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“Champagne has long been the wine of royalty, and at some point specifically made for kings and queens”

The Wine List, Part I

Words by Sarah Egeland Photographs by Parker Fitzgerald Styling by Joanna Han

Wine shouldn’t have to be intimidating and confusing. Wine buyer and educator Sarah Egeland of Portland’s SE Wine Collective shares her easy-to-understand wine guide for those who can’t pronounce—let alone know the difference between—sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.

Sauvignon Blanc
Notes of ruby red grapefruit, lime zest, white peaches, grass and Meyer lemon, depending on the origin of the grape.

Originated in France in the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions. New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa produce large quantities of sauvignon blanc today. Other names this wine may go by: Fume Blanc, Quincy, Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre.

Best paired with oysters, grilled prawns, red snapper, simple tacos, chévre and other creamy goat cheeses and poultry dishes.

Pinot Grigio
Notes of peaches, lemons, Granny Smith apples, wet white rocks and minerals.

Thought to be a mutant clone of the pinot noir grape. You can find some of the best values from Italy, but look to France and Oregon for nuanced, fuller-bodied styles.

Pinot gris from the Pacific Northwest pairs well with spicy foods, rich pastas such as spaetzle, Asian foods and whitefish. Pinot grigio from Italy is lovely with whitefish, scallops, mussels and clams with lemon.

Riesling
Notes of white flowers, peaches, tropical fruits, stones and precious gems such as quartz.

Originated from the Rhine region of Germany, this one is grown all over the world now. One of the most versatile wines to come to the table.

Best paired with Asian dishes, hands down, especially Thai and Chinese. Also works well with salty cheeses, fatty foods and Alpine-inspired food.

Chardonnay
Notes of apples, lemons, peaches and tropical fruits. The chardonnay grape is heavily influenced by its origin and vinification technique.

Grown all over the world, with a debatable origin. Also known as Chablis, White Burgundy, Chitry and Pouilly-Fuissé.

Best paired with salmon, lobster, leeks, corn, zucchini, scallops, bacon and heavy red meats.

Champagne
Notes of apple, pear, cream, vanilla, spiced nuts and freshly baked brioche bread.

Champagne has long been the wine of royalty, and at some point specifically made for kings and queens. To be called or labeled as champagne, the wine must come from the AOC (Appellation of Controlled Origin)-protected Champagne region of France.

Pairs well with everything from cheese to desert. Oysters, grilled chicken and poached eggs with salmon on toast are classic pairings.

Sparkling wines and champagnes are categorized as extra brut (extra dry), brut (dry—the most popular style and very food-friendly), extra dry (middle-of-the-road dry, but not as dry as brut; great as an aperitif), sec (sweet) and demi-sec (very sweet), depending on their sugar levels. These classifications can be somewhat confusing, but keep in mind that in wine terms, “dry” is the opposite of “sweet.”

Champagne and sparkling wines are also categorized as “vintage” or “non-vintage” (“NV” on the label), meaning they either come from a single year or are a blend of several different years. The vintage champagnes are typically pricier, and non-vintage champagnes and sparkling wines make up the majority of the market.

Pinot Noir
Notes of bing cherries, bright red raspberries, mushrooms, earth and light acid.

Originates from Burgundy, France, and quite popularly grown in the US. The Willamette Valley produces some of the loveliest pinot noirs in the country, most likely because of its similar microclimate. Pinot Noir is also known as Burgundy in France.

Pairs well with shellfish, salmon, chicken with mustard, light fish and gamy meats.

Zinfandel
Notes of Asian spices, plums, black raspberries, vanilla, oak and dark fruits.

California is one of the largest producers of the zinfandel grape.

Pairs well with grilled meats and vegetables, simple week-night dinners such as pizza and chili, dark chocolate and good conversation.

Merlot
 Notes of soft, round vanilla spice, wood and blueberries.

The merlot grape is of the most widely grown grapes in France, especially in Bordeaux. Blends from Bordeaux include Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, and blends from the right bank of Gironde tend to be rounder, softer blends. Merlots from Washington and California tend to have a more “New World” style. Merlots age well and make great gifts.

Merlots from Bordeaux pair well with steak, duck, dark chocolate, French desserts, blue cheese and hard cheeses. Merlots from the New World or South America are great with steak, roast beef, lamb, kabobs, blue cheese, dark chocolate and buttery deserts.

Cabernet Sauvignon
 Notes of plum, cherry, blackberry, blueberry, warm spices, vanilla, tobacco and leather.

Originally from Bordeaux, this one has a substantial foothold in Washington State. California’s vineyards have the world’s most sought-after red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes tend to favor warmer climates and are an ideal wine for aging, with 5 to 10 years being optimal for the maturation process to peak.

Best paired with red meats, red sauces, dark chocolate and hard cheeses.

Port
Notes of caramel, burnt butter, dried cherries, prunes, raisins and chocolate, all depending on the type of port.

Vinho do Porto, often simply called port, is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. This can be made with any number of the hundreds of grapes grown in Portugal. There are many types of ports, and they are not all created equally.

Best paired with cakes, pies, chocolates, blue cheese, pungent cheeses and salty meats.

Read more at The Wine List, Part II.

Parker Fitzgerald shot this story using a Leica M3 and Kodak Professional Portra 160 Film.

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