Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Wine Tasting for Pleasure and the helpful Sommelier!

Wine tasting for pleasure?

Some may think it a dark art practised in restaurants by these rather intimidating superior folk “sommeliers” accompanied by lots of sipping, swishing, and swallowing.  Certainly not a pleasure and many cringe at the thought of the “ritual” of tasting a wine in a restaurant.  In fact we have customers whose early love of wine has been ruthlessly squashed by one of these superior beings because they didn’t know their chardonnay from their sauvignon blanc or their merlot from their syrah.  

A dear friend of mine was ridiculed for years by his dinner companions after an experience in a Paris restaurant where he was handed the wine list by a most unhelpful sommelier and asked by his friends to select “a decent white wine”.  He saw a wine he recognised, a Sancerre, which he accepted only to find to his horror when poured rather than a rather stylish white (sauvignon blanc) he expected it turned out to be a rather second rate red (pinot noir).  

Believe it or not, sommeliers are not the most loved people in the hospitality business.  Of course the sommelier knows more about wine and the dining experience than the guest.  At least we expect him to, that’s his job, but a measure of humility wouldn’t go amiss and the realisation that his role is to enhance your dining experience not to patronise, intimidate or astound you with his (or her) encyclopaedic knowledge of grapes and methods of wine production. 

Some think that the sommelier is only there to sell the most expensive bottle of wine to the guest. Worse yet, the guest thinks that whatever they order isn’t going to impress or be “good enough” for the sommelier to even care about.  The best sommeliers, of course, care deeply about whatever it is you order. They can give great advice in finding wines of great value on the list, creating a great food and wine pairing, or just being welcoming and engaging overall.

We invest a disproportionate amount of time and money in training our staff in wine but it’s not just about knowledge it’s about skills and attitude too but that’s for another day.  The second Wednesday of every month we have our own informal wine club where anything up to twenty people meet to try five wines (usually with a country of regional theme) and five starter sized matching dishes.  It’s great fun everyone gets to join in the debate and discussion and to enhance their wine knowledge in a safe environment (£25 per head 0161-834.3743 to book or for further information)

Enjoy discovering wine.  Identify your favourites and experiment to see which wines match which foods.  Sometimes you’ll get it right and find a combination made in heaven and other times a much warmer place will come to mind!

And so on to tasting – the mechanics……

The first thing to do with wine is to look. With wine, you can tell quite a bit about it by looking at it. You should always start by pouring the wine into a clear glass. Hold the glass over a white background, like a napkin or tablecloth. Colour varies with age, varietal (i.e. Chardonnay is darker than Riesling) and time spent in the barrel. White wines range from almost clear to pale yellow-green, straw/yellow, light gold, gold or old gold, to brown. Reds can be magenta, purple, ruby, garnet and finally, brown. (If you're not drinking Sherry or Madeira, brown is usually not a good thing.) 

Swirl the wine to aerate it. This releases ethers, esters and aldehydes that combine with oxygen to bring you the wine's aroma or bouquet. It doesn't take much practice, but if you're just learning, start with a white or watch what you are wearing!

Often called the nose Nose so follow yours. First: the flaws. If there's a mouldy, wet cardboard aroma it may be "corked" or tainted. Drink not, or suffer the consequences. Sulphur (burnt match) aromas may dissipate with a little air time or may not even bother you too much, but too much sulphur dioxide is a problem. If your wine smells like Sherry but isn't, that's a problem. If a wine smells clean, fresh, and ripe to you, get out of the embarrassing tasting spotlight and motion for the waiter to pour. The "nose" should also be faithful to the grape's variety, which is something you have to learn over time.

Skip the sip. Soak your taste buds by taking a decent mouthful and rolling it around or chewing it. Sweetness is detected at the tip of the tongue, so you'll be aware of residual sugar right away. Varietal characteristics are picked up in the middle of the tongue; tannin (in most reds and wood-aged white) starts there. Acidity hits the sides of the tongue, the cheeks and the back of the throat. Aftertaste is what lingers after you swallow. A long pleasing aftertaste with a nice balance of the other components is the sign of a high quality wine. 

Oak has had a very long association with wine. Initially it was simply as a watertight container that could be used for transportation. Without the influence of oak, wine would taste very different.  You can often taste and smell the influence of oak (vanilla is usually the easiest to find). The flavours enter the wine as it ages in oak barrels, with the newer oak barrels able to pass more flavour than barrels that have been used for several vintages.  Besides vanilla look for smoke, sweet butterscotch and caramel with maybe a hint of almond

What was the body of the wine like?  Light (like skimmed milk), medium (like whole), or full bodied (like cream)?  If it was a white wine, how was the acidity?  Too little and flat? Just right, crispy, fresh and pleasing, or too high and burning your mouth?  For a red wine, tannins are a big factor.  Light tannins make for a soft wine. They can be present, ripe and pleasing, or too high, leaving a dry mouth feeling that may indicate some cellar time is needed to develop.  How long did the "finish" last?  A couple of seconds, or much longer, as great wines tend to?  Is it ready to drink?  Are all of these components appealing to you?  Is it worth the price?  Can you think of a food it might go well with? And most important: did you enjoy it? Will you buy it again? If so, jot the wine's name, producer and vintage year down for future reference.

Until the next time!

No comments:

Post a Comment