So, in preparation for what has become an annual Holiday Wine Chat with Mandy Connell on 850am KOA/iHeart, I decided to provide a short primer on the wines and wine tools I will be discussing because it seems after the wine starts flowing and our faces get stuffed full of cheese, we always seem to run out of time.
Now for this particular show, I wanted to circle back to an article Mandy posted on her blog last month that, among other things, asserted that the whole cork service at your fancy pants restaurant is unnecessary (and elitist) and that you don’t need different glasses for different wines. While the article did dispel some of the more ridiculous aspects of the wine service and Downton Abbey-like class systems that exist within the wine world, the author also made several blanket statements that I took umbrage with, but these two were the ones that chaffed me the most. Mainly because I felt it did a disservice to the reader and, certainly, to the wines the reader may taste in the future. Allow me to explain.
Let’s first tackle the notion of the cork service provided by a sommelier (although I have seen some waitstaff also attempt it.) In the article, the author suggests it is an outdated process since no one knows what to do with the cork once it is out of the bottle and with so many wines now coming with a screw cap, it is an outdated and unnecessary tradition.
While one of the original reasons for performing this ritual was to show the head of the table that the wine ordered was not a counterfeit or fraudulent wine (the history and scandal surrounding fake wines persists today, despite industry efforts), it was not the sole reason. The condition of the cork can convey to the head of the table (or to an astute sommelier) a number of things about the wine being poured. How was it stored? Has the wine begun to break down, leaving sediment or even how the wine was made if there are “wine diamonds” from tartaric acid on the cork itself. (Wine diamonds may indicate the wine maker did not use cold stabilization so that sediment such as the tiny acid crystals can be removed…if there is evidence of wine diamonds, it could indicate a more delicately handled wine and thus to some, a better quality wine.)
For me, the main thing about examining the cork is it provides me the first clue as to whether a wine is corked or not. Now this article, (if you’d like to read it, find it here) suggests the cork service was never meant to have the head of the table (that is who should get the cork) sniff the cork. Well, perhaps not, but since 10% of wine produced that uses natural corks suffers from a condition caused by the chemical found in natural cork called trichloroanisole or, for southern speakers like me, TCA, perhaps giving the ole cork a good sniff isn’t a bad idea. A corked wine often has a wet dog or cardboard, musty smell and, while not harmful, certainly isn’t good and should be sent back. The smell only intensifies the longer the wine is exposed to air, so if wet dog is what you enjoy smelling during a romantic meal, who am I to judge? But for me, I am sending that wine back as soon as I smell it, either from the cork, where the smell is often strongest, or from when I am tasting the wine to make sure it isn’t corked (the author didn’t condemn that ritual, although there are lots of folks out there who are unsure about that part as well.) Which brings me to another point the author made that I disagreed with (to a degree)…wine glasses.
Now, when Mandy discussed this article, she found it refreshing that the author debunked the idea that the glass make any difference when it comes to wine tasting. The author suggested that it was all marketing and that there is not glass for specific wines. That is true. However, a quality glass can change the tasting (which also includes smelling) experience for those who seek that experience. If you are like my husband, who just wants to enjoy a good glass of wine that pairs well with his steak, then the glass may not matter at all (although even he has come around to having a good, quality wine glass versus glasses that look really pretty but are not well suited for a more in depth exploration of the wine.) And besides, the author completely left out Champagne flutes and why they are shaped the way they are…(it is to keep the bubbles bubbling up the flute.)
I am going to be bringing my absolute favorite wine glasses for Mandy to try the same wine (I chose a Bordeaux) to see if the experience changes for her…and compare it to some pretty looking wine glasses I am snagging from my mom’s house (she is not a wine drinker.) If you are looking for a wonderful gift for the wine enthusiast in your life who does consider glass selection important, I received this handblown crystal glass from a somm friend of mine and just bought it’s mate for the tasting tomorrow. Wonderful notes pop on your favorite wines with this gem of a glass. It is from Zalto, is their “Universal” glass, and warning…they are not inexpensive.
I also hope to cover some gift ideas with Mandy as well, if we have time. If we don’t, here they are and these are all commonly used in my own home.
First off is my Coravin. It is an amazing tool that uses a needle to pierce the cork (natural cork works the best…synthetic corks seem to leak after piercing) and then uses Argon gas to fill the bottle so that the wine isn’t touching air and beginning to oxidize. It is a great gift if there is only one wine drinker in the house, or if you simple want one more glass but don’t want to open another bottle. I love mine…but, it is on the pricey side and the Argon capsules are also not cheap.
The wine next to it is the bubbly wine I will be tasting on air with Mandy. I will cover that at the end of the blog…super excited to try it!
Up next in terms of fun gifts for the wine lover in your life is a great little stocking stuffer called the Soirée Wine Aerator. Unlike other aerators that simply go in one direction, this one swirls the wine as you pour, opening it up to the air, and then as it goes back into the bottle, introducing aerated wine into the bottle itself. And it is GORGEOUS on a bottle and really is fun to watch. We used this often during wine tastings to help those younger wines or wines that definitely needed to breathe to maximize how they were tasting. For a fun night, get some different wines and try them with and without the Soirée…trust me, you can tell the difference! I plan on trying this out on Mandy, too.
Finally, the two wines we will be trying tomorrow are perfect wines for your holiday celebrations (I also offered some suggestions here as well.) The bubbly pictured next to my Coravin is a Pétnat from Slovenia.
What is a Pétnat you ask? Well, it the term derives from the French phrase, pétillant naturel, which means “naturally sparkling.” So, you may be asking…how is that different from Champagne or Cava? Well, unlike it’s bigger brothers, who start from dry, finished wine (fermentation has already occurred), Pétnat is made by capturing the initial fermentation by-product of carbon dioxide by allowing the first fermentation to take place in the bottle. This was the method once used to make those first bottle of Champagne (until that monk came along and standardized things) and the process is referred to by some as methode ancestral. Once the process takes place, there is no controlling the wine itself, so every wine is a little unique and slightly wild. It can also be made from a wide variety of grapes, versus the traditional grapes used to make Champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.
This particular Pétnat is made from Furmint and comes from Slovenia…I am stoked to try it. Furmint also grows in Hungary, where Mandy’s tribe hails from, and this winemaker, Matic Zerjav, is producing his wine from grapes grown along the Hungarian and Austrian borders, so Mandy should feel right at home.
I also plan to let her try this Bordeaux in various glasses, with and without the Soirée, to see if either the glasses or the aerator improve the wine’s nose and pallet. It should be a fun segment!
One more comment on the article that inspired this whole discussion…the author really seemed to try and demystify the whole wine experience, which I wholeheartedly support. Wine tasting should be a wonderful, fun, and memory making experience (I also hate pretentious wine snobs, although I often find myself turning my nose up at certain wines and questions, if I am being completely honest…I am looking at you, Lodi.) However, in her declaration that “these wine rituals are elitist, their mysteries only available to the “pros,” while amateurs who don’t understand them fear opprobrium,” I am not going to lie…I had to look up the word “opprobrium” and envisioned her saying this with a Locust Valley lockjaw from my 1980s Preppie days, which kind of contradicted the whole anti-elitist slant of the article. (BTW…we sabered our Champagne when we graduated from culinary school…IT. WAS. AWESOME!)
Hopefully you will hear this segment on the 16 Dec 2020 Mandy Connell Show, but if not, catch it on her podcast at iHeart.