I’m taking a wine appreciation class. It’s four, two-hour sessions offered by the Life-Long-Learning Institute at Wash U. When I told my kids, I had signed up for the course, they laughed.
“Why would you do that?” they asked. “You only drink a half glass of wine once or twice a week.”
I shot back. “Well, why should others have all the fun of being obnoxious in restaurants and at dinner parties, sniffing corks, swishing vino, and scanning labels into a phone app?. I can learn to do that, too.”
My Wine Saga
My family reconsidered my need for wine schooling after I reminded them of what I did at a White House dinner party in the 90s. I was sitting next to a cabinet undersecretary of something, who kept complaining about the quality of the wines being served.
When he became overwrought at having a Cabernet and Chardonnay sitting before him, but not the rosé he had ordered, I couldn’t restrain myself. I reached over and poured his red wine into his white and said, “Now you have rosé!” It was a simple sandbox solution, the sort that mothers use all the time to resolve childish behavior. It brought smiles to the table and he didn’t speak to me the rest of the evening.
My kids nodded. “Yep, Mom, you’re definitely a prime candidate for sommelier boot camp.” I enlisted.
Having a Glass in the Class
I was expecting our teacher to be a wine snob. Maybe wear a monocle and a cravate. Au contraire! Stan Komen, a longtime wine purveyor, wore a plaid shirt and was very down to earth. When asked how we should consider the point system assigned to wines in stores, he replied that it was just somebody’s opinion.
“The most important thing is what YOU like,” he said, “no one can tell you that.” Whew! What a relief. I don’t need to apologize for enjoying Missouri wines anymore.
What Did You Learn?
I’ve completed two of the four classes. Here’s some of the pointers I picked up so far. Pour yourself a glass and read on:
- Don’t buy the house wine in a restaurant. It’s too often bought in bulk. Buy a name brand.
- Argentina, Portugal, and Chile are making very good red wines.
- A screw cap does not necessarily mean a cheap wine.They’re okay on wines that are not meant to age.
- There are 3 kinds of wine: Still, no bubbles; Sparkling, with trapped bubbles; and Fortified, such as Sherry, Ports, Marsala, and Madeira to which brandy has been added.
- The US is the 4th largest wine producer in the world, but the biggest consumer. The District of Columbia consumes the most wine per capita in America.
- Hold a wine glass by the stem, not the bowl, so as not to warm the wine with your hand. A Port wine, however, prefers a warm hand on the bowl.
- A bad wine cork will smell like wet cardboard or a moldy basement.
- Tulip-shaped glasses are used to better focus a white wines, since they have less aroma than other reds.
- Aerate red wine by the glass, not into a decanter.
Take Another Sip and We’ll Continue . . .
- White wines can be refrigerated for 3-4 days before starting downhill; reds begin losing flavor after 5-10 days.
- To keep Champagne after opening, drop the handle of a silver spoon in the open bottle—though there is still some disagreement as to whether or not this really works. Strangely, Very Brut has more sugar than the non-sugar Brut Champagne.
- Use your old wine for vinegar to make salad dressings, marinades or tenderizers.
- Store wine in a dark, isolated place with a steady temperature, such as the back of a closet.
- Cheese is to wine what cream is to coffee. Salads, on the other hand, don’t go well with wines.
- Most people drink red wines too soon. A Cabernet, for instance, should be aged a few years.
- Sulfites, a natural part of wine production, keeps the wine stable.
- You can serve both red and white wines chilled. (Remember room temperature was about 55 degrees in those European castles.) Put a red wine in the refrig for about 10 minutes; whites for one hour.
- Grapes don’t need fertile ground to thrive. Their roots prefer to struggle in ugly soil. Northern California is good for grapes, because there is little rain in the summer. Same is true of Argentina, where they get about 6″ of rain a year.
You probably know all these wine tidbits, but much of what we learned was new to me. I even discovered that blending red and white wines is one way of making a rosé. Apparently, I was a head of my time when I attempted the same thing at that White House dinner years ago.