Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wine 101

For Christmas, the BFF gave me an evening class at Wine Authorities.  From Bud Break to Bottle.  We've taken a couple of classes there already, but not the basics.  So HO HO HO and off we went last Thursday night.  I have never been one to sit in the back of the class and this was no exception.  We were the first in line and got front row seats.  (Sadly, no one recognized us as Lucy #1 and Lucy #2 from the Grove Winery trip video.  We were not asked for autographs.)  The class was sold out, with 40 eager participants.  We were asked to hold off on the perfumes and lotions that day.  No odors to compete with the wine, please.  I do remember that from my Chatham Hill days.  Winemaker Marek was not happy when one of us arrived for work smelling like eau de whatever or hairspray.
The tables were set with six wineglasses at each place.  I am very fond of their glasses- Spiegelau.  I have a few Riedel of my own and like both brands.  The stems are slender and the rims are thin.  Oui, I fear I have indeed become a wineglass snob.  There were also four little black cups at each place, filled with what appeared to be water.   In order to get in touch with our sense of taste, we drank from each cup and tried to tell the difference between sweet, sour, bitter and salty.  After that, we focused on our sense of smell.  We sniffed four different scents and tried to determine what they were.  Being a good taster mean practicing smelling, to quote Seth and Craig, the gurus of Wine Authorities.
We then went on to practice looking at the wine in our glasses.  Color and viscosity give clues to the wine's age and alcohol level.  Next came swirling the glass in large circles.  Believe it or not, there is a good reason to do this.  Not just because it looks cool to be able to do it without sloshing, although that is a plus, in my book.  You do this so that air mixes with the wine.  Tip:  Don't do it with a full glass.  Then you stick your nose in the glass and smell the wine.  Short little sniffs to try to identify what you smell in that glass.  No wrong answers here.  A good thing for me since I am not highly in tune with my sense of smell.  (Lucy #3, Monette, who couldn't be with us, is really good at this part of the experience.  She smelled us under the table in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.)  Last, but certainly not least, sipping.  Little sips, trying to breath in at the same time.  Tricky and needs lots of practice.  This is where I got a little nervous about having worn my son's white button-down shirt... especially when it was time to try the reds.  
Having said all of this, do you have to go through this process every time you want a glass of wine?  Certainly not, but I do know that an awareness of what is in the glass adds to the pleasure of the experience.
We made our way through wine terms such as tannins, acidity, maceration, brix, racking, fining and oxidation.  Not to mention corked wine, screw tops and corkscrews.  Is your head spinning yet?
So, what will I remember?  What did I take away from the class and come home to recount to the un-ex?  
  • Wine is to be enjoyed.  The Europeans are way ahead of us on this one.
  • Choose it to match your food.  It should not compete, it should complement.
  • You do not have to spend a fortune to find a good bottle of wine.  One of my favorites at the moment, Château Bolchet, a Costière de Nîmes red, costs $8.99.
  • Sulfites do not cause headaches.  Over 200 different additives may be added to a bottle of wine and the winemaker doesn't have to list it on the label.  Scary, huh?  Did you think it was just grape juice and yeast in there?  Maybe not...
  • 97% of wine is meant to be consumed within 2 years of being bottled. 
  • Acidity is good.
  • Just because a wine smells "sweet" doesn't mean it will taste sweet.  You cannot smell sweetness in wine.  You can smell fruitiness, but that doesn't equal sweetness in taste.
  • Support small estate winemakers.  Your chances are greater of only finding grape juice in the glass that way.  These are the folks who are growing the grapes and making the wine.  It is their passion.  Know your winemaker or if not the winemaker, know your wine seller or exporter.
  • Veuve Clicquot no longer owns her champagne house.  It is now part of one of the big conglomerates... 
We had no cheese to taste at this class.  Just wine to sip.  But this is one of my favorite photos of a cheese from the Wine Authorities and I just had to include it.  I may very well dream about it tonight.  The cheese is followed by a photo of the wine we enjoyed with it.

Bon appétit, BFF, et merci!


Anonymous said...

Well written Teresa. You are an excellent student. They say Doctors make terrible patients, but teachers clearly make terrific students. - Slamanzar

MPK said...

Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho..... Had a blast! ;)