The DaVino Code: Wine 101 Advice
Tips and reflections from a wine school instructor.
Shari Schneider is the proprietor of Divine Bar, a wine and cocktail lounge located in midtown Manhattan as well as the founder of Vino-Versity, an educational wine program that offers both thematic wine tastings and 101 lectures (titled WINE BASIC TRAINING: Beginners Boot Camp). Says Schneider, a Cornell alumna who formats her lectures after the school's "Wines" course: "I felt compelled to teach the public ever since one of my customers said (after reading one of my Divine Bar menu wine descriptions indicating a "nuance of milk chocolate") that while she was interested in trying the wine, she couldn't because she was lactose intolerant." Below, Shari shares a few reflections and tips from the trenches. For more information on Vino-Versity and its 2009 roster, visit http://www.vino-versity.com.
Smell of Wet Dog, Anyone?
If you smell something akin to wet Labrador Retriever or wet cardboard in your wine, odds are it is Corked. This term describes a condition in which bacteria inside the cork interacts with the wine through contact and deteriorates and alters the fruit sugar. What's left is a musty or musky smell that's definitely a valid reason to return that wine for a new bottle. It is estimated that 10% of the world's wine—i.e. one in every ten bottles—has this flaw. But don't go overboard when trying to impress by returning every single "corked" bottle you taste, especially when you may be unwittingly tasting one with a screwcap instead of a cork. And while you're at it, you will have as much luck showcasing your wine savvy by smelling the odorless metal screwcap as you have been by smelling the odorless cork!
Walk on the Wild Side
Try to help celebrate the diverse and exciting world of wine by stepping a bit out of your comfort zone. Step outside the box (of wine) and you will discover a plethora of amazing flavors. You can travel a long way even with baby steps; instead of Pinot Grigio, try some Pinot Gris (pee-no GREE) from Oregon or a Tokay Pinot Gris (toe-KIGH pee-no GREE) from Alsace France for some astounding white wines. It so happens that these are the exact same grapes as Pinot Grigio grapes (Pinot Grigio is Italian, Pinot Gris is French) but because of geographical and agricultural variations, offer dynamically different flavors even though the grapes are identical!
Grapes of Many Names
Sangiovese is by far the most prolific grape grown in central Italy and is the main grape in Tuscan blends produced in a little town you may have heard of: Chianti. However, as the grape is produced in many regions throughout the country, its growers have renamed it to reflect its specific origin and agriculturally unique style and flavors. But at the end of the day, if you are drinking Prugnolo, Brunello, Morrellino, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, or Rosso Piceno, you are drinking Sangiovese (or a blend made with some Sangiovese.) And don't think this is exclusive to the Italians; in Spain, if you are drinking Tinto del Pais or Tinto Fino, you are essentially drinking the grape Tempranillo! Australian Shiraz? Yes, the exact same grape as Syrah.
For the Lactose Intolerant
When reading wine descriptions, it is vital to understand that the writer is merely choosing descriptive adjectives that indicate the smells or flavors most similar to those you already have in your mental rolodex. We say a wine reminds us of the "scent of violets" or tastes like "sweet pineapple," but that does not mean a can of Del Monte juice has been poured into the wine barrel. Unless you are drinking a bottle of fruit-infused Arbor Mist, winemakers do not add food or flowers to the wine. The molecular chemistry of the grape juice, the soil organics, and the wine-making influences give the wine its spectrum of flavor and bouquet.