Wine snobs, wine frauds

Leave a comment

Sommeliers have an important role at high class restaurants–if you’re ordering an expensive glass of wine, you want it to pair well with your meal. Can a wine expert really judge wines objectively, though?

Several studies seem to prove that wine tasting is highly subjective. Sure, we all have different taste buds and thus it would make sense that no one can agree on which wine is the “best.” But it was surely quite upsetting for French oenophiles during the 1976 “Judgement of Paris” when 11 judges (9 of which were French) rated Californian wines as better than French wines in a blind taste test.

There’s something gratifying about American wines being just as good if not better than French wines. But we can’t rest on those laurels too much. A more surprising study had 40 wine tasters describe a glass of white wine and a glass of red wine. The judges praised the red wine’s jamminess and appreciated the “crushed red fruit” taste. Too bad for them the “red” wine was the exact same glass of white wine with red food coloring added. Not one judge recognized that it was white wine.

Moral of the story: if you’re drinking a glass of wine and you think it’s good–no matter the vintage, varietal, or vineyard–you’re right. Enjoy.

The process of aging

Leave a comment

Last weekend I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in Wisconsin. As a parting gift, his dad gave us a bottle of wine that had been sculpturally tipped atop a CD collection for a few decades.

I don’t know if this will be any good, he told us. It’s from 1978.

My eyes lit up, remembering stories of rare and expensive vintages. Doesn’t all wine get better with age? I asked.

Apparently not. The wine that we buy most commonly is made to be drunk within a few years at most, if not immediately. Other wine truths that I took as gospel are similarly misleading. Such as: white wine shouldn’t be served directly from the refrigerator. It’s mean to be served cooler than reds, but not cold. And when we say that red wine should be served at room temperature, apparently this doesn’t mean the temperature in your kitchen, but the temperature in your wine cellar. Ya know, that thing where you store all of your rare and expensive vintages.

But back to the bottle at hand: I googled “Does all red wine get better with age?” Yahoo helpfully provided this response: “Sorry, most wines do not improve with age. The most common ones that would age are the big bold and assertive reds — like Cabernet Sauvignon.” The 1978? A Cabernet Sauvignon. Commence the snobbish drinking party.

A good book and a glass of wine

Leave a comment

It’s storming here in the Twin Cities–a perfect night to curl up with red wine and a good book. But what to pair? White would be required for The Old Man and the Sea or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (on second thought, maybe skip the wine when reading Dr. Seuss). Interview with a Vampire or any of them Twilighty books would necessitate a full-bodied red. And maybe a good port for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Luckily, others have also taken on this challenge. A woman who wrote a book about wine offers some key suggestionsThe Grapes of Wrath with a California zinfandel; The da Vinci Code with an Italian chianti; Memoirs of a Geisha with saké.

An inspired Pinterest user has outdone even this list, though, by creating an entire pinboard devoted to specific vintages matched with books (however, most of the wines are from the same vineyard which makes me suspicious about her connection). So, for instance, she pairs the Tapeña Garnacha, which she deems inexpensive, yet tasty, with The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which is a book you can find in any airport bookstore, yet I’ve heard is quite good. Her favorite wine, the Bogle Merlot 2009, which she calls smooth and satisfying, pairs with Immortality by Milan Kundera, her favorite book.

If you could pair a wine with a book, what would it be?

How to be a oenophile

Leave a comment

What you’ll need: a good nose…both for smelling and lifting above other people

Songlist: Red, Red Wine by Bob Marley

Further Reading: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Drink: A Social History of America by Andrew Barr

First, an ode to a word. Oenophile. Somehow seeming both perverse and esoteric, an oenophile sounds like the kind of person who should be isolated from society for being a weenie. And that might not be so far from the truth.

A oenophile is, of course, a connoisseur of wines. For the cultured American, “knowing” wines is a standard for becoming even more cultured. Ah, to waltz into a French restaurant and order the best vintage of a fine, yet obscure grape with barely a glance at the menu (and certainly not the price). Is there anything classier?

I admit to knowing practically nothing about wines. I know that some are white and some are red. I know the red ones, especially cheap ones it seems, turn my lips an embarrassing purple. I know that if I drink enough of the white ones, I get a buzz that my boyfriend has dubbed my “white wine noise.” I know the rosés are so girly-looking that not even I will touch them. I could not tell you, however, basic information about varietals or flavors. I cannot smell the specific bouquet or taste the complexities of fine wines. I do not remember wines I like enough to order them again.

Sometimes I see this as a benefit. My standard for drinkable wine is whether or not its in front of me. Once while in France my friend and I bought what we thought was wine for 1 Euro, which in hindsight I think was vinegar. We still finished the bottle.

And yet. Last night I was at a French restaurant with my family for my birthday, and they were divided about which bottle we should order for the table. They left it to me to decide, as the birthday girl. I would have dearly liked to have an opinion. Luckily, the waitress stepped in with a recommendation that wasn’t on the menu. I went with her choice. And, for just a moment when she brought the bottle and turned the black and gold label to me, I felt important. She poured a bit into my glass, I swirled, I sipped, I contemplated. I nodded my head. And I thought: I could get used to this.

Now, if I could only remember the name of that wine…