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‘Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.’ ~ Andre Simon, “Commonsense of Wine”


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Wine 101

For the first Salute! post, I’d like to talk to the novice sippers. Those who are more experienced, don’t worry, I will show you some love very soon.

Known as the drink of the gods, wine is very complex. The luscious beverage baffles even the most esteemed connoisseurs.

 Here are some basics:

There are five general groups of wines (varietals) – Red, White, Blush, Port, and Ice wines.

When tasting wine, it is better to go from a less sweet wine and gradually increase in the sweeter ones. Yet, if you know what you generally like, just start at that sugar level range. What determines the sweetness of wine is the residual sugar left over at the end of the many fermentation processes wine endures.

Red Wine:

  • Not very sweet (approximately .05 grams of sugar per liter)
  • Has a deep red color because the juice stays in contact with the skins during fermentation
  • Recommended food pairings: typically red meats, pastas in a red sauce, chili, veal, lamb, pungent cheeses
    • Reason being is that red’s have very developed, strong flavors and can be over powering to delicate foods

White Wine:

  • Typically sweeter than red wines (approximately 1 gram of sugar per liter or more,) but some match other reds wines in lack of sugar
  • When the grapes are pressed the skin is separated from the juice, and only the juice is fermented
  • Recommended food pairings: poultry, fish, soups, pasta with cream/cheese sauces, mild cheeses

Blush/Rosé Wine:

  • Made from red grapes in which the grape juice spends a short period of time in contact with the skin which yields the pink color of the wine
  • The sweetness of blushes/ rosés can vary so please read the label and look for the residual sugar content
  • Recommended food pairings: great for ethnic cuisines such as Cantonese (Chinese), Thai, Indian, Mexican and Cajun, and even barbeque

Ice Wine:

  • Extremely high in sugar because the actual grape is traditionally frozen on the vine, so the juice becomes a syrup
  • Derived from Canada
  • Recommended food pairings: fatty deserts such as crème brûlée (go big or go home, :)) fruit tarts, some salty foods which makes the wine less sweet but more fruity, or it is perfect by itself

Port Wine:

  • Originally from Portugal, this is typically a deep red, sweet wine has numerous styles
  • It is aged in a barrel
  • Recommended Food Pairings: Walnuts, full flavored cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Cheddar, and aged Gouda, or savored on its own

Although there are fields of information I did not cover, your palette has at least been tickled, lol. The best way to gain an understanding is to explore every chance you get. To help you in your wine-o quest, the next Salute! post will cover the proper way to taste wine. Until then, quench your thrust!

April 12, 2012

Wine Tasting – The Five S’s

“Let’s go wine tasting!” How do you react to this suggestion? Are you totally onboard or is there some hesitation (because you’re not sure of etiquette.)? Either way, I hope you will feel comfortable after reading this post or become more motivated after reading, because we will demystify wine tasting worries.

A successful tasting session includes the 5 S’s: See, Smell, Swirl, Sip, Spit (or Swallow. I will explain this last step a little later.)


The seduction of wine starts at the “uncorking ceremony”. Ok, I know that’s a little over the top, but when the distinct sound of a cork popping out of the bottle occurs it awakens the senses. Next, is the pour. Pouring is important because one must have control over how fast and how much enters the glass. A waterfall of velvety red Cabernet Franc or a beautifully sun-kissed cascade of  Savion Blanc, draws you into a welcomed love affair. When tasting multiple wines, it is important to have  between a quarter to half a glass per  sample. Important: always judge wine with a white background, either a white tablecloth or a piece of paper. Reason being, there needs to be contrast in order to see the color clearly. So! The first step in discerning the characteristics of a wine is through Tilting your wine glass at a 45 degree angle, give or take (enough to create an oval on the side of the glass. This technique is used to help establish older wines from younger ones.

Reds: If the oval is a deep red, the vino (wine in Italian,) is young and has not aged for many years. On the “other side of the glass”, if the wine is light, it is older and aged longer.

Whites: Just the opposite. When tilted, younger wines will have a lighter yellow tint and naturally, older wines will be darker.

Smelling and Swirling:

Next is the sense of smell. Having Cyrano “nose qualities” come in very handy during this phase, because the aroma of wine is equivalent to eating an appetizer – noticing the various fragrances or notes of wine awakens your appetite. Also, fancy wine descriptions such as “oaky, fruity, and floral” are invited into the conversation.  When I began to learn about vin (the French term for wine), I was told a mind-blowing secret which I will share with you: Before you swirl, take a few deep inhales of your adult juice. Then swirl and smell again. The result is heavenly. Stirring causes the scents to “leap” out of the glass as you take another whiff of the grape juice. Actually, this is not a secret at all, but makes a world of difference when done. Lastly, after the twister in a glass, the wine settles to the bottom of the glass and the residual wine streams down the side. This act of gravity is known as creating “legs”. Long legs are present in older wine, short legs for younger wines. *Note: Once you become more experienced, you can show off your spiffy swirling techniques. Yet for now, a few revolutions will do just fine.

Sipping: There are many schools of thought regarding the proper way to sip, but I will try to keep it simple. Although tempting,t do not take a mouth full of wine, but draw in enough to get an adequate taste. Basically, the wine should cover your palate. (I recommend about a teaspoon or two.) Some people tilt their head down and inhale slightly through the mouth making a slurping sound while the wine is still in their mouth. This mimics the aeration of wine when swirled in the glass. Breathing through the mouth helps to liven the notes before swallowing. I know this is an abstract description, but even if you only taste the wine without the fancy breathing, you are still up to par.

Swallow/ Spitting: When working at the vineyard, I always encouraged the guests to actually drink the libations as opposed to discarding it. (Naturally, I never got a rebuttal.) Surprisingly, discarding wine at the end of each tasting is acceptable because it prevents tasters from becoming drunk. This situation is ideal for sampling three or more wines. A more mannerly practice, however, if you are at a restaurant and are trying a wine for the table, is to drink the sample instead of spitting it out, but it is your call.

For further instructions on tasting and a demonstration, here’s a video. (Disclaimer: The instructor is a little “off” but that adds to the entertainment. I chose this because he is straight to the point and is thorough.)

Wine Tasting Video Fun!

I wish you the best as you increase your knowledge of wine and all it has to offer!

Stay thirsty!

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