I love to drink and, when it comes to beer, I like to think that I'm somewhat of a connoisseur. I'm good at picking out beers for friends based on their preferences. I'm often able to determine the type of hops in the beer I'm drinking. I'm a WHIZ at looking down at you for drinking shit beer. Recently, I've been going to Terroir a lot more and you'd think that by frequenting a wine bar, I'd at least try out some wines & get a feel for them. Nope. They have a solid beer selection so, like an asshole, I've just stuck with beer.
This past weekend, Terroir launched a series of hour-long wine classes with different teachers that they're holding twice every Saturday for the next five weeks. The first one was on Saturday, a "Wine 101" of sorts led by the founder of Terroir and the 2012 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional, Paul Grieco. Since I don't know shit about wine and dude's apparently winning awards for his passion for wine, I made sure I was there.
The classes are nice & intimate, set up around their twelve-person chef's table in the back, where they laid out glasses of six wines--three white and three reds--for each of us. Out of those six wines, there were two each from France & Italy (a red & a white), a white from Greece and a red from California.
When I arrived, yeah I'd had a handful of beers the previous evening & yeah I'd finished a beer at Zito's whilst killing time before the class & yeah I hadn't eaten a "proper breakfast" & yeah I have a "short-term memory issue," but I was determined to retain some info for my $20...then I sampled six half-glasses of wine in just over an hour. Details are sketchy at best.
Paul regaled us with a shit-ton of history along the way, which was pretty cool. Did you know that wine was invented by velociraptors during the time of Adam & Eve? TRUE STORY. Anyway...here are seven ACTUAL things I sorta managed to remember:
Grapeland - I know that America fucking kicks ass & stuff, but when it comes to grapes & wines, there's no such thing as an American wine grape. Nope. Not at all. Sure there are grapes that are native to the U.S. but when it comes to making wine, they all suck. American wines might be made with grapes grown here in the states, but none of them are native to the U.S...sort of like most of our population, I suppose. Fitting.
Swirling for ABVs - You know when you see wine geeks swirling their wine in the glass before taking a sip? Turns out there's a scientific reason for that...something about physics & aromatics & getting oxygen & flavors going or some shit. More importantly, as a general rule, when you swirl your wine & it runs back down the side of the glass, the slower it descends, the higher the ABV. Quick & clean...you'll need more, Gene. Slow & steady...you’re in drunk town, Betty.
45 Degrees - Wine geeks also like to hold their glass up & see how goddam pure the wine is. If you ever see somebody holding their glass up to the light, smack said glass from their hand with force and make them ask the barkeep for a dust pan. Holding a wine glass up to a light won't give you a clear background to judge against. When attempting to assess the clarity of your wine, you should hold the glass at a 45 degree angle away from you, preferably against a white background. This clarity has something to do with the quality of the wine, although I don’t remember what exactly, because both the lightest white & the darkest red tasted cool to me.
Age vs. Color - With the six wines we tried, it was crazy how much of a difference there was in color, even amongst the three whites & three reds. Turns out that this has a lot to do with age. Sure there are exceptions but basically, white wines get more golden with age and red wines get more of an amber hue. In this case, the 2011 Brichino Grenache we tried was a vibrant & translucent purple-red & the 2008 Reverdito Barolo had an almost orange tint to it. The two 2009 whites we tried were more golden & darker than the 2011 white.
Sniffles McGee - Since you can’t fuckin' hear wine, the powers of touch are limited and ESP hasn't been invented yet, you're basically working with three of the six senses when it comes to evaluating a wine. The most important one may be the sense of smell. Sure your sense of taste is pretty damn crucial to the whole process but take it from me--a smoker--having a diminished sense of smell sucks & it was definitely evident this past Saturday when I was trying to evaluate aroma (fruit scents) & bouquet (everything else). When evaluating a wine, you're supposed to really shove your schnozz in the glass, take a few quick sniffs and pull back, which, to be clear, does not mean "take three quick sniffs & then down some wine." I was scolded for doing so.
Use Your Tongue - With wines, for the most part, you're working with three of the five tastes--sweet, bitter & sour. If you really want to take in all the varied flavors that wines have to offer, it's best to remember we tend to taste sweetness on the front of the tongue, bitter in the back, and sour on the sides. When taking a sip, if you really focus on what sensations you're getting where on your tongue, you can better evaluate a wine's qualities. Close your eyes if you have to. Nobody will laugh at you. Oh ha! You just spilled wine all down the front of your shirt! Now we're totally laughing at you.
Don't Forget to Breathe - The best trick I learned all day was that by taking in a small breath over the tongue immediately after taking a sip of wine, you can seriously enhance its flavors. I guess drawing in a breath stimulates the taste buds or some shit. I mean, it's just amazing the way a little breath of air over the tongue brings out the flavors and frankly, I'm ashamed that I never figured out that I could do this before. As such, since Saturday, I've extended the practice to any and all beverages that pass my lips.
The upcoming classes (full list here) each focus on a specific wine, with the March 23rd class focusing on Pinot Noir, which Terroir describes as "the Lindsay Lohan of grapes." Hopefully she won't be dead by then and that description will still be funny.
Read way more from Shawn at eatdrinksnack.com and eatdrinktaco.com.