Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sight, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Swish, Swallow. Savor.

Last night I went to my second-ever wine tasting event, and it was the most fun I’ve had on a Tuesday night.

My first-ever wine tasting event, about 2 years ago, was lovely. I was served really good food, and really great wines, but I didn’t learn a thing. Actually, that’s not true – I learned that I love steamed calamari salad.

Confession: I don’t know a thing about wine, other than the fact that I like it. Nay, love it. But picking out wine always makes me uncomfortable. At restaurants, I tend to look at the wines available by the glass, decide if I want white or red, and try the one that is priced somewhere in the middle. In liquor stores, I just try to act invisible.

There’s a delightful little wine shop in my neighborhood called Best Cellars that I frequent. This place is totally unpretentious. They know everything, and are helpful but not snooty. All the bottles they carry are 15 bucks or less, and they don’t have a million to choose from, only their favorites. Best of all, they are laid out by category: fizzy, fresh, juicy, smooth, etc. Each bottle has a snappy little description.

So when they asked me if I wanted to sign up for their Tasty Tuesday tasting, titled April in Paris, for 10 bucks, I said, “Oui, sil vou plait!” Actually, that’s not true – I just nodded my head. I have no business butchering beautiful languages with my awkwardness.

I assumed we would just have some sips of a few French wines, mingle with strangers, and be gently pressured to buy a few bottles. I almost skipped it to watch American Idol. When we arrived, we were welcomed with a wine glass and a menu of what we were trying. Each wine was broken into three lines, the name of the wine, the names of the grapes and year, and the region from which the wine hails:

Chateau du Plessis Muscadet
Melon de Bourgogne 2007
Loire Valley, France

Jaillance Cremant de Bourgogne
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligote, Gamay NV
Burgundy, France

Domaine de l’Arfentiere “Les Maranches”
Chardonnay 2007
Macon-Uchizy, Burgundy, France

Domaine de Houchart Rose
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre 2008
Cotes de Provence, France

Chateau Vieux Chevrol
Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Lalande-de-Pomerol, Bordeaux, France

Domaine Montmartel
Grenache, Syrah, Carignan 2006
Cotes-du-Rhone, France

If you’re still reading this after I just dropped all those French words on you, I am really impressed. Wine makes me so uncomfortable, that I skip any pages in my Gourmet and Bon Appetit about wine. I have subscriptions to about every food magazine except Food & Wine. Why? Too many articles by people who know wine. It might as well just be in Chinese.

The point is, I really learned a lot last night. I drank a lot. Oh, and there was food. I ate a lot. We went over the six “S” steps of wine tasting: sight, swirl, sniff, sip, swish and swallow (or spit).

Sight. Each glass we examined in the light, against a white background, to look for color, clarity, and carbonation. I had no idea this step could tell you so much about a wine. We drank two whites, one darker than the other. They told us that the darker might have been older, but since they were both 2007 grapes, it was likely aged in oak. If your white is cloudy, that could indicate it has gone bad. If there are lots of bubbles, you don’t want to swirl the wine.

Swirl. Swirling the wine increases the surface area exposed to oxygen. Oxygen causes a chemical reaction that allows the flavors and scents to open up. Next time you have a glass of wine, sniff it with out swirling. Then swirl and sniff. I noticed a huge difference. I used to operate under the perception that you only swirl red wine, not white. I have no idea where that came from, but it’s not true. The only wine you don’t swirl is sparkling.

Sniff. I still can’t distinguish the subtle nuances of oak, spice, fruity, and floral. But I’m working on it. My nose isn’t known to be very reliable. An epicurean handicap.

Sip. My favorite step.

Swish. Let the wine roll over every taste bud, or you might miss something.

Swallow. Spit if you’re trying a lot of wines. Or have to drive home.

Some other great tidbits I took away from last night:

Sparkling wines pair really well with greasy, salty food.

You can drink white wine with red meat; it should just be a heavier white wine. The “Les Maranches” Chardonnay (the deeper in color of the whites) was heavenly with the pate we ate, and it would have also gone well with Beef Bourguignon or some stinky cheese, like Epoisses (my favorite!).

Generally, wine from a region will pair well with food from that same region.

Cotes de Provence in France is known for their Roses. Roses tend to go with everything.

2005 was a good year for Bordeaux, because it was hot and dry. Cheap Bordeaux wines are generally not good. The one we tried was one of the few “expensive” wines they carry, at $28. And yeah, it was good. We bought a bottle.

Last, but not least, when you swirl wine, look for tears that run back down the side. Those tears indicate high alcohol content. So you know what you’re getting yourself into from that first swirl!


What's my name again? said...

What is a tear?

Veronica said...

hello! you know, like a tear that rolls down your cheek when you cry. when you are trying wines, and you give them a swirl, the ones that look like the wine is "crying" as it rolls back down the side of the glass towards the bottom have higher alcohol content.

esme's mama said...

Thanks for sharing, what a great experience...I did keep reading after the listing of wines but will readily admit it was only because I completely skipped over them :)

Anonymous said...

Some people call them "legs"