I almost hate to admit this but the other day I was sitting in my favorite “Quarry”, enjoying a Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet; a 2004 vintage to be exact. It is a deep red, berrylicioius, as they say, organically grown grape from St. Helena, California. I was thinking of the Espresso-Rubbed Prime Rib that my good friend Chef Marc so eloquently prepares; a wake up to ones pallet that only “an experience” can accurately describe.
Valentines Day was close approaching and my thoughts drifted to fine dinning, fine wine and good company. Now understand, I am first and foremost a Reservation Recluse and impressing a young lady with the appropriate manners of wine selection was never a priority. Then I remembered how I felt when the only etiquette I knew was in the fine art of twisting the cap off of a bottle of MD 20/20 and the embarrassment that flooded over me when a waiter wanted me to sniff the cork and taste the wine. Yes, waiter. That should give you some hint and the cork? Well, I would much rather have told him where he could put it than smell it. This trip through memory lane made me question. Maybe there were others out there that needed just a little help to save them from awkward embarrassing moments as well.
That stated; here is a crash course on Wine Tasting; at least enough to get you past the tough spots and let you concentrate on wiping the drip spots off your Levis and the gravy off your chin…
Your Wine Steward should be able to help you with the selection best suited for your meal, so no real embarrassment there. Just go with the flow. The bottle neck comes when your Steward brings you the selected bottle, presents the label and pours you a sample of this precious nectar? Now What? No, you don’t down it like a double shot of your favorite tequila while your eyes water and your mouth forms the word Gooooooooooood!
Now pay attention… You don’t need to know everything but you do need to know something to get by.
Hold your wine glass by the stem---as etiquette dictates--- (in the US most wine is not served in a table glass) and hold it up to the light. This will allow you to check for brightness, clarity and color. Is this wine bright or dull and is it clear or cloudy? Is the color more like straw or water? Is it a ruby red, deep burgundy or a delicate pink? It is here you LOOK. Take your time but not too long. She is to be appreciated not victimized.
Then you tip the glass slightly to check for rim variation –the contrast between the color of the wine in the middle and the color at the edges. The more white around the rim, the cheaper the wine . Rim variations is a way for a wine drinker to test the quality of the wine. To check the rim variation, hold the glass up to a light or use a white background to see the size of color variation around the rim of the body of wine. The less variation , the better the wine. Explain this mater of factly and you will give the appearance to your companion you KNOW what you are talking about and are an individual with some knowledge other than sports scores. Don’t be afraid to hold the glass in front of you but not so far you can not appreciate what you see.
Next comes the swirling. Gently rotate your wrist and the wine rolls around the glass. Swirling aerates the wine and also reveals the legs. You might say, “This wine has fast legs.” Which is another way to say that the wine doesn’t have a lot of sugar and thus not a lot of alcohol. You’ll get your point across to the wine Stewart and he will assume you know your wines. Now, if the only legs you know about are connected to your date? Better not comment, just swirl….
Next you stick your nose, a la “Sideways,” into your tasting glass. This way you do not drown nor do you end up with the Merlot gracing the tip of your nose. Now is it’s time to verify, by smell, what you saw. You inhale and determine if it reminds you of a bouquet of violets or a compost heap. Does it smell like a barnyard or freshly chopped firewood, neither? Or maybe you detect a hint of vanilla, coconut or toast.
Finally, you declare, “This white wine smells like petroleum and green peppers.” Which isn’t necessarily an insult and may, in fact, impress the winery representative. You might even consider announcing, when you move on the reds, “This Merlot reminds me of melting road tar.” That will really impress them but it is yet a story for another time.
Then the most important part---the tasting. Now that you have the wine in your mouth, you taste whether what you saw and smelled tastes pretty good, as well. You might detect a woody flavor or a peppery taste. You may detect a hint of blackberry. Does the wine make your tongue duck for cover under your teeth or does it feel like a favorite sweater for your mouth? How long does the flavor linger? Like a long visit from you in-laws or a fleeting glimpse of Matthew McConaughey or Kate Hudson? Is it exciting or just something you want to get over?
Tasting is all about uncovering what it is about a wine that you like, what makes it likable. It’s kind of like the difference between knowing what you like and liking what you know. If you take the time to educate yourself you will find the difference and as with everything else there is a way in which discernment is made easier. It is a quest that can lead you all over the world or right next door.
We have covered the grape but what about the vessel it is served in?
Glasses are important for wine tasting and or drinking. There are wine glasses for each type of wine; pinot noir, cabernet/merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, etc. They differ in their bowl and as well as aperture sizes. If it’s leaded glass, even better, because the lead interacts with the tannins to break them down, which is something you want to do to prevent a really bad hangover. J A good wine glass is designed to perfectly place the wine on the palate.
Now you have the tools to use even if you don’t like wine… go for three fingers of good bourbon instead… Knowing how to taste does not mean you have to DRINK…
Until next time….. Bon Appetite!
Ahhh… at the end try a Cognac.. Bowen V.S.O.P. Appellation Cognac Contrôlée…. is a good start. Yes, it comes from France but don’t hold that against it. You will find a pleasant surprise. And your pallet? Slightly more educated.