I don’t normally drink Merlot except when I’m drinking Bordeaux, which i do quite frequently. So actually i principally drink Bordeaux accept i never drink Merlot. Men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefor Socrates is mortal. Same thing, read on and i’ll explain. There really, on the most basic level, only three things you need to know about wine:
1. Know how to read the bottle.
The bottle tells you everything you need to know: the year, the appellation, /the grapes or mix thereof, where its from, and the winery/ if they bottle it/if they grow it. On a beginner’s level that’s everything you need.
2. Think about the wine.
There is no term too stupid to describe what YOU taste in wine. It is not unusual to hear wine described like, clay soil, pencil lead, oak leafs, new carpet or latex paint. Taste (unfortunately sometimes) is an opinion and cannot be incorrect. Your job is to express opinions in ways you and the consumer understand.
3. Drink wine.
Eighteen-year-old Andrew to guy in charge of wine department: “Kip, I want to learn more about wine.” Kip: “Good news, the easiest way to do that is to drink wine, more specifically, drink similar wines to find the differences.” It was when I was 18 that I first understood that people get paid, to drink wine, for a living. It’s the best way to learn. Just take notes before you finish the bottle. And here is a hint from me: bring a friend so you can drink more wine.
So there it is, everything you need to know. I’ll tell you a bit more, and I’ll try to organize it in order of importance, but really, you just heard it all.
Appellation vs. region is paramount. There is a small place you may have heard of called Europe. Europeans, crazy though they are, name wines for the regions from which they are produced. Generally, these follow rules based on the grapes that grow best in that region. Por ejemplo, Bordeaux wines are generally merlot based, with an occasional blending grape accounting for fewer than 20% of the wine. In America, we call it merlot, because it made of merlot. When you know wine better, understand the difference between a merlot from Virginia and a merlot from Washington. A couple other standard comparisons would be Grenache to cannanou, to Rhone or syrah to Shiraz, or san giovesse to Chianti.
If you’ve watched a movie or clever sitcom you’ve probably realized that champagne is from champagne, and that’s what makes it champagne. Champagne is sparkling wine, that is to say wine that through its fermentation process is bottled under pressure with co2 in the bottle. Sparkling wine is what the bubbly really is. It’s called Cava in Spain, Prosceco in Italy and goes by different names depending on where it’s from. It’s commonly believed that champagne was accidentally discovered by Dom P, a monk, who quite romantically said when he first drank it, said: “come quick, for I am tasting the stars.” Doesn’t really matter if he uttered that phrase due to its profound structure.
There are a lot of grapes. Thousands. You can’t remember them all, I dare you. But get a book, understand a few and look up the rest. Rose wine is a good example, frequently, it comes from grapes as red as blood, but is fermented with less skin (where pigments, yeast and tannins are) so it end up pink. Your mom
(that’s right I said it) likes white zin because it tastes like candy and its pretty. But I drink Grenache rose, in the summer, with a croque monsieur and hold the glass with my pinky out knowing that albeit gay, its fabulous, season/ food appropriate, and suited for my palate.
Serving wine, well that’s important. It’s more that getting the booze into the glass. Red wine should generally be served at what room temperature was back in the day of the drafty castle 65 ish degrees, and whit white served at a temperature known as cellar temperature, before refrigerators, it was about 50 degrees. There are of course exceptions to this, but that’s the general consensus. To put it a little better, don’t be serving any hot wine, and I’ve met enough tough jersey guys that like red wine on the rocks to say insert Latin phrase here. There is no accounting for taste. Also when serving wine, use clean glasses, present the bottle so people know what the are drinking, pour a 2oz taste for whoever ordered the wine/ came up with the idea, after they approve, pour for everyone and never touch the neck of the bottle to the glass, people put their mouth on that, don’t be grody. There are different traditions for port and sake. But for regular wine, here it is:
Service line item description:
Polish glasses for the people drinking
Present the wine to the person who ordered it, this confirms it’s the right bottle.
Open the wine and present the cork to the person, this is generally meaningless, but its how its done. The cork unlocks little about the quality of the wine, nothing that scent and taste can’t tell you
Pour a taste for the person who order
Ask if it’s ok, but do so more gracefully that saying “s’alright?”
Pour wine for everyone else drinking
Top of the glass of the person who ordered it
Corks vs. Screw-top vs. synthetic cork.
One could go on for an epic length on why which matters how. Again, frankly, to most people it makes no difference. Screw top wine works fine for what people call quaffers, just wine you drink, bargain wine that is of bodega quality. Real corks are costly, cause the bacterial infection in a bottle called “corked” but are best for wines that are laid down to age. Synthetic corks prevent oxygen from entering a bottle better that anything else but don’t work for aging wine. The answer? If a wine costs less than $50 or isn’t going in your cellar, it doesn’t matter.
Phylloxera, was a little mite (root eating louse specifically) son of a bitch that almost caused the wine, and obviously brandy too, apocalypse until it was saved by a metaphor. That’s my interpretation, here is how it really was. White Europeans like Thomas Jefferson tried to make wine out of grapes in North America, but the wine sucked. It sucked because grapes on this continent had thick flavorless roots so resist the mites that constantly gnaw upon them. When American wine sucked, they took the wines back to Europe where the little mite killed over two thirds of Europe’s vineyards. A smartsy fella thought that grafting the roots from American vines on to European vine would fix the problem and he was right, and the day was saved. But in the mean time the world lost a ton of wine and brand (which is made from wine). Almost all vines in the world are grafted save a few remote wines in South America. A bit of trivia on that Jefferson wine, he laid down a bottle himself of 200 year old Virginian wine that sold at auction in the 80’s for $160,000, two weeks later the cork dried out ruining the most expensive bottle of wine ever. The lesson here is: drink wine.
FYI, a professional wine knowing and serving guy is a sommelier (pronounced /sɔməˈlje/ or suh-mal-‘yAy), this is a title earned. There is a master sommelier title, there are less than 160 in the world. Next time we’ll talk general wine paring rules and characteristics.