Seven Truths* About Wine

I begin this post with a disclaimer (hence the *), I am not a wine expert.  Sure, I have dreams of one day becoming a Master Sommelier, I’ve done copious amounts of research and have drank even more wine. But I am not an expert.  What I give you here are the 7 truths I have learned through my own experience and that I really do believe in.  What I also give you here are instructions and advice in lay terms–it’s the way I know to talk about it. Well except I threw in some wine terms when I actually knew them.

1. When I am at someone’s house and ask for a corkscrew, I am always disappointed when this comes out: 

Oh the humanity! (okay, it isn’t that serious.)

This thing just doesn’t work well and somehow it has become the most common corkscrew in homes that drink wine.  This medieval looking contraption (ironically called an angel or wing corkscrew) is responsible for more broken corks and general frustration than I would care to know.  It masquerades as being “easy” but results in a lot of aggressive pulling, re-screwing (that doesn’t sound right…), and emissions of words you wouldn’t want your mom to hear you say.  There’s a reason that the waiter’s corkscrew has remained a staple.  There’s a reason that it is the one that sommeliers and waiters at nice restaurants carry in their pockets (can you imagine them whipping the wing corkscrew out table side? Moving your salad plate and wine glass out of the way so they can clonk the bottle on the table and have at it with this “corkscrew”??).  Make your life easier, buy a simple $10 or less double hinged corkscrew that will last for decades.  Here is my corkscrew that never fails to open a bottle and cost about $6, 7 years ago:

Image

Here are things to keep in mind when looking for a corkscrew:

  • You want the screw part (technically this is called the worm) to be smooth with a sharp tip.  If the screw is sharp all the way down, it cuts into the cork too much and can result in bits of cork in your wine.
  • The knife part should either be smooth or very slightly serrated. If it looks like a mini saw, run.
  • It must be double hinged. This means that the part of the corkscrew that rests on the bottle edge (the lever) has a hinge in the middle so that you can anchor it on the rim twice and thus more easily pull the cork out.

2. A screw top is NOT a bad thing.

More and more wines these days are coming out with screw tops instead of the traditional corks. There is a part of me that misses the ceremony of uncorking a bottle (and it is this reason that I don’t think corks will ever fully go away) but another part of me loves the ease of twisting it open and easily storing the wine with the same cap.  In fact, as I write this I am drinking a very solid pinot that twisted open.

Made in Sonoma County, which is usually responsible for the huge bottles of wine that are cheap (I admit, I’ve bought a lot of those) but this is a refreshing departure. Crisp cranberry and strawberry with light oak on the finish, light tannins. And at a decent price–I recommend trying it

Fact is the screw top has nothing to do with what’s in the bottle.  Think about it–the grapes can be grown the same in similar environments (terroir), aged in the same oak casks, bottle-aged for similar periods and the only difference is what kind of lid is on the bottle.  Studies have been done.  The screw top makes no difference, and in fact can even help a wine age more effectively.

3. The sommelier is the coolest person in the restaurant. 

Seriously. This person chose wine (and spirits and beer) as their career.  Their job involves traveling the world and drinking wine, coming back to the restaurant and maintaining the cellar, and talking to people about wine.  Not all restaurants have a sommelier (sometimes called a wine steward) but if you’re at one that does definitely ask him or her to visit your table. Contrary to popular belief, the sommelier is never a snobby or stuffy person. In my experience they’ve always had a great sense of humor, been fun to talk to and always recommend a good glass within my price range. And if you show just a hint of passion for an knowledge about wine, a free glass might be in your future.  On one occasion while visiting Thomas in AZ for work, we stayed a night at a swanky hotel and ate in their restaurant. I picked a Greek white to go with my rockfish dish and Thomas picked a red to go with his steak. The sommelier came over to praise our choices, express his love for the underrated Greek wines (they are very good/interesting) and asked “would you be willing to try a white with your steak? It’s the best pairing.”  We were very interested and expected just a taste.  He brought us a whole glass!  On the house. Just because he was so excited about this unusual pairing.  And you know what?  It was awesome!

4. Price does NOT mean it’s going to be a good glass. 

If we’re being 100% honest, a higher price CAN mean it could be a good glass. Thing is, taste is extremely personal. An aged, oaky Chardonnay may cost more and be praised by wine critics but if you hate that oaky flavor you’re wasting your money. Never be afraid to order the cheaper glass or bottle, it doesn’t make you less sophisticated. It means you’re confident in knowing what you like and exploring those taste profiles.  On the same token, I really recommend always trying something new.  A pinot noir might be your go-to, but pick up a bottle of something unusual every now and then and you’ll not only learn more about wine but might also discover a new favorite. This is how I discovered Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, an Italian wine named after the grape variety (there is also a Montepulciano named after the region, but that uses the Sangiovese grape, the same grape used in Chianti).  I highly recommend this wine as a great budget friendly choice. And so does the NY Times. 

This is the bottle you'll see most often in stores. It typically runs for about $12

This is the bottle you’ll see most often in stores. It typically runs for about $12

5. The best way to learn about wine is to drink wine. And wine festivals let you drink a lot of wine.

Speaking of wine festivals, I still have a pair of sneakers spattered with little purple dots from dropping a bottle at the threshold to my apartment upon return from a festival. But I digress.

Almost every state in the US holds wine festivals in Spring, Summer and Fall and they are a guaranteed good time.  Just be prepared to start drinking at 10 am and witness a lot of bad dancing down by the bandstand:

How about that guy in the orange shirt (near middle)??  My husband, sister and I bought a bottle sat at a table and watched this guy for like an hour.  Great entertainment.

The neat thing about wine festivals is that for only $50 or so (depending on the festival) you go into a fairground and visit winery tents and can taste as much as you want.  At the VA festival I go to  there are 100+ wineries and each winery has about 10 different varieties of wine.  You do the math. Here are my festival tips:

  1. Wear sunscreen. There’s typically little shade and drinking alcohol makes you more susceptible to getting burned
  2. Don’t take it too seriously.
  3. Work your way to the front and tell the pourer that you want to start “from the top”–you’ll get all the wine.
  4. Ask questions. And don’t be intimidated. The majority of the people pouring tastings are volunteers who have an interest in wine, they aren’t always experts.  But sometimes the winemaker him/herself will be pouring, and they are fun to talk to.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes, clothes that won’t make you cry if something spills, a large tote and purchase one of those necklace wine glass holders–they are awesome.  Most festivals have multiple vendors selling them. I have a really cool one handcrafted with copper wire. Yes, I am cool like that.  It gets me many compliments in the wine festival circuit.
Do not, however, just wear it to parties as this company suggests. That's just silly.

Do not, however, just wear it to parties as this company suggests. That’s just silly.

6. Tasting wine is an easy 4 step process.

Anytime you try a new wine, you should give it a proper taste to get a real feel for it. And knowing what that entails is useful at times such as wine festivals and when the waiter at a restaurant pours a tiny sip and stares at you expectantly. Even if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for or what it all means (you will in time! See previous truth) just going through the motions gives you a better appreciation for the wine and says to people around you “Why yes, I do know something about wine. Respect.” Here are the steps and some major generalizations.  Wine is a living thing and so there are never hard and fast rules, but there are some things that are generally reliable.

Step 1: Look at it.  It’s best to tilt the glass slightly and hover it over a white background to see the colors. This can tell you a little about age and possibly whether the wine is mostly steel or oak aged.  Generally darker = older/oak and lighter = younger/steel.  It could be a lot more complicated, but unless you’re going for sommelier certification, this is good enough.

Step 2: Swirl. This is the step that is often parodied but it does serve a very important purpose. It isn’t so some guy named Clay can swirl his glass while saying “why, yes, this reminds me of my summer in Tuscany” in a nasally voice.  Don’t drink with those people, they don’t get wine. Or fun. The biggest reason to swirl is simply smell.  By swirling, you get a little of the wine on the sides of the glass which evaporates quickly for you to inhale.

Step 3: Smell it.  Give it a good sniff–this is my favorite part–most of wine’s taste is actually in the smell. There’s no reason to announce what you smell, this is for you.  You may notice things like vanilla (often from oak aging), grapefruit or citrus (common in whites like Sauvignon Blanc), chocolate (common in deep reds), or even tobacco (common in many reds).

Step 4: Just drink it already!  Take a small sip. As best I try not to be snobby about wine it does really bother me when people treat it like a shot. This is not Jager! Wine is a complex, living thing that changes as it ages and tells a lot about the region it came from and the people who made it. Respect that and take at least 2 sips.  When you take your first sip it is often a shock to the palate, which makes the second necessary. Hold the wine in your mouth for a few seconds and move it around. Notice the flavors and thickness of the liquid. Swallow.  Don’t spit.  Some professional tasters will spit instead because they don’t want to get drunk by wine 7–this is a job dammit! But it isn’t for you.  Swallow and enjoy. If you want to get really dorky you can slightly open your lips and suck some air into your mouth.  This addition of air will intensify the flavors. Just don’t do this when you’re inebriated, you might spray people around you with wine. Not that I speak from experience…

That would be accurate.

That would be accurate. From jenprosser.com, a very funny comic.

 7. Wine is fun! 

All of the above things are truths, not rules. If you love your wing corkscrew, awesome.  Just know that if I’m at your house I might accidentally break the cork in half with it.  If you want to eat cheez-whiz on Ritz with your wine (guilty) have at it! Want to drink White Zinfandel…. well I might have to suggest some better options for you, but no one will stop you from doing so.  Truth is that when you talk to real wine lovers they are just fun, non-judgemental people who want to share their passion with you.  There’s a confidence that comes with that, and wine lovers tend to be a confident group that loves to indoctrinate new members.  So head to the local wine shop and pick up something new to start your wine education! It’s the most fun you’ll ever have “learning.”

À Votre Santé!

À Votre Santé!

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Categories: Drinks, Foodie Products and Events, General, Recipes

Author:apointgourmet

A former English teacher living in Stuttgart, Germany who finds some sanity and peace through cooking.

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One Comment on “Seven Truths* About Wine”

  1. September 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    This quick list of wine tasting was awesome. I agree about the angle cork screw opener, corks particles are not very tasty. I use a wine opener that has no screw but actually has two skinny flat prongs that slip between the bottle and the cork. I’ve never had a problem using this opener and it is my all time favorite type. I actually get overly excited when I see other wine drinkers use this type of opener.

    I’m just starting my wine blog and hope to write a post about my first wine festival this fall so your tips will come in handy here as well. I will also remember to take videos. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing. Feel free to stop by my blog and lend some critics or comments for a newbie like me. I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks!

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