Model and activist Grace Mahary can now add sommelier to her long list of achievements. The IMG-signed star, who won Elle Canada‘s model search at age 16, quickly rose to fashion fame after walking the runway for Givenchy‘s Fall 2012 collection. Since then, she’s worked with the likes of Chanel and Dior, as well as graced the pages of Vogue, W Magazine and CR Fashion Book. Even better, the Eritrean-Canadian model has used her name to raise awareness of African-focused initiatives — in 2015, she founded Project Tsehigh, an organization that aims to bring sustainable electricity to developing communities including Eritrea and Tanzania.
Most recently, Mahary channeled her longtime interest in wine by becoming a certified sommelier. One of 17 in her class who passed certification, she was inspired to pursue the title after years of feeling intimidated by the jargon that accompanies the oft-mysterious world of wine. However, the drink doesn’t have to be intimidating — read on for Mahary’s top 5 tips for picking the perfect wine.
1. Help! Tons of wine, no descriptions! What does this wine taste like?
It’s really tough to guess what wine will taste like from its bottle and label. Some stores don’t indicate the flavors inside the bottle. Even more challenging, you can’t assume wines from the same region will taste the same due to the limitless variety of producers and wine-making styles. However, the climate of a region can still be a great place to begin your decision making: Is this wine from a warm or cool climate?
You can expect more fruit-forward, rich, round and juicy wines from warmer regions of the world such as California, Argentina and New Zealand. Regions of Germany, France, Northern Italy are considered cool to moderate and still show fruit, but they’ll tend to carry more savory and mineral notes with a distinct crispness.
2. Spicy food – there is a wine for you!
In the Eritrean culture I grew up in, spice is life. If your food didn’t have berbere, our local spice, it wasn’t a meal — at least to my father! Wine is usually destroyed by spicy food, making it more astringent or intensifying the burn. But there is a wine for the spice gods: Riesling.
Whether you’re having a spicy tuna roll, tartare with jalapeño flakes or green curry, Riesling carries the perfect balance of sweet, savory and crisp notes that clean your palette while still complimenting a spicy mouthful. And no, not all Riesling is sweet. Even dry Riesling pairs fantastically with spicy foods.
Sancerre and Sauvignon Blanc fans — Austria has the perfect relative: Grüner Veltliner. Light to medium body, crisp and herbal, it is also a fraction of the price of Sancerre. Vermentino, the gem of Sardegna, is another fantastic alternative to Sauvignon Blanc, as are many southern Italian wines grown on volcanic soil. Moschofilero from Greece is a playful, more aromatic option.
For my California Cabernet Sauvignon fans we’re going to the Douro Valley in Portugal for their famous Touring Nacional. Big, bold and beautiful, these are often blended with Syrah and Tempranillo, sold at a fraction of prices compared to Napa Valley Cabernets. Nero d’Avola is another plush and dark-fruited sibling gaining popularity.
4. Champagne lovers, there’s more in store than Cristal and Veuve Clicquot – at a way more affordable price.
We’ve heard of Prosecco and Cava, but here are a few other sparkling wine options that deliver great flavor and delightful character.
Franciacorta — Italy’s version of Champagne (Prosecco is made in a different method, with a different grape).
Pet-Nat — the natural, unfiltered answer to Champagne. It’s actually how Champagne used to be made, and they have rose quickly back into the scene.
Lambrusco — think sparkling rosé or red wine; all the flavor and depth with pink to red color and the ability to complement meats and heartier meals.
And finally, North American bubbly! Many of your favorite Champagne houses have vineyards in California, and their skills have travelled across and up the continent to the Finger Lakes and Niagara. Don’t be afraid to give these a shot; you might surprise yourself and your guests.
5. The older the wine, the better quality?
Actually, not really. Some wines need time to develop additional flavor, structure and, in the case of red wines, soften tannins and acidity. These are the wines that need to “breathe” before consumption. Imagine tightly shutting a box full of clothes and then opening it up after a few years: you’d want to let each piece air out before wearing, right? The same applies to wine that has been aged, requiring time to let all of its flavors balance and express themselves for your enjoyment.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo (Barolo/Barbaresco) and Pinot Noir (Burgundy) are classic examples of grape varieties that tend to be aged. However, the majority of white wines are meant to be enjoyed young, and there are tons of red wines meant for early consumption as well, including Gamay, Malbec, Merlot and Zinfandel.
The most important tip of all:
Drink what you like! If it tastes good to you, the price or where it’s from doesn’t matter — it’s a good wine for you.
Take a photo of the bottles you try and love. Dismiss the hype around this and that — close your eyes and simply enjoy what’s in your glass. Cheers!
We discourage irresponsible and/or underage drinking. Drink responsibly and legally.