I recently had the opportunity to interview a local sommelier to better understand the connection between coffee and wine preferences, and now I’m surprising my friends with my accurate predictions!
Coffee Attributes that are Useful to Wine Tasting
They’re your morning pick-me-up and evening wind-me-down. Other than being the two beverages that provide the emotional balance needed to keep your life together, coffee and wine have a pretty fascinating relationship when it comes to flavor profiling.
There are specific taste characteristics that may tell you a little bit about yourself and what your taste buds love. Both drinks come in a wide spectrum of styles, all with contrasting acidity, bitterness, sweetness and complexity levels. Turns out your taste in one can reveal what you might enjoy in the other!
You’re probably thinking “I like sweet coffee, I bet that means I like Moscato, huh? I hate it.” Stay with me, because what the somm told me goes much deeper…
What’s your go-to coffee shop order?
Are you a standard black coffee person, or do you gravitate towards an espresso-based drink like a latte or cappuccino? Picture your most enjoyed coffee beverage right now, and I’ll share the secret vino recommendations that are most likely to resonate with you. This is where things really get interesting.
French/Dark Roast Coffee
You like bold flavor and enjoy the bitterness and tannin that come from the coffee beans being roasted longer than average. Try a hearty and complex red like a Petit Verdot or Syrah. For whites, look for a Brut with nutty or toasty notes. You’ll probably love the flavors that come with aging, too, so keep an eye out for older vintages!
Medium to Light Roast Coffee
If the harshness of a dark roast isn’t your thing, you gravitate towards the more bright, floral/herbal flavors of a gently roasted coffee. If you take your coffee black, you’ll love the unique secondary notes found in Old World red wines. They’re lighter in body and higher in acidity, just like your morning cup. Sangiovese, Aglianico, or a classic French Pinot Noir also come highly recommended.
If you can’t have your coffee without cream or sugar, you may like the occasional aromatic white like Moscato, when expertly paired with a contrasting spicy dish.
Latte, Cappuccino or Mocha (Milk Based Espresso Drinks)
By combining the rich and saturated flavor of espresso with the creamy weight of milk, you create a beverage that has a lot more body and a rounder mouthfeel. If you’re looking for a red wine, find something fruit forward, dry, and hefty. Dornfelder or Montepulciano could be your new favorite. Not interested in the reds? Opt for a creamy, oaked Chardonnay.
Gotta have it iced?
Experiment with Rosé! The fermentation process of these wines has a similar effect on the wine’s flavor to icing a coffee-based beverage. Look for something unique, rather than a common White Zinfandel. Barbera or Grenache based Rosé pairs with a wide variety of foods and is perfect for summer, chilled of course!
Anyone who can handle—let alone enjoy—the intensity of a double-shot likely has a developed palate. When shopping for vino, look for varietals you don’t recognize or regions you haven’t tried. You’ll appreciate the subtle nuances in everything from an Airén to a Zweigelt! which are sure to add some adventure to your day!
“I don’t like coffee.”
If you feel like the bitterness is unbearable no matter what the style of coffee, it shows you have a lower tolerance for that characteristic. Stay away from Sauvignon Blanc, which is known for what’s called phenolic bitterness. Smooth, easy drinking wines like Pinot Grigio or Red Zin might be more to your liking.
Let’s turn to your preferences with other beverages for some clues.
Applying the flavor attributes to tea requires looking at what varieties of tea you enjoy, and how you like to prepare it. For example, if you like green tea with no additives, you may enjoy umami flavors, which translate well to the taste of tannin in wine. This means you might enjoy wines like Bordeaux reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo.
Prefer your teas sweetened or iced? Unoaked Chardonnay from California has just the right balance of body and acidity for you.
Do you enjoy bitter beers with higher hop content like IPAs? Then you’ll love a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, with notes of grapefruit zest, fresh herbs and lemongrass. Or perhaps you enjoy sweeter beers like chocolate porters or milk stouts. In that case, try a dessert wine! Tawny Port will have the same weighted mouthfeel, with caramel and baking spice flavors. Pair it with Baklava, and you’ll find yourself with a new obsession.
If you don’t belong to any of these groups, don’t worry. Coffee, tea and beer can all be off-putting to those with a preference for fruity beverages. Not all of us enjoy those warmer flavors, reminiscent of molasses and tobacco.
Do you lean towards Margaritas, Mimosas and mixed drinks? There is a world of sweet and fruity wine options outside of the infamous Moscato. Gewürztraminer is a great place to start. Honeysuckle and floral notes on the nose lead transform into tangerine and grapefruit on the palate, giving your taste buds just the adventure they were craving.
While the coffee to wine connection provides one point of reference, more data is needed to make an even better wine recommendation. Here are a few companies that attempt to do just that:
Services Using This Information in Their Quiz
“Firstleaf is the revolutionary wine club that puts you first and tailors award-winning wine selections to your taste, schedule and budget. It's your wine, your way.” Firstleaf will ask you about red vs. white preference, desired sweetness, and even if you like any currently popular wines in the market.
“Winc connects you to a world of exclusive wines tailored to your tastes and offers wine delivery right to your door.” Winc will ask you about your coffee preference directly in addition to salt, citrus, and umami flavors. They require you to sign up for an account in order to see your matches.
Bright Cellars uses a seven-question quiz to systematically match your taste buds to wines you’ll love based on “Bright Points”. Bright Cellars will ask you about your juice preferences and other kinds of alcoholic beverages you enjoy. They require you to enter your date of birth and email to see your matches because those will be needed if you end up ordering your matches.
P.S. There is an “escape hatch” — they let you swap out a bottle if you feel that your intuition is stronger than the wine matching algorithm. Check it out:
Full disclosure: I’ve been a Bright Cellars employee for a while now (but a wine and cheese lover for much longer). I am constantly inspired by the level of innovation and creativity around me that goes into something as seemingly simple as wine and cheese. They really do go above and beyond to make sure this experience, and your matches, are incredible.