it from the comfort of your couch and calling it a day? Absolutely not. Are there other ways to go about purchasing and enjoying wine that are perhaps more personal and, dare I say, more pleasurable? Certainly. If you find yourself wanting to try something new, head to a spot like Alma or Bar Brava for a glass.

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