Wine, just like cigars, can be an intimidating field to enter. There are tens of thousands of wines out there; and then this one is supposed to be paired with that food, and this one shouldn’t be paired with this meal, and so on. There are “rules” to be sure, but Josh Villapando, owner of Assorted Table Wine Shoppe in Charlotte, North Carolina’s famous 7th Street Public Market, wants to demystify the whole genre of wine.
Instead of hosting fancy wine dinners, Villapando opts instead for events like a wine and comics night, or wine and Star Wars trivia, along with the typical wine and cheese pairings and tastings.
“It’s easy to know just enough about wine to be dangerous and for people to be the foremost authority on wine,” Villapando says. “There’s self-importance involved in that, but it’s like, ‘Golly guys, it’s grape juice, it’s alcohol, take it easy.’”
Villapando has been in the wine industry for 30 years, so we figured we’d get some tips from him on how to approach wine without being intimidated.
Question 1: Do you want wine with food or without?
If you drink wine without food you need to immediately eliminate all food-dependent wines, which would normally be Western European wines or ones inspired by the tradition of Bordeaux. French and Italian wines normally perform better with food. The reason is, if it grows together, it goes together.
So I’m looking for something lower in perceived tannins [a chemical found in grape skins] and lower in perceived acid. Why? Because if you have too much elevated acid, then it will encourage a lot of saliva. If you’re salivating all the time, then you’re not going to enjoy the wine. The reason winemakers will make a high-acid wine is to cut through the creaminess or fattiness of a particular food. The acid gets tempered. The tannins will counteract the saliva, giving your mouth the feeling of being dried out, like the inside of a tennis ball. It just won’t be very enjoyable. You want to find something fuller-bodied, fruity, and robust.
Question 2: Does price really matter?
For larger big-box stores, they have relationships with the wineries to create exclusive brands that places like mine can’t get. It cuts out a lot of the middle men, and that’s how you get something like a $6 or $4 bottle of wine. The quality doesn’t really suffer; it really is just the economics behind how they’re able to bring the wine to the consumer. But every time a wine goes through hands it gets marked up.
We have a wine that’s almost 1,100 bucks, called Pingus. This wine pioneered the international recognition of Spain as being a player in the fine-wine game. As a small-business owner, I didn’t realize how many political hoops I had to jump through to play ball. It was ridiculous. But carrying this wine has a lot of prestige behind it. This wine is very cellar-able. Going back to price differences, perhaps the winemaker is making the $6 bottle for immediate consumption versus a $50 bottle with higher tannins or acidity; these are all contributing factors to the graceful maturation of wine. The $6 release gets the name out there; the $50 bottle is a climb up the ladder, and you crack this one open on a special occasion. There’s a journey there.
Question 3: How long does wine last once opened?
Once you open a bottle of wine, you have to get after it. You can’t just cork it and call it good. After you open a bottle of wine, it will start to decay. It’s like opening a bottle of soda and it goes flat three days later. It still tastes like cola, but all the spritz is gone. Same game for wine. It’s not poisonous, but it’s also not delicious. That spinal cord is gone so it’s just like flabby fruit.
There are some wines though that you can’t even start drinking for like two or three hours after opening. It’s actually way superior the next day. But never a week. There are some high alcohol content zinfandels that are like 15 percent or 16 percent, and those could possibly make it seven days. Possibly. But that’s not something to aspire to.
Question 4: What are your three favorite wines under a $20 price point?
These are my biggest sellers, and they really deliver. And all of these don’t need food.
Smashberry Paso Robles: This is a Bordeaux-inspired blend. It’s cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, and merlot. It’s very full-bodied and broad-shouldered, with cherry and chocolate. Very smooth on the palate, very clean. No earthy or mineral tones in it whatsoever. And it retails for under 15 bucks.
Vera Garnacha: This is a vegan wine, so there’s no use of egg whites or anything like that. It’s full-bodied, juicy, and very approachable. And there’s a tiny bit of white pepper to it, too.
Villa Pozzi: This wine is from Sicily and is made with Nero d’Avola, a grape grown specifically in that region. It has a fresh-picked blueberry, blackberry personality. There is a little zippy acidity to it, but it’s so full-bodied that it keeps the fruit up and doesn’t flab on the palate.
Assorted Table Wine Shoppe
224 E. 7th St.
Charlotte, North Carolina 28202