Real Girls Talk: Wine 101 with Janisaa Pradja

Got a bad case of Black Friday anxiety? Pour a glass. Ready to celebrate that job promotion over turkey, pumpkin pie and stuffing? Break out the bubble. Dying to catch up with your long distance friends on Zoom? Raid your fridge.

Nothing else screams “holiday mood” more than a glass of wine. As a wino, I always like to wind down with a glass of moscato after dinner or whenever I’m Netflixing to Emily in Paris or any comedy, I like to sit down with a glass of red wine. Sometimes, I drink white wine if I don’t feel like having a strong glass of red. Recently, I like to have a small shot glass of bokbunjae (Korean wine) to awaken the creative spirit. Though I’ve tried different kinds of booze (from sake to which also includes arak, a moonshine-type drink from the Middle East), I always head back to wine.

Given that it’s something that I newly appreciate, I hit up Janisaa Pradja, a Bali-based sommelier who’s a friend of mine, to talk about wine. At 25, she’s already got a WSET tucked deep inside her cellar and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Enology (wine studies ICYMI). (I mean, wouldn’t we all KILL to walk out of school with that kinda degree and jump start on our dream job?) Through e-mail, both of us chit chatted about cooking with wine, the art of alcohol appreciation, the science behind the price behind the world’s most expensive vino and why pricier bottles don’t always equate to being better than cheap wines.

When was the first time you had wine? 

JP: My first ever experience with wine would probably be when I was a kid sitting at one of my parent’s dinner parties, they let me try a sip just so I would stop asking them questions about it. I was a curious child so[,] I had a lot of questions. “What is that?” “What do you mean it’s from grapes?” “So it’s juice?” I tried it and I didn’t hate it but obviously, I didn’t have a sophisticated enough palate to appreciate its fine flavors. However, my first true experience with wine and the world of wine would be when I took a summer trip to the South of France. That’s where I had my first wine tasting experience as well, I think by being exposed to wine in such a wine driven country[,] I truly got to learn and appreciate the taste of wine without questioning all these new odd flavors.

Out of all the liquors, why are you passionate for wine?

JP: The history and the craftsmanship. As I was saying my first experience with wine was in the South of France so I was exposed to so many historical aspects of it and I was fortunate to have my first wine tasting experience at Maison Laurent-Perrier, [where] I got the full tasting and tour experience. I have always been a fan of history and art and that’s what I saw in wine. I was in awe with every little detail from the nitty-gritty growing to the glitz and glam of the drinking.

What made you want to become a sommelier?

Over the years my love for wine grew, and I have my dad to thank for showing me that there is a career I can pursue with this passion. So I did it. I went to school at California Polytechnic in San Luis Obispo California, got my Bachelor of Science in Enology (winemaking), and then got my WSET level 2, and started training to be a sommelier.

As a sommelier, what type of wine should freshly legal new drinkers start with?

JP: You won’t know what you like until you try it. However, I would say start with the main varietals introduce your palate to the classic like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Once you’ve tasted and understood the flavours of these main varietals then you can broaden up your palate to the more unique, exquisite varietals and vintages.

I was introduced to white wine (by accident as I thought it was water when I was 10 🤣), but I became a red wine drinker. Between red vs white, which one do you like better?

JP: People always ask me this and I would always say I love and appreciate each wine for what they are. I love all sorts of wine because each wine has its own unique characteristics and flavours. Some days I would crave a light pinot or a heavy deep Barolo. Other days I just want a classic French rose or a chardonnay. It really depends on my mood.

There’s so many types of red and white wines produced all over the world. Between European, Australian and American wines, what differences have you discovered (in terms of taste, aroma and liquor content)? 

JP: So[,] I would characterize this as New World vs Old World. Old World wines are lighter in body, has lower alcohol level, higher acidity, and generally more minerality. Whereas New World wines are fuller in body, higher alcohol content, lower acidity, and has more pronounced fruit flavors. Also, New World wines don’t have to follow the Old World rule books so there’s a lot of new world wines with a modern twist giving it unique and new flavor profiles.

Apart from red and white, there’s also champagne and sparkling wine. What similarities and differences have you discovered while drinking them?

JP: Can I just point out first that I am a huge champagne/sparkling wine fan. It’s in my top 5 loves of my life haha. All champagne is wine, it’s just a different method of fermentation. It involves fermenting the wine in barrels as usual and then a secondary fermentation in the bottle after it has been sealed with a cork. The secondary fermentation produces CO2[,] which carbonates the wine, producing the classic bubbles when the bottle is opened and poured. Many of the classics – champagne/sparkling wine – are made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. So basically the difference is only the bubbles.

You talk about how food and wine go hand in hand. Like red wine goes with heavier foods whereas white wine matches with seafood. For the holidays, how can we mix up the pairings? 

JP: The classic is always to pair red meat with red wine, and white meat and seafood with white. These days, you’re more likely to hear, “Drink what you like, eat what you like.” So my tips for pairings are to do your best to match the weight and mouthfeel of the wine and food, balance their intensity, and try to either match flavors or counterbalance them. Intense foods call for intense wines. Red wines typically pair well with red meat because meat stands up to the tannins, but you can substitute it with rich, full-bodied whites. White wines tend to have more acidity than reds, which can counterbalance rich foods and cut through heavy notes, especially when a dish is served with a sauce or in a stew. I find it really depends on how the meat is prepared and what kind of sauce or side dish is served. For example, I might pair grilled salmon with a Pinot Noir, but I’d pair a poached salmon with a Chablis.

Speaking of regional differences, I realized that Asian wines are based on grains and fruits (think sake, umeshu, soju and bokbunjae) whereas wines made in the Western world are grape-based. Based on my experiences, I find that Asian wines tend to knock me out faster. Why do you think that Asian wines are more potent than Western wines? 

JP: Wine is made by fermenting sugars that are present in fruits, whereas sake is brewed more like a beer, where the starch from the rice is converted into sugars and fermented into alcohol. It’s a different process that produces a different effect. So my answer for this would be it’s due to the sweetness level and fermentation process: the sweeter the wine is the higher alcohol content it has. I wouldn’t say Asian wines are more potent – it just depends on the style of wine. For example, a Port wine which has a high level of sweetness could have a 20% alcohol content. That would for sure knock you out as well.

What we love about wine is that it’s great for cooking. Which types of wine should we use for cooking and what types should we not use for cooking?

JP: A lot of people think that you cook with leftover wine or that you cook with bad wine. That is all wrong. If you cook with bad wine, you get bad food. Wine is primarily used in cooking for its acidity, so you can choose an acidic wine you love. I always choose a bottle that I can cook with and drink at the same time. It makes the cooking process a lot more fun. You can use a wine that’s already opened, but it shouldn’t be too old (2-4 days). When cooking with meat[,] I tend to go for something lighter like a Pinot Noir, just to give the meat a subtle pinch of acidity. For pasta or a stew, I’d go with something a little heavier like a Merlot. The key is to go for a wine with medium acidity with low tannins.

Some people simply live to splurge on luxury wines. Why do you think that some wines like Petrus or Romanée Conti are so pricey? 

JP: Expensive wines are usually expensive for two reasons. First off, expensive wines typically cost more to make. The raw materials can vary quite a bit in cost, A high-yielding grape from an unknown vineyard, harvested by machine, and fermented in a stainless steel tank won’t cost as much to make as a wine made from a low-yielding prestigious vineyard, harvested by hand, fermented in brand-new oak barrels by a highly sought-after winemaker. Secondly, expensive wines are expensive because they can be. This is known as “perceived value,” where the amount a consumer is willing to pay affects the price of a good or service. It’s the same as luxury handbags.  

Price-wise, there’s so many options to pick between cheap and expensive. Out of all the types you’ve tried, which wines (price-wise) have performed the best?

JP: This is hard to say because value is subjective. I can enjoy an expensive wine just the same as I can enjoy my $3 Trader Joe’s wine. Like I said[,] each wine delivers its own unique characteristic. I drink wines from many different price points. I love ROMANEE CONTI, CHATEAU LAFITE, [and] Sassicaia but I have to say, I really enjoy the most expensive ones when someone else is buying.

What’s the biggest misconception about wine that you had to unlearn?

JP: THE MORE EXPENSIVE THE WINE, THE BETTER IT TASTES.

There were a lot of studies where people tend to think that expensive wine tastes better but there was a reason behind that, it’s because they know it’s expensive. Also, some expensive wines or older vintages are a little harder to appreciate, not cause you have a poor palette but because those wines are built differently. They are built to age and expensive bottles will taste very unbalanced if opened early and requires patience spanning years, sometimes decades to reach that sweet spot, and when you do reach that point[,] it’s not going to taste like your normal go-to $20-$50 bottle. So much maturity has happened to the wine in that time that I would say [that] [y]ou need a mature palette to appreciate those flavors as well.

What was the worst wine you ever had?

JP: There are some wines that I don’t care for but I would never say they’re the worst. However, tasting wise the worst would be a corked wine. Corked wine is a term for a wine that has become contaminated with cork taint. It’s not that the wine taste of cork but[,] rather it is caused by the presence of a chemical compound called TCA. As a natural product, sometimes corks contain fungi, and when this is mixed with certain chlorides during the bleaching and sterilization process of cork making, TCA can be created. Corked wines basically smell and taste of damp, soggy, wet, or rotten cardboard. [V]ery unpleasing.

For teetotalers, what type of non-alcoholic wines do you recommend?

JP: In college, we had wine classes that didn’t allow drinking alcohol on campus or cause it’s an intro class and some students aren’t 21 yet. So we had to drink Martinelli’s[,] which is just sparkling apple juice. That’s the only kind I ever had so I can’t really recommend any else.

There’s so many people who actually do not know how to appreciate alcohol whereas there are a handful who know how to appreciate it. How can people learn to appreciate alcohol? 

JP: I would say to appreciate alcohol[,] you need to look at it more than just drink to swig on. Understand the amount of effort and hard work that goes into making these liquor/alcohol you are drinking. This is why I die every time I see someone doing champagne showers or just gobbling it up and pouring it down their throats because that’s 3 months of work for me! I worked in a winery in college so I know how much work goes into it and I don’t expect everyone to know but at least understand that a lot of people worked hard on these and to some people, this is their life’s work. So again look at alcohol or a drink like art, as something intriguing, take it slow and allow yourself to train and refine your palate with every sip.

All photos by Jelantik Kusuma

Published by

Michelle Varinata

Lapis - (n.) a layer Shrek once said that "onions have layers" as he was peeling one. Like an onion, I have layers. Born in Jakarta and raised in Singapore, I grew up being surrounded in a multicultural environment. Then, I moved to the States, where I lived in NYC and L.A. The creativity, hustle, bustle and vibe of those cities inspired me to become a blogger, journalist and influencer. Writing by day and living it up by night, I slay in the streets one OOTD at a time. Full-face makeup included, too. ;)

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