With such a great selection to choose from, how does one choose the right wine for the right occasion?
Fifth-generation Floridian Sarah Belyeu has honed her knowledge of great wines through her specialized experience in wine sales and as a wine director for some top Central Florida restaurants. The roles have included working as regional sales director for an importer of single estate and organic wines, wine advisor for the Ocala Culinary Festival and wine director for five-time semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef Award Jeannie Pierola’s Tampa-based Chef Driven Restaurant Group. Belyeu’s curated wine lists for the group have received Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence for the past three years. She enjoys highlighting small batch organic and natural wines and loves discussing all things wine with her friends here in Ocala.
We relied on Belyeu’s expertise to help us craft this guide to choosing wines as gifts, for special occasions or simply for your own enjoyment.
For Mother’s Day, Belyeu recommends a pinot noir rosé from the Loire Valley. The Sancerre Cherrier Pere et Fils Vignerons is available at Agapanthus in downtown Ocala for $24. The dry and fruity wine has notes of strawberry, raspberry and kiwi. It is perfect as an aperitif, with grilled dishes or dessert.
“Brunch and rosé are a match made in heaven,” Belyeu offers. “The beauty of rosé wine is that it comes in a variety of styles ranging from sweet to dry, so there’s something perfect for every palate.”
When attending a dinner party, Belyeu says you can’t go wrong in bringing along a bottle of Jean Philippe Blanquette de Limoux Brut, which is available at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits stores for about $15. The dry wine is described as having lemon bar aromas with bright citrus flavors and being lively and crisp.
“No matter what your host is serving, this will be a fantastic pairing. It’s every bit as good as champagne without the champagne price tag and has the distinction of being the oldest sparkling wine in the world,” Belyeu notes. “Unlike every other wine in existence, champagne is the one wine that truly pairs with everything from appetizers to dessert. You simply can’t go wrong with bubbles.”
If you want a wine for a special occasion, Belyeu says the Louis Bernard Chateauneuf du Pape, available for $48 at Stella’s Modern Pantry, also in downtown Ocala, is “an impressive full-bodied red.” The wine, from the Rhone Valley in France, has notes of oak, tobacco, vanilla and blackberry. It pairs well with lamb, pork and poultry.
As for her advice in using the right glassware, Belyeu says the different shapes of wine glasses are all about aroma.
“The wider the mouth of the glass, the more of the wine’s aroma can mingle with each sip you take,” she explains. “This is why many wine experts prefer to drink a fine champagne out of a white wine glass rather than the classic champagne flute—the bubbles may look pretty in that tall glass, but the aromas of the champagne simply can’t escape such a small opening.”
She also feels that any red wine greater than five years old will benefit from decanting.
“The older the wine, the longer it may need in the decanter. Wine is alive and the longer it has been cooped up in that bottle, the longer it needs to stretch and breathe,” she states.
And, she adds, “We often drink our reds too warm and whites too cold. Cold increases acidity, so a red wine that is a little flat and ‘flabby’ would benefit from 10 minutes in your freezer before opening. Similarly, with whites, take them out of the fridge and leave them at room temperature for 15 minutes before opening. The acid will settle down and floral and mineral flavors will pop.”