Going on holiday is what most people look forward to all year. However there is the one issue we all have. When meeting someone new on holiday and they ask, “What do you do?”.
At this point it is often better to lie. If you say doctor or nurse you’ll be asked medical opinion, say teacher and you’ll be asked about standards of learning and behaviour. There are very few jobs that people won’t want to interrogate, except maybe engineer!
When I disclose I am a sommelier I get those questions too. So on the very off chance I meet you on holiday, or you meet another sommelier, here are the most commonly asked questions and the answers best given. This means that at least you can move onto the next question of holiday, “Have you been here before?”
Q1. What should I do when asked to test the wine in a restaurant?
A1. Look at it in the glass. Is it clear and can you see through it? Then sniff it. You should smell fruit, a fruity smell. Then swirl it and sniff again, the smell should be stronger. Then taste it. If it doesn’t taste pleasant to the mouth. If it doesn’t you are well within your rights to order a replacement. A good restaurant won’t be too upset. That bottle will go back on the shelf and be used for by the glass sales!
Q2. Why do wines need to breathe?
A2. They don’t, they can’t breathe as they are only a liquid! In fact, once a wine comes into contact with oxygen it starts to deteriorate. Leaving a bottle open for an hour before dinner will not improve it one little bit. So don’t. Give the wine a little swirl in the glass will do just enough to help raise the scent and flavour as you are drinking it.
Q3. What’s decanting wine all about?
A3.History. Historically wine never used to be as well made as it is today. Still today some wines develop a deposit in the bottom of the bottle. It’s nothing to worry about, just a part of the evolution of the wine in its life cycle, if you drink it, it won’t kill you, however!If you are having an old full bodied red wine and think there maybe sediment issues, stand it up for 24 hours prior to pouring and let it settle at the bottom of the bottle and then when pouring, pour carefully. If you pour the wine over a candle flame, where the bottle narrows into the neck of the bottle, [or torch app on your mobile phone] you’ll see the sediment approaching the neck. If you have a decanter, fine, use if, but they aren’t necessary. Just part of the theatre of the service.
Q4. Is ‘House wine’ ever worth having?
A4 In a good restaurant, when you are on a budget, yes is the answer. In fact more thought needs to go into the House Wine than any of the other styles. It has to pair with a wide range of dishes and will have been selected to appeal to a wide range of customers.
Q5. Why do people smell their wine first?
A5. To check if it’s gone off. Sometimes a wine can just go bad in the bottle, it happens. Sometimes the wine is just well described on the wine list and actually isn’t well made. Your nose will tell you. The first, and very simple rule of nose is, if you can’t smell fruit then something could be wrong. Proceed with caution.
Some wines have distinctive aromas but all wine that is fit for drinking should smell of fruit.
Sometimes the question of “Is this wine corked?” arises. Corked doesn’t mean there are bits of cork in the wine, that’s just bad opening skills. It actually means the wine is not fit for drinking at all. The smell should remind you of a long stored, wet, male sports kit bag. It will make you want to recoil. Imagine wet, sweaty, teenager, rugby kit bag, left forgotten for a week near a radiator, then opened to see what’s in the bag! That’s corked.
Q6 Is it true you can’t drink red wine with fish?
A6. No. Of course you can. You might just need to choose a wine that’s light. This doesn’t mean in colour but in tannins. Tannins are the chemical elements in wine that dry the mouth out. Fish such as salmon and tuna would go really well with a red wine from a cool climate country, such as cabernet franc or pinot noir. Keep to a light fruity red wine and all will be fine.
Q7. Is it true you should serve red wine at room temperature?
A7. That depends on the room in all actual fact! Many people live in rooms equipped with central heating or in countries where the weather is warm naturally. Red wine tastes best at temperatures between 11-17c. It should always indicate on the bottle what temp it prefers to be served at. Place the bottle of red into the fridge about 20 mins before serving if the room/house temperature is above 16c. The bottle should always feel cool to the touch compared to the room you are in.
Q8. Is it true some wines give worse hangovers?
A8. No. Hangovers are caused by dehydration, caused by drinking too much alcohol and not enough water. The wine should be chosen and drunk to complement the meal and the water drunk to cleanse the palate, and rehydrate the body. If you don’t drink water you will have a hangover as alcohol is a diuretic and withdraws water from the body. Please never accuse the wine, it is the drinker’s choice to over indulge.
Q9. Is it ok to keep my wines in the fridge?
A9. Not really. If they are unopened and not going to be drunk that day, it’s not the best place. Same goes for red. If you are the sort of person who stores their wine, then try to find a cool place out of the light to store them away from strong smells and vibrations.
Cellars stored wines at 11-13c so that’s all it needs to be stored at. Pop your white into the fridge for an hour to bring it down to 8-10c and sparkling wine for 90 mins to come down to 3-6c.
If the wine isn’t finished at that meal, close the bottle and keep it in the fridge overnight.
Q10. Can I use the freezer to chill my wine in an emergency?
A10.Yes, but with care! If you think these emergencies happen often, invest in a wine chill sleeve and keep that in the freezer. Slide the wine into it and that’ll bring the wine to chill quickly. If these emergencies don’t happen often enough wrap the bottle in a wet tea-towel and place in the freezer for 10 mins. The damp tea-towel will chill the bottle quicker than just the freezer.
Q11. Do you like chardonnay?
A11.Poor old Chardonnay. Gets a lot of negative press. That’s a real shame. Firstly, chardonnay is the name and variety of a grape. This grape grows well in nearly all wine growing regions. It’s a very useful grape as it will do whatever the winemaker wants it to do. Three of the worlds most prized white wines are made from chardonnay; Chablis, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. It is also a vital ingredient in the champagne making process. Cheaply made wines made with this grape have tended to live off its name, but they are cheap wines for a reason. Don’t blame the grape. Good Chardonnay wine is fantastic. Try one. So the answer is, “Yes, but not all of them.”
Q12. What’s your favourite wine?
A11.To be a favourite, the wine has to be with a memorable meal, on a memorable occasion and with memorable company, and as a result I have too many favourites to re-call accurately.
If you’ve a question that didn’t pop up here, follow me on twitter and ask it!
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