Purple Elbows: April/May 2012

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Here’s to your health — and to not getting kicked out of a tasting room

Purple Elbows, by Richard Jones, PQ Monthly
Dear old Louie Pasteur called wine the cleanest and healthiest of beverages. Yeah, he pasteurized milk, but he didn’t pasteurize wine. Hey! It’s naturally healthy. Milk made Pasteur famous, but wine was his passion. Good choice! Just one catch: the health benefit comes with two qualifications. (1) Moderation. You knew that, didn’t you? But did you know that Mother Nature discriminates against gals? This has to do with gender and body fat. In short, ladies should limit themselves to about four or five ounces a day, while gentlemen can handle six or seven ounces. (2) These benefits increase when you combine wine with dinner. Wine helps you digest your dinner. One side note: well-paired wines and food can be the best event of your day. On the other hand, bad food-wine combinations can be worse than grandma’s improvised medicines. Let’s postpone food and wine pairings for another day.  

A few good practices on the winery trail

First rule: Designated driver. Let’s repeat that. Designated. Sober. Driver. Do as I say, o.k.? Second rule: No perfume, no aftershave lotion, no whiff of MeltaStove oven cleaner. Please! These things overwhelm delicate wine aromas. You put last week’s pay check in the gas tank? Let’s head for the fresh air of the vineyards and the cheery atmosphere of the tasting room. (Bring cash. Winery owners have to protect themselves from folks who confuse “wine tasting†with “a free drunk.†You need not look like a beginner — even if you are. No shame. Everyone had a first time. If you saw, “Sideways†you’re ahead of the game. Just avoid everything the actors did in the movie. Before you get your first pour, look around the room and locate the dump bucket. If you don’t see one, ask the hostess for one. If they don’t have one, try to locate a handy flower garden outside that looks as if it would be grateful for a few drops of pre-tasted Chardonnay. Memorize five words: Sight. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Savor. Spit. The color of the wine can give clues about it. So can the aroma. (Swirling wine in the glass helps.) A dozen messages come from the taste. Forget the exotic fruits wine writers love. Does it suggest fruit or not? Any oak? Spit? Well, you’re not just interested in swilling, are you? Big no-no — avoid the “Fill ‘er up†approach. Bad for your health. Yeah, I know what they did in “Sideways.†Next: the anatomy of a wine glass. Bowl, stem, base. That’s it. Don’t forget the stem. It serves a purpose. Really! Each wine has an optimum temperature. Most white wines taste best from 45° to 50°. If the winery ices them down — and they often do — wrap your hand around the bowl to warm the wine up a tad. If the wine is at a pleasing temperature, hold the glass by the stem. Makes sense, right? Generally, start your tasting with dry wines and leave dessert wines for the last. If you drink sweet wines first that will make all the dry wines that follow, even the greatest wines, taste bitter. Ask the hostess to suggest a sequence. Evaluation? Just the basics at first. Does it please you — or not? Unless your memory carries 12 gigabytes, making a few notes will help you remember which wines you liked — and which ones you dumped. Your notes could be helpful on your next wine-buying adventure. Believe your own taste buds. You are the world’s greatest expert on which wines you enjoy. Don’t let some huffy cork sniffer tell you what you should enjoy. Only you can decide that. Taste buds vary from person to person. Common courtesy calls for not blocking access to the pouring tables. And yes, you’ll meet some self-important bozos set on making it impossible for you get around them to get a sample. Be nice. Okay? Know when to stop. What goes though your mind when you see someone totally plastered? Would you wear a T-shirt advertising you as the Town Drunk? No, I didn’t think so. And that’s the reason to use the dump bucket. You can taste more wines without getting blottoed. Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it? Relax. Don’t rush. Enjoy wine — in moderation. That will probably add a few years to your life. You can live with that, can’t you? Now go out and enjoy every healthy moment.  
Richard Jones has imbibed a great deal of vino in his years as a winemaker, wine judge, wine writer, wine publisher, wine lecturer, and wine traveler. When he doesn’t have his nose in a glass, he works as a freelance reporter.