Wined and Dined Done Right
On a recent lazy Saturday, my husband and I stopped off at a Texas Hill Country winery as we were heading home from a day driving around the nearby rolling hills. We walked in having no idea that a tasting event was in progress. It was both surprising and fun and made our day complete. Not soon after, I saw a posting from the Austin Dining Club (more on them later) regarding “The Unspoken Rules of Wine Tasting” as reported by “Bon Appetit” magazine. I thought it’d be interesting to share some of those tips with you.
I would venture to guess that most of you enjoy a glass of wine every now and then, but do you really know what you’re drinking, how to drink it, and even how to order or buy it? I have my favorite brands and favorite varieties, but when it comes to actual wine tasting, I can get a little bit lost regarding the sip, swallow and spit routine. I know a dry red from a sweet white, but don’t ask me about vintages, tannins, or fermentation. Yes, I’ve been to Napa, but no I’m not a wine expert.
Sommelier Belinda Chang, Winemaker Charlie Wagner, and Napa Chef and Vinter Michael Chiarello are experts and it’s them who “Bon Appetit” and blogger Jason Kessler went to for tips and answers.
First and foremost they highly recommend planning your wine tasting itinerary. Don’t just get in the car and stop wherever and whenever. Instead, research what varieties you like and target those vineyards and tasting rooms. Don’t be shy either, when you enter the tasting, let your preferences be known. I don’t like very dry white wine so why would I want a wine tasting staff member to pour me a sample?
Much like a dinner tasting menu, start light and build from there. You probably wouldn’t start off with a rib-eye and end with a light salad, so keep the heavy reds for the end of your tasting experience. It’s also recommended to begin with the driest wines first. A simple rule of thumb: lightest to richest and most simple to most complex.
Once wine is poured, keep your hands off it! Actually, keep your hands away from the liquid area of the glass, as body temperatures can affect taste. You should never hold a wine glass from anywhere other than the stem…that’s why they have them. Now you are ready to hold the glass up to the light to observe the wine’s clarity and color. Then, tilt your glass and let the wine run down the sides. Wines that leave heavy streaks on a glass are said to have “legs,” meaning more alcohol and more sugar content.
From there, take a tiny sip of the wine and swirl it in your mouth. This may feel silly and unnatural at first, but the process of doing so actually aerates the wine, allowing oxygen to unleash all of its great flavors. Keep in mind that the point of wine tasting is to have your whole mouth – front, middle, and back – actually taste it.
Now, it’s time to spit. This can be seem even more uncomfortable than swirling but is yet another tasting necessity. Remember, what goes in should come out…preferably in one clean and quick “poof.”
Once you have all of this down, it’s time to have fun and enjoy the experience. Whether you’re in Napa, Sonoma (which, by the way don’t like each other at all!), Bordeaux, Chile, or the Texas Hill Country, talk to the tasting staff and make friends with others around you. Discover what you like and maybe even take a little home with you.
Just What the Sommelier Ordered
When it comes to all things culinary, “Bon Appetit” is always thinking, so the experts there also asked a sommelier the secrets to ordering wine. Often times a wine menu goes from one person to another before someone brave enough accepts the job of ordering for the group. This can be a little intimidating, but don’t let it be. It’s the sommelier’s job to help you find the right wine, so let him or her do their job…you just need to help them a little.
First off, don’t just say you want a “good wine.” Tastes vary so wide that this is neither safe or smart. If you don’t see a brand or variety of wine on the menu that strikes your fancy, instead of asking the sommelier what he suggests, tell him what you like. Do you tend to like red or white more? Do you enjoy a light, fruity white wine or a full-bodied dry red? If that’s too challenging for you to determine, tell him what you don’t like. I don’t like either very sweet or very dry wines, so that’s what I would let him know right off the bat. From there, let him do his job.
If you order a bottle, be sure to really taste it when the server pours you a glass. This is your chance to either tell him thank you or perhaps even no thank you. Don’t wait till several glasses have been poured to let him know you’re not happy with the selection. Last tip: slowly enjoy each drink. Wine is made to be savored.
Vineyard or Winery?
Where you buy wine can also get a bit confusing…and I’m not even talking about stores. You will notice that some wine labels say they come from a winery while others say they are from a vineyard. What’s the difference between the two? There are definite methods to the madness, but, my research on the “Taste of Wine” website revealed there are no legal standards for the use of the terms so any wine producer can call themselves a winery or vineyard if they so choose.
According to the online webpage, a vineyard is, as the word suggests, a “yard” where vines are grown — specifically vines for grapes used to produce wine. A vineyard may be small with just a few acres or it might be huge with hundreds of acres. Some wine producers may have just one or two areas they call their vineyards or they may have dozens spread around a region, all used to produce a variety of wines. Those vineyards, however, are not always where wines are produced. Their grapes may be grown for the purpose of creating wines, but the people in charge of tending the grape vines aren’t always the ones who make the wines.
A winery, on the other hand, is a place where wine is produced. It is basically where every part of the process of creating wines takes place once the grapes have finished growing and have been harvested. It is not the same as a vineyard.
In general if someone is going to put “vineyard” on their bottle of wine, they are likely responsible for both growing the grapes and producing the wine you’re drinking. It is common for vineyards and wineries to be at the same location and managed by the same people, but there are many cases where they are separate. Many small, family-owned vineyards can’t afford to own and run their own wineries so they ship their grapes to large wineries for processing. There are also wineries that specialize solely in producing wine from grapes sent to them from smaller vineyards and there are wineries that create wines from both their own grapes and grapes sent to them by others. One setup is not necessarily better or worse than the other. What matters most is your own opinion of the wine when you drink it.
About Austin Dining Club
Created by Founder Gwen Cash, ADC’s mission is to bring people together to experience and explore the art of fine dining. Members visit some of Austin’s premium restaurants and enjoy getting to know new and interesting people over a great meal. Cash is also working hard to create a non-profit organization to provide cultural dining experiences for underprivileged children in Austin. For more information, go to austindiningclub.com.
About Kathy Womack
Austin artist Kathy Womack is best known for her “Women and Wine” series, a series of which I own several and adore. They are elegant paintings and prints of the simple act of enjoying a glass of wine with friends we cherish. As Womack says, “The success of the series lies in the fact that I share this view with many women today who might feel the weight of our commitments and just need to get out and mingle.” For more info, check out kwomack.com.