Posts Tagged ‘how-to’s’

Wine can be just as seductive as a beautiful woman. Long legs, intoxicating perfume, and an intriguing reluctance to open up are all qualities that could be ascribed both to a femme fatal and to a great wine. Not to mention that too much of either (or both) has been the downfall of many great men.

And just like with a beautiful woman, it’s best, with wine, not to rush into things – to take the time to appreciate all of its attributes and pay homage to each one in turn. Whenever you see someone swirling their wine, inspecting the sides of their glass, and sticking their nose into it, what you’re seeing is the equivalent of foreplay for serious wine drinkers.

So, knowing just how important it is (if you don’t you probably have something dangling between your legs and need to go buy as many back issues of Cosmo as you can get your hands on and perhaps peruse the sex books section on Amazon), I’ve provided you all with a nifty little guide to the essential moves and know-how to getting the best performance from the next glass of wine you get involved with.

The Swirl

The move: Place two fingers on the base of the glass, one on each side of the stem and, without lifting the glass from whatever surface its resting on, start to swirl the glass in a counter clockwise motion. You want to achieve a motion that causes the wine to rise up and wash the sides of the glass. You don’t have to do this for very long – a couple seconds should do the trick.

The point:
For a long time it was thought that the Swirl helped encourage a wine to “open up” by getting air into it. However, the Swirl, it turns out, is pretty inefficient towards this goal – a wine will open up better with time or a decanter than with a few spins around the wine glass.

While the Swirl doesn’t do much to open up a wine’s flavors, it does prove rather effective in amping up a wine’s scent. For wines like Pinot Noir, Viognier and Riesling (to name a few) getting a good swirl is essential and by coating the sides of the glass, the wine gets closer to one’s nose and enables more subtle scents to be detected.


Legs Inspection


The move: Holding a wine up to the light post-Swirl in order to watch the wine on the sides of the glass drip back down into itself, leaving thin trails of wine that are called “legs” or “tears”

The point: As it turns out, legs are just another long-standing and wrong supposition. A wine with “good legs” or “long legs” was once thought to be an indicator of a wine’s high quality and also to indicate the levels of sugar present in a wine. As it turns out however, legs are just a visible side effect of the evaporation of alcohol – the higher the alcohol the thicker the legs. So, I guess if you’re at a blind tasting and you only have a few tastes and you’re and looking to get hammered, this trick will come in handy. Otherwise, they’re just kinda pretty.

The Sniff:

The move: You can tell just how serious someone is about wine by how far they stick their nose into a wine glass. To get all the benefits of the sniff, you want to swirl    your wine and tilt the glass towards your nose, to get the wine as close as possible to your nostrils. Then go ahead and inhale deeply and take the wine away from your nose as you exhale.


The point: The reticent who only venture to sniff the air at the top of their wine glass are missing out on all the pleasures afforded by a good deep sniff. Half of taste is smell and sometimes half the pleasure of a glass of wine is its perfume. The nose of a wine can be just as essential to its enjoyment as its taste. Smell is an intensely personal sense and powerful in its ability to trigger memories – similarly, sometime’s a wine scent is much more revealing about its past than its taste can be.

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How to Successfully Navigate a Wine List

Part One : The Basics

It shouldn’t be a big secret that restaurants jack up the prices on wine. I’ve seen bottles marked up to two to three times what it would have cost me to buy the same bottle in a shop. While a 200% mark-up may seem ludicrous, the reality is that restaurants pay the rent with their wine (and liquor) sales – its hard to make much of a profit selling food, surprising as that may seem. Why bother with the quick lesson in restaurant economics 101? Because keeping that in mind is essential to successfully navigating a wine list!

Step 1: Wines by the glass

There are some great reasons for ordering wines by the glass rather than springing for the whole bottle:

• You, a sworn red drinker, are dining with an absolutely resolute white drinker, a compromise is nowhere to be found and god help you, you’d rather drink dishwater than rosé!

• Driving is an issue; you really only have the time and tolerance to get down one glass before you become a danger to yourself and everyone else on the road.

• You are feeling adventurous and not sure exactly what you’re in the mood for anyways. Maybe you want to have a different glass with your appetizer than your entrée, or maybe you’re just intrigued by a couple different options – the wines-by-the-glass menu is a wonderful place for exploration if you’re feeling curious.

• Every once in a while, there will be a fantastic wine sold by the glass – a wine that would otherwise be too expensive. In this case, go for it – it will be on the more expensive side for a single glass but sometimes just experiencing a great wine is worth sipping slowly.

All that being said, however, there are also some good reasons to skip the wines-by-the-glass page if none of the above apply:

• Generally, but certainly not always, the wines offered by the glass are usually lower end and not as good as everything else. That’s not always the case and a good wine director will offer decent, if not remarkable, wines by the glass.

• Remember that whole mark-up situation we talked about at the beginning of this little guide? I hate to tell you, but…it gets worse for wines by the glass. I’ve seen a glass of wine being sold for the price of an entire bottle if it was being sold retail.

• Depending on how many people are drinking, you’ll almost certainly get a better bang for your buck if you order a bottle – which typically gets you five glasses when poured correctly.


Step 2: Asking your server for guidance

Asking your server for help is always a good idea. That being said, keep in mind that, though they’re there to serve you, they’re also, in a lot of respects, salespeople working on behalf of the restaurant.

If you ask the waiter what he or she recommends without any guidance, they’re going to try to steer you towards the more expensive wines. That is their job. Instead, a better approach is to let your server know what you’re thinking of ordering food-wise, give them a brief run-down of things you like in a wine or any wines you can remember having that you know you liked, and do not be embarrassed to give your server a price range.

Lastly, listen to your server’s suggestions – a good server wants you to enjoy whatever you order. Don’t ask your server to go on and on about various wines if you have no intention of ordering them or if you’ve already made up your mind – it wastes their time and its annoying.

Step 3: Ordering your bottle

We’ve all found ourselves in the position of wanting to order a wine with a name we can’t pronounce. Rather than attempt to say it, we usually just hold the wine list up, point, and say, “That one.” While this is surely one way to order wine, it’s not the best way to do it.

• If you absolutely cannot even begin to comprehend the way to pronounce something look to the left of the name of the wine you’d like to order. Chances are it may have a BIN number attached to it and you are welcome to use that to order your wine.

Just try to say it and don’t be embarrassed if you bungle it – or try to find at least part of the whole description that you do know how to say along with the year attached to the bottle. If you can’t pronounce the year, I don’t know if I can help you.

Now, for wines that you do know how to pronounce it can be awkward figuring out which parts of those long title you need to read out loud and which parts can be left behind.  Here are a few examples:

5032  Louis Jadot ‘Clos des Ursules’ Beaune 1er Cru 2008

5015   Simon Bize ‘les Bourgeots’ Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru 2006

3718   Hendry ‘Blocks 7 & 22’ Napa 2006

3716   Robert Biale ‘Black Chicken’ Napa 2008

Each of the wines above list a wine-maker (Louis Jadot, Simon Bize, Hendry, and Robert Biale respectively), the name of the particular wine (‘Les Bourgeots’ and ‘Black Chicken’) or the vineyards from which the wine was sourced  (‘Clos des Urseles’ and ‘Blocks 7 & 22’), the region in which the wine was grown, and the year that the grapes were harvested (we’ll skip the 1er Cru for now – just know that its not important when ordering).

The best way to order each of these wines is to say the winemaker and the year, except for the ‘Black Chicken’ because its just plain fun to say. You can forget about all of the stuff in the middle unless you come across something like this:

3507             Bond ‘Pluribus’ Napa 2005

3543             Bond ‘Pluribus’ Napa 2006

3508             Bond ‘St.Eden’ Napa 2005

3544            Bond ‘St.Eden’ Napa 2006

In this case, you should read out as much as the information as you can to avoid any confusion with the waiter. Lastly, speaking of confusion – that thing the waiter does where they present the bottle? Pay attention! You want to make sure that they’ve brought you the wine you ordered, so make sure you look for the winemaker’s name, the year, and the name of the specific bottle you ordered. 

Step 4: Tasting your wine

When the server pours the wine for you to taste, take the time to actually try it. You’re not tasting it to see if you like it so much as you’re tasting it to make sure that it hasn’t been corked or otherwise compromised.

If you have the slightest suspicion that something’s not right, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask someone else at your table to taste it and if they agree, most likely, the waiter will take the bottle to a manager or wine person to taste, as well. They will replace the bottle if it is, in fact, bad.

Unfortunately, if you order a bottle that you taste and just plain hate, that’s not a good enough reason to send it back. Unless the wine has been grossly misrepresented by your server (another good reason to ask for their advice), not liking the wine you ordered is not a good enough reason to send it back.

Lastly, don’t sniff the cork. The reason that servers and sommeliers may do this is to make sure that the bottle hasn’t been compromised before they pour it for you – there is no reason to pick up the cork and put it to your nose after the wine has been poured.

Step 5: Enjoy!

Just don’t get sloppy, ok?


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