Monday, September 26, 2022 Sep 26, 2022
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Q & A: Some Basic Facts About Wine

By D Magazine |

What is the point – really – of that ritual so many diners perform when tasting a wine opened for them by a waiter?

I presume you refer to the business of sniffing the cork, and swirling the wine around in the glass, while peering knowingly at it and all that. Well, although it does look pretentious and somewhat artificial, as if done for effect on other diners, I have to defend the little spectacle. As a matter of fact, it’s absolutely essential in our endeavor to learn about wines and enlarge our palate’s memory.

You sniff the cork because it gives you the first warning in case the wine is spoiled. If the wine is in good condition the cork will smell of wine; if the cork smells of cork or mildew, the bottle is probably bad. More often than not it was incorrectly stored, standing straight up instead of on its side.

The next step is to judge and remember the color. The best way is to tilt your glass slightly against the white table cloth. Do not look at the color against a direct light – if you do the wine will reflect the colors of the wall, the chandelier on the ceiling, or other things. But the real color will be distorted.

Now to enjoy the aroma and the bouquet of the wine swirl it around in the glass just enough to coat the sides with a thin film. This thin film will evaporate much faster and release the smell sooner. Inhale a few times, and concentrate. An unpleasant smell is another warning of bad wine. It could smell musty because it’s too old. It could smell of vinegar. On the other hand, sound and healthy wine will have its own individual and pleasant smell. Penetrating, clean and easy to remember.

The next step is to take a sip. Just a small sip – don’t gulp it. Sort of chew on the wine as you judge its complicated flavor. As you taste it, concentrate. Then review the color – remind yourself of the aroma and the taste.

Altogether, you should form a mental picture of the whole wine and store it in the back of your mind for future reference. This is how we develop our palate’s memory.

Do I have to serve red wines with meat?

Well, the old adage that we must always serve red wine with white meat should be taken for just that… an old adage. It does have fact as its basis. But it’s not a hard and fast rule.

Of course, a very full-bodied, robust red wine needs, cries out for a beautifully prepared slice of roast beef. The two compliment each other perfectly. Wines, like spices, should be served with foods they compliment. A red wine would completely overpower the subtle flavor of fish.

The whole idea behind the combining of wine and food is for each to bring out new and hidden flavors in the other.

For example, take the dark meat of turkey. Is it red or white? Really, neither. So, for fun, try tasting a light red wine – a Beaujolais perhaps. They go beautifully together. Then again you might try drinking a fairly fruity German Moselle with it. It will bring out tastes you never knew turkey had.

So, in this case, either red or white would be proper to serve. For real fun serve them both during the same dinner. The white wine first, and the red wine in another glass, just for the sake of comparison. I’ll bet you have an evenly divided vote on who likes what.

There is one principle to remember: do what you like. But be sure it’s really what you like – not what you think you should pretend to like.

And don’t make the mistake of think-ing whatever is most expensive is best. Teach your palate, use your own taste to experiment in combining things – and above all – let your individual taste be your guide.

My husband and I opened a bottle of rather high-priced imported Burgundy a few days ago, but over-estimated our thirst. So we finished only three-fourths of the bottle. I corked the rest carefully and saved it. Last night when I opened it again the wine tasted terrible. Completely different from the first night. What happened?

Well, I’m not surprised. The unfinishedportion will taste differently the verynext day, but can be safely used foranother of the delights of wine – cooking and basting.

You see, all the so-called table wines that have only about 11 to 13 percent alcohol spoil 6 to 12 hours from the time the cork is extracted. Of course, I can’t imagine two people being unable to finish a bottle of wine with dinner. You must have enjoyed a few cocktails before, didn’t you?

But if a regular size bottle is too much start buying smaller ones. All the better wine stores carry a good selection of small bottles called “halfs” or “tenths.” Please don’t call them splits. That’s a quarter of a bottle and much too small.

However, if you can’t find what you want, let me pass this suggestion on to you. Save a smaller bottle from a previous occasion. Wash it with boiling water and of course, don’t forget to sterilize the cork too. Dry it, chill it and then pour half the wine from the larger bottle into the smaller one.

Be sure you leave just enough room in the neck for the cork and no more. You’ll want to put the cork in immediately. Then you can store the bottle away for future use – but no longer than 3-4 months – and serve the remaining half of the larger bottle with that night’s dinner.

Another thing you can do with the unused portion of wine is to leave the bottle uncorked. In no time at all you will have some very nice wine vinegar.

I always thought decanters were something you kept sherry in, but a friend tells me that all wines should be decanted before they are served. Is this true? How do you do it?

For some reason, the word “decant” strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of neophyte wine buffs. I guess it sounds like one more pretentious put-on from the wine snobs.

But actually, decanting is a very essential and beneficial element of good wine care. In well-aged, mature wines, it is necessary to get rid of the natural accumulation of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Although sediment has no taste, it does have a gritty texture on the palate and clouds up what should be a brilliant wine presence in the glass.

In young wines, decanting can help development and oxidation. Three or more hours of breathing in an open decanter will smooth the edges, release the aroma and generally improve an immature wine. In short, a mature wine deserves decanting, youthful wine needs it.

Wine that is pasteurized and stoppered with a plastic cap can only be helped by a great advertising agency.

To decant properly, you need a good light, a good decanter and a steady hand. A candle is very romantic, but its flame may be inadequate. A high-intensity desk lamp is perfect for the job. A good wine decanter should have a wide, funnel-like opening to facilitate pouring without spilling.

Let’s assume the bottle of wine you are planning to decant has been correctly stored in a horizontal position, label up. A day ahead of time, pick up the bottle delicately and carry it to the spot where you plan to decant. Very slowly, without rotating, stand the bottle almost upright. Place a book or a thick magazine under the label side of the bottom, so the bottle leans like a miniature Tower of Pisa. This way, the sediment resting on the side of the punt will slowly slide to one side of the punt and concentrate there, without forming a circle all the way around the punt.

When ready to decant, pull the cork using a good, familiar corkscrew with a spiral-type screw. Adjust the bottle angle and, firmly holding your hand over the label, begin tilting the wine bottle toward the decanter. Rest the mouth of the bottle (sort of hang it) on the lip of the decanter and start pouring. The slower the better. At this point, you should align the center of the light source, your eyes and the bottom curve of the bottleneck. Do not watch the stream of wine, but concentrate on the shoulder of the bottleneck. Once you start pouring do not stop, not even to answer the telephone. When the sediment starts moving from the punt, it will show first as a delicate wisp of smoke halfway up the bottle. Let the smoke-sediment reach the base of the bottleneck, then stop pouring.

If the wine is special or precious, filter into an extra wine glass. It will give you a chance to sneak a taste ahead of the others. A glass funnel can be used, especially if the decanter has a narrow opening.

A silver funnel with a built-in sieve is functional only for decanting old crusted ports. The sieve will catch the flaky sediment characteristic of port, but not the fine, powdery sediment of other red wines.

Decanting becomes really a problem when you are dealing with larger-than-normal bottles. The magnums (2 bottles) can be handled by standing the decanter on the table, using a glass funnel and holding the magnum with both hands, while resting the bottle neck on the funnel.

Double magnum, jeroboam and im-periale sizes can be successfully separated from the sediment only by using a syphon and don’t forget the necessary multitude of decanters (eight for the imperiale).

Before you use any decanter, it should be thoroughly washed and repeatedly rinsed, completely drained and dried.

White wines are decanted very rarely, simply because they don’t throw much sediment in their usually short lives.

There is no special mystique in choosing the shape of decanters, but traditionally the square ones are used for spirits (Scotch, bourbon), pineapple shaped for port, any round shape with a wide opening for all wines, really fancy shapes for brandies.

Now that I have throughly intimidated you with the complexities of decanting, go home and practice first with that over-aged, spoiled bottle of 1959 Beau-jolais you have been hoarding for special occasions.

Isn’t a sommelier just an excess person at a restaurant, just another guy you have to tip?

In many restaurants, the headwaiter makes wine suggestions. But in the more densely staffed places, there is a sommelier. You will recognize him by the silver or gold chain he wears around his neck. It has a basis in tradition, since the quickie ubiquitousness of pizza or tacos yet, but it’s available everywhere. The result, fortunately, is that there are very few people who still call it “quitch,” though one restaurateur says he still gets a lot of requests for “kish ’ Basically, it’s a custard tart that originated in Lorraine and is usually served as an appetizer. There are many variations on what besides custard is in the pastry shell – ham, mushrooms, cheese, seafood (the quiche aux fruits de mer – “oh frwee duh mare”).

Vichyssoise (vee-she-swahz – often mispronounced “vee-she-swah” by people who learned enough French to know that you usually don’t pronounce letters at the end of French words; okay, so don’t pronounce the final “e,” but do pronounce the penultimate “s. “): Only the French could make cold potato soup not only palatable but often supernal.

French cuisine is resourceful, so much of what you encounter on menus is a series of variations on a theme. A whole range of sauces and garnishes are added to the basic meats – beef (boeuf – “buhf”), lamb (agneau – “ah-nyoh”),veal (veau – “voh”), pork (porc – “pork”) – and fowl – chicken (poulet “pool-ay”), duck (canard – “cah-narr”) – and seafood – lobster (homard – “oh-marr”), shrimp (crevettes – “kruh-vet”). These are some of the ones youwill encounter most often.

Bearnaise (bay-ar-nez): A hollandaise-like sauce flavored with tarragon, chervil, and shallots and served with grilled or sauteed meat and grilled fish.

Bechamel (bay-sha-mell): A basic sauce – composed of cream and flour – from which many others are madeby adding seasonings.

Bercy (bare-see): A sauce for fish, made with parsley, shallots, white wine and fish stock.

Bigarade (bee-ga-rod): An orange-flavored sauce for duck, with many varieties.

Bonne femme (bun-fahm): This just means “simple,” the cooking of a “good woman.” As a garnish for chicken, it refers to potatoes, onions, bacon and mushrooms cooked with the bird; for fish, to thinly sliced mushroom cooked with the fish.

Bordelaise (bore-duh-lezz): A sauce for grilled meat made from red wine, meat stock, herbs and shallots.

Bourguinonne (boor-ghee-nyun): A sauce made with red Burgundy wine and other ingredients which vary depending on the meat or fish it is intended to accompany.

Chaud-froid (show-frwah): Literally “hot-cold,” a jellied white or brown sauce accompanying cold meat or fish.

Hollandaise (oh-lawn-dezz): A sauce for eggs, fish, or vegetables, made with butter, egg yolks, and lemon juice.

Jardiniere (zhar-deen-yare)A garnish of fresh garden vegetables for roast meat or poultry.

Julienne (zhu-lee-inn): Finelyshredded meat or vegetables used as a garnish.

Lyonnaise (lee-oh-nezz): A sauce for meats, made from onions, white wine and vinegar and stock.

Meuniere (muh-nyare): Fish cooked àla meunière is lightly floured, fried in butter, and served garnished with emon juice, parsley, and the cooking butter.

Milanaise (mee-lah-nezz): Food dipped in egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and fried in butter.

Mornay (more-nay): A béchamel sauce flavored with Swiss or Parmesan cheese, and served with seafood.

Provencale (pro-vawn-sahl): If it’s provencale, it’s got garlic in it. It may also have tomatoes.

Robert (row-bare): A sauce for pork chops, seasoned with vinegar, onions, and mustard.

Velouté(veh-loo-tay): A white sauce, similar to bechamel, but made with chicken or veal stock instead of cream. The French means “velvety,’ which is what it should be.