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Wine gaining popularity as gift, entertainment staple

Wine, which bypassed beer last year as the nation’s favorite alcoholic beverage, will be flying out of stores during the holiday season for special occasion entertaining and gift giving.

“Wine surpassing beer… speaks volumes about how wine helps food taste better,” said Norm Rush, wine broker, and owner of Beau Mad and Associates. “The snobbism that’s been associated with wine in the past is fading quickly. No longer are all these rules saying you can’t have red wine with fish and so on. There are reasons why certain wines work better with certain foods, but there shouldn’t be all these rules.”

Determining which foods go better with which wine is simple, said Rush, an active member of Court of Master Sommeliers and a certified wine specialist.

“If it grows together, it goes together,” he said. “If you have foods coming from Italy, for example, Italian wines work well simply because over the centuries, they’ve had the benefit of pairing the two and of eating and drinking well, long before us. Only in the last half-dozen years or so have we become a serious wine-drinking society.”

Wine’s popularity is growing at such a rapid pace in America that experts predict the U.S. will represent the largest consumers of wine in the world by the end of the decade.

“Proving that most people are impatient, about 92% of all wines in this country are consumed within 48 hours” Rush pointed out. “They don’t want to wait for the natural aging process and that’s OK. Sometimes they’ll match up hard cheeses with red wine, because the lactic acid in the cheese will help tame some of the tannins.”

Chardonnay remains the top grape varietal sold in the U.S., followed by Pinot Grigio, which surpassed Sauvignon Blanc nearly two years ago.

“German Riesling is, without a doubt, the most versatile white food wine,” said Rush. “It goes with so many things. Pinot Noir is versatile, too, because it tends to have moderate to low tannins and high acidity. Acid is the component that makes food and wine work well together.”

Several years ago in Portugal, Rush dined on roasted pheasant encrusted with the sediment from a Port wine paired with a firm, dry red Portuguese wine. “It sticks in my mind how fantastic that was,” he said.

For Thanksgiving dinner with traditional turkey, Rush recommends a lighter style red wine, or perhaps a red zinfandel if a domestic wine is preferred.

“We tend to serve our white wines too cold and our red wines too warm,” cautioned Rush. “People talk about room temperature, but it should actually be cellar temperature.

When you think of a European room temperature, it’s considerably much cooler than Mississippi room temperature.”

One reason why wine makes an excellent gift choice is because the market offers many price points. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money for a great bottle of wine,” said Rush.

Master sommelier Emily King, a broker for Mississippi Sales Company, which represents some 30 wine companies in Mississippi, pointed out several resources for choosing the appropriate wine as a gift:

• Refer to wine magazines such as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, who typically rate wines in a variety of price ranges to help consumers find the best value.

• Talk to a well-informed retailer for sound buying advice and tips about new and interesting wines.

• Spice things up a bit. For instance, if the recipient is a California Chardonnay drinker, look for Chardonnay from a different region. Or if you know the recipient favors a Cabernet from a particular producer, introduce them to a different varietal from the same producer.

Because local restaurateurs and retailers have done such a good job educating consumers about wine, wine producers are beginning to recognize Mississippi as a wine-savvy state, said King.

“In addition, Mississippi wine brokers and the Mississippi Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) board are constantly working together to increase the selection of fine wines available in the state,” she said.

For whatever reason, Mississippi gained a reputation as being a difficult place to bring in new wines, but nothing could be further from the truth, said Rush.

“The ABC has been doing a really good job, and wine producers who have never been to Mississippi before are blown away by the opportunities,” he said. “Because Mississippi is head and shoulders easier to work with, that’s why I base my business here.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.


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