Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Food & Drink Faux Pas

Years ago I was told a tale about a young wife cooking a joint of ham.  It was something she did from time to time because her husband was particularly fond of ham.  Every time she did this she cut a piece off the corner of the joint and cooked it separately.  One day curiosity got the better of the husband and he asked why she did this.  His wife replied that it was how her mother cooked ham and she just did the same as her.  Refusing to be beaten he asked his mother in law the same question yet received the same answer – her mother had also done the same thing.  So it was that the husband directed the same question at his wife’s elderly grandmother and finally the mystery of the piece of ham cut off the joint before cooking was solved.  The grandmother told him that it wouldn’t fit in her pan otherwise.

I’m convinced that life is full of things like this, particularly relating to food and drink.  We do things without thinking and there are a few old habits that could do with breaking.  Here are some we’ve spotted:

Putting milk in scrambled eggs
It’s often said that scrambled eggs are easy to do, but difficult to do well.  Adding milk not only dilutes the flavour but makes them rubbery.  Perhaps the practice dates back to the days of food rationing when the eggs had to go a little further, but there is no reason to do this today.  If you want to add anything try a splash of double cream or butter to help the texture along.  Better still add an extra egg yolk as well for added richness.  Use a low heat, and turn it off before they’re done, the heat left in the pan will finish the job more slowly and widen the window when they’ll be just right!  Texture-wise you need to be short of “fully set” but nicely beyond “dog slobber”... 

Pricking sausages
Another habit from wartime perhaps – when meat was in short supply and your bangers were more likely to burst in cooking?  Maybe there was once some justification for sausage pricking, but not now.  If you prick a good sausage these days you just let out all the juices and your sausage will dry out.  If you think it’s the healthier option because you’re allowing some fat to escape then you might have a point I suppose, but if it’s the fat that worries you why did you buy sausages in the first place?  Sausages contain fat, deal with it. 

Cutting a cross in the base of sprouts
Supposedly done to aid the cooking process yet actually, if anything, you want to slow the cooking process down or you’ll arrive at a pile of green mush before you know it.  I hated sprouts as a lad, but they were so often overcooked and more grey than green.  Yuck. Nowadays I cook them in boiling water for just a minute or two, strain and plunge into iced water to stop them cooking further.  Only a few minutes before I’m ready to serve they go into a frying pan with a handful of pancetta cubes and some butter to both heat them through and give them some nice toasty edges.  They turn into little green toasty and crunchy nuggets of goodness which have converted hitherto hard-line sprout-haters.  If you cut a cross in the bottom before you cook them they overcook to slimy rather than remaining crunchy.

Vinegar on cabbage
A peculiarly East Anglian habit (or so it seems) which is employed by people who don’t like cabbage and don’t mind ruining the flavour of any wine that may be about by chucking vinegar all over the place.  If you don’t like cabbage fair enough (though you could try the aforementioned sprout technique of a frying pan or wok, some butter and a bit of decent bacon) but vinegar? It doesn’t belong on cabbage unless you’ve pickled it.

Keeping all red wine endlessly
It’s one of the questions we most often hear at wine tastings... “Will it keep?”...  Most of what we sell is ready to go now.  If you mean “will it get any better?” that’s a different (and more appropriate) question and the answer may well be “yes” but, just because it’s wine, why assume that you have to keep it for years before you can drink it?  In Australia the average time between a bottle of wine being purchased and being consumed is about 20 minutes.  Makes you think doesn’t it!  It’s almost certainly longer in the UK, but we do need to ditch the misconception that all wine must be kept.  With many wines, “keeping it” is the worst thing you can do, but you need to talk to the chap you bought it from and ask a sensible question such as “if I don’t drink this straight away, when should I be drinking it?”  I will confess to personally suffering from “Last Bottle Syndrome” though.  I have one bottle left of something that was really good, but delay opening it for far too long.  Usually this is because I’m looking for the right occasion, but all too often I realise that I’ve pushed my luck and missed my chance.

Adding salt to our meals before tasting the food
My finger is pointing at my Mother-in-Law here.  I like cooking and like to get it right.  I season as I go and constantly check flavours.  Unlike many, I always add a bit of salt to the water when cooking potatoes, rice or pasta so you don’t need to add more afterwards.  However, taste is a personal thing so I am quite happy to accept that, having tasted your food, you might want to add a little more seasoning.  That’s OK, carry on.  But my Mother-in-Law never tastes a thing on the plate which I have so lovingly prepared for her without first dumping a load of salt on it.  Bloody woman.  I now remove the salt from the table when she’s eating with us to prevent this.  I win (makes a change).

Keeping eggs in the fridge (or not, as the case may be...)
TV chefs tell us that we don’t need to, so why do fridge manufacturers put those little egg holder trays in the door?  We try to buy free range eggs.  Usually they come direct from the farm.  They are neither refrigerated in the shed that we collect them from, nor when they are still inside the chicken.  I guess central heating may be the problem and they last longer when kept cool (don’t we all).  Apparently this is because eggs contain a natural preservative which degrades over time and keeping them cool does slow that process down.  Makes sense I suppose.  I might go quietly on this one...

Opening a bottle of red to allow it to “breathe”
Actually this is usually quite a good idea, but just opening it and exposing an area of wine about the size of a 1p coin isn’t going to make a lot of difference.  If you’re going to bother opening it then at least take the time to get the air to it properly.  Decant it perhaps? Pour the wine into a jug and then pour it back into the bottle?  Just pouring a couple of glasses once you’ve opened it will make a massive difference, just pulling the cork won’t.

Over-chilling white wines
A trade customer once called us with a complaint, there was glass in his white wine and he wanted to send the whole lot back.  Further investigation revealed the “problem” to be tartrate crystals and a careful explanation was required.  The wines we stock are made by winemakers who take a “hands off” approach in both the vineyard and the winery.  They like to let nature do its thing and make the best wine they can.  They only offer their wines a gentle filtration (and many don’t filter at all) so that the wine you drink is as close as possible to that which nature intended.  More goodness and flavour remains than would be the case in the mass-produced stuff sold in the supermarkets.  The trouble with this is that red wines often throw a sediment and white wine, when chilled, might throw some tartrate crystals.  Both are harmless and actually both are a positive sign that the wine has not been over-fined or over-filtered.  Supermarkets will insist on these possibilities being eliminated at bottling (they can’t explain sediment or tartrates to customers you see) so their wines are given maximum filtration to remove this possibility (and most of their character too).  However, before you can filter out tartrate crystals you have to get them to precipitate and you do that by taking the wine down to quite a low temperature for quite some time, allowing the crystals to form, and then filtering.  The problem with the customer in question who complained was not the wine, but his fridge.  He’d been keeping his white wines in a food fridge set at 3 degrees Centigrade, which is just too cold.  Sorry, but it is.  At that level not only will the crystals form but you numb the wine to the point where it won’t taste of anything.  Only sweet whites need to be served as low as 4-6 degrees and fuller, dry whites really ought not to be much lower than cellar temperature (12-14 degrees Centigrade) with lighter, dry whites somewhere in between.  If you are a restaurateur and you’re keeping your white wines in the same fridge as you food, please stop.

Using the wrong glasses
Some (wine glass manufacturers mostly) will have you believe that you need a different shaped glass for each grape variety.  I’m unconvinced by this.  It needs to be the right size and shape certainly, but a different one for each grape variety?  That’s like telling me that I need a different pair of shoes for every trip out of the house (mind you, my wife does...). Personally, I’m looking for a glass of a decent size, with a stem, that allows me to give the wine in it a swirl to release its flavours, and a slightly tightening of the rim of the glass to hold the aromas in so I can enjoy those too.  No cut glass thank you.  No tumblers and nothing too small either.  If you have any Paris goblets in your house please throw them away.

Overfilling wine glasses
If you overfill the glass you won’t be able to enjoy the wine as much.  You need to swirl it, savour it, and allow it to develop its flavours.  Mind you, underfilling is probably worse...

Not being adventurous enough
My problem is that I don’t eat out often enough which means that when I do I tend to stick to the things I know I will enjoy.  This, in turn, means that I’m not sufficiently adventurous with my menu choices – I’d rather be safe and happy than adventurous and risk disappointment.  People have the same problem with wine of course and sometimes things are fashionable because they’re fashionable, like Prosecco where flavour appears eventually when you buy a good one, but I’m buggered if I can see what all the fuss is about otherwise.  Pinot Grigio? Same problem.  More interesting and characterful alternatives of both exist, if only people were bold enough.  I call it “Indian Restaurant Syndrome” – all that choice and I’m having the bloomin’ Jalfrezi again...

Getting the wine choice wrong
Look, wine is made first and foremost as an accompaniment to food.  French wines especially evolved alongside the gastronomy of their own native regions.  The same is true of Spain, Italy and the rest of Europe.  The New World are still catching up.  We are well advised not to bugger this arrangement up by trying to drink red with the seafood from the mouth of the Loire – the locals invented Muscadet for precisely that purpose.  Yes, I know you might prefer red wine, but you’ve got a Dover Sole on your plate (you idiot)...  Be guided, don’t force food and wine partnerships that are just plain daft.   It’s not as simple as red with meat, white with fish, there’s a bit more flexibility than that, and you can be creative as long as you’re still sensible.

Putting ketchup on everything (you know who you are...)
Claimed, by the older generation, to be the best way to get young children to eat their vegetables.  I have to say that it seems to work, though the downside is that they grow up thinking that the world tastes of ketchup and missing out on all those delicious flavours which your kitchen department spend hours creating.  For the same reason the Queen thinks the world smells like paint, because wherever she goes has just been given a fresh coat ahead of her visit...

Making coffee with boiling water
Please don’t do this, it burns the coffee apparently and brings out the bitter flavours.  Tea is a different matter, in fact freshly boiled water is best but it’s a no no for coffee.

Buying pre-grated cheese
I bet you’ve seen them too, on the supermarket shelves, bags of pre-grated cheese.  What’s all that about?  How hard is it to grate a bit of cheese?  You have a grater in the cupboard right? and cheese is a standard item you keep in stock in your kitchen?  So why the hell do you need to buy pre-grated cheese?  It’s just lazy.  I was thinking of starting a campaign to rid all shops of pre-grated cheese but it looks like Donald Trump has beaten me to it.  I heard him only the other day saying that he wanted to “Make America grate again.”

Confusing “this is bad” with “I don’t like it”
As wine merchants we are very clear on the difference between these.  We have to be.  We do a lot of tasting, and I mean A LOT.  We reckon that we taste 30-40 wines for every one that makes it into our selection, even if only briefly.  We weed out the poor, dull, bad value and just plain boring ones so you can be confident that anything that we put our name to is a good example of its type at its price.  So, please don’t tell us that one of our wines is poor.  You might not like it but that’s not the same thing, and not liking it is perfectly acceptable.  Odd as it may seem, we do actually list a few wines which we don’t actually like ourselves, but which we still recognise as good wines.   It is perfectly possible to not like Shakespeare, or cabbage, but just because you don’t like them doesn’t automatically make them bad.

Right, it’s your turn now.  Can you think of any other examples?

 

 

Friday, 3 February 2017

What Is It With Gravy Granules...?


Several years ago I read an excellent article by one of my favourite TV chefs, Nigel Slater.  It was about gravy with an understandable focus on the Sunday roast.  He recounted tales from his childhood of his mother making “proper” gravy, starting with the meat juices, maybe cooking off a bit of veg in them (onion especially) then adding and cooking out some flour before straining some cooking liquor (usually veg water).   What resulted was a sauce that was a natural accompaniment to the meat (whatever it happened to be) because the predominant flavour of that sauce was the meat itself.  Slater described the gravy as “belonging” to the dish.  Being a chef of course he also suggests a few possible “tweaks” to add even more character – roasting a couple of garlic cloves to squish into the sauce, a pinch of fresh herbs or even spices maybe, and dare we suggest a slug of wine?  But the point being that, because of its origins, your sauce will still be a natural match, be a better enhancement to the dish and provide more enjoyment.  It makes sense doesn’t it!

Crucially, it is also very easy to do.  The meat has to rest for a bit, and you may have some roast potatoes to wait for so what better way to fill those spare few minutes than preparing the prefect sauce to compliment your roast?  Given this, why is there a market for gravy granules?  My bet is that most people have everything in their store cupboards to make the perfect gravy, yet people willingly spend money buying this superfluous culinary abomination to make a less good sauce.  Why?  Surely it can’t be because all you have to do is just add water?  That’s essentially all you need to do to make gravy properly!

What worries me is that it’s not our cooking techniques which have become lazy as much as our tastebuds.  As one well-known regional brewery says on its advertising (as a taunt to drinkers of bland eurofizz) “Afraid you might taste something Lagerboy?”  Have decades of carvery lunches left our culture with an unnatural desire to cover all varieties of roast meats in a homogenised gloop because we’re frightened of real flavour?

Some wines encourage lazy tastebuds too.  I’m thinking of the mass-produced, pleasant enough (hopefully) but entirely forgettable easy-to-drink anonymous hooch which was probably on a “half price” deal at the local supermarket.  The customer is chuffed because they think they’ve got a deal, the producer is chuffed because, frankly, that’s the only way they’re going to shift it, and the supermarket doesn’t care as long as they get your money one way or another.  If the vast spectrum of wines from all over the world could be compared to the seven colours of the rainbow then supermarket wine ranges tend to occupy about 10% of “green”.  That’s the safe area right in the middle which doesn’t ask too many questions.  Wine for the masses if you like, with flavours you won’t notice unless you’re really concentrating (which you won’t be – it was half price after all).  The reds are bereft of any tannin to the point where UK palates now incorrectly seek to avoid it and the whites will have had a character bypass lest any flavour should offend anyone.  These bottles are vinous equivalent of lift music or the Morris Ital – those with low expectations will be fine, everyone else with be either disappointed or annoyed.  Possibly both.

Of course, we would say that wouldn’t we.  After all, we have a more exciting range of wines made by people with passion and enthusiasm (as opposed to a clipboard and calculator) many of whom fly by the seat of their pants in their constant strivings for that extra bit of excellence.  They want to make something you’ll notice and remember.  You might have had to part with a quid or two more for the experience, but they (and we) want that extra to be worth it, after all, if we didn’t think it was we wouldn’t be selling the stuff in the first place would we!  Generally speaking your extra quid or two goes on flavour and you’ll enjoy it all the more.  It’s a bit like making your own gravy really, ditch the mediocre and go for something that you can have real pride in.   It really isn’t that big a step you know.

Monday, 12 December 2016

We Don't Sell Mead...


My local Chinese Take-Away sells Chinese food.  This may seem rather an obvious thing to say, but my point is that they know their market and they stick to what they are good at doing.  You wouldn’t dream of going in there and asking whether they sell pizzas.  Based on our experience I bet someone has though!  The festive season does seem to generate some odd requests for retailers and I guess Wine Merchants cannot expect to be immune from these.  People seem to think we are the likely source of all sorts of interesting stuff...

I suppose it’s only reasonable that customers should ask, because many retailers do add to their product ranges at this time of year so unexpected items do crop up in unusual places.  After all, garden centres sell beer.  Supermarkets sell insurance and the latest statement from our bank came with a wine offer enclosed (thanks chaps...).

We always keep a mental note of requests for things we don’t stock (a) because you never know, we might be missing a trick (b) for our own amusement and (c) to give a quiet nod of approval to the most unusual request by the end of the year.

Currently the all time winner is a request, a few years ago now, for soap powder.  To this day we are still confused by that one.  There was a rather touching request for cocktail cherries from a dear old chap one Christmas who had clearly spent days scouring the town for some. They were evidently a specific request from his wife and, being an attentive husband, he was determined to find some. He struggled up our steps, wheezed his way into the shop, and popped the question.  We explained that sadly this was not a line we sold.  A good-natured “Bugger!” was his only response though we did point him to a local supermarket where we felt he may find success.  He passed the shop again on his way home giving a cheery “thumbs up” having presumably secured his prize elsewhere.

We are frequently mistaken for an Off Licence and enquiries for cold beers (in the summer) and tobacco are not uncommon.  We don’t really want to sell either.  Advocat anyone?  No... I thought not.  Yes, I know we sell olive oil, but wine and olive oil go hand in hand from the land they’re grown on and through production.  Frequently they are made by the same people, so it sort of makes sense.

Way out in front this year are three requests for mead, all in the last fortnight (so no demand outside the festive season then).  Sorry chaps, it’s a bit off our plot, try your local castle (no, seriously, it’s the sort of stuff English Heritage sell next to ye olde plastic knights helmets and the wooden arrows with the little rubber suckers on the end).  Wine is our thing you see; we love it.  Can’t get enough of it.  Would stock more lines but there isn’t room.  However, we do add a bit to our range at Christmastime, specifically with Christmas menus in mind.

We’ve already flagged up the Mourat wines (some of the Pinot Noir will hopefully be coming my way for the Christmas table) but here’s another new find which would be the perfect partner for those who prefer a fuller red with their turkey, chicken or goose.  Valpolicella Ripasso, a generous red with richness and a bit of oak nicely balanced by fresh red cherry fruit.  It’s on the website now, along with the other 450+ lines we have currently available.

I’ll finish with an account of possibly the most frustrating request we have ever had.  A chap came in the other day saying “I’ve looked at your website and can see that you have a fantastic range of over 400 wines, all individually tasted and selected by you.” (well spotted, full marks so far Sir...) “I wonder... can you get Blossom Hill?”...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Bathroom Wine Rack


Shower time for the short sighted needs to run on rails.  Once my specs are off I regard myself as virtually blind – especially at that time of the morning – and the stuff I need has to be in predictable places.  Sponge, shower gel, towel... This morning I found myself, wet and blind, with no shower gel.  Bugger.  So out of the shower I got, dripping water onto the bathroom floor, scrabbling around like Mr Magoo in the cabinet where further supplies are usually located.

The problem is that there are females in the house.  Daughter is away at university (and I have enjoyed seeing the resulting expanse of vacant flat surfaces in the bathroom that this has created) but much of that which would be out on display when she is in residence has been put away for safekeeping in the cupboard where the shower gel usually lives so there’s more to hunt through in there than one might expect.  I found shampoo, body butter, facial scrub, handwash (that would do wouldn’t it?) moisturiser, hand cream, conditioner, suncream, after sun... I sensed the trail going cold.  Second cupboard then; baby powder, baby lotion (er...) crème bath, bath foam, anti-perspirant, deodorant, insect repellent, bite ease... trail going cold again. 

There’s always that intriguing bar of fruit soap of course, but it’s new, unopened and seems to have been made by English Heritage. For all I know I might be earmarked as a Christmas present for someone we don’t like.   Besides, I don’t really want to go to work smelling like synthetic mulled wine...

There was only one thing left to do and that was resort to the final cupboard to where all the mini shower gels and shampoos migrate; collected from hotel and B&B stays but never actually finished.  Here there was an assortment of sponges and other body scrubbing devices but buried at the bottom was indeed a selection mini bathroom products.  Mostly shampoo and conditioner only of course, so still no joy.

Eventually I located a part-used mini shower gel which at least solved the immediate problem.  I then made sure that I put it back afterwards though so that the missus, who would surely face the same challenge in an hour or so, would automatically unearth the secret stash of shower gel which surely exists somewhere but I was unable to locate.  She’s efficient you see, so we won’t have run out, it’s just that I couldn’t find what I needed when I needed it.  Hmmm, maybe we have run out?

Domestic wine racks are like this.  You thought there was a bottle of fizz in there for Christmas morning but when you went to pop it in the fridge on Christmas Eve it wasn’t there.  Had you already drunk it?  Had you taken it to that party last month and forgotten to replace it?  And what about some decent wine?  A quick check through the rack reveals some stuff you like but don’t think it quite good enough for the occasion concerned.  Then there are the bottles that guests have brought for you which you’ve not yet been brave enough to open... Did they spend time choosing these especially for you, or were they the free bit of the latest Dine In for £10 deal which they didn’t fancy either?  There’s the better stuff at the bottom of course, but is it ready yet? Or is it already too old?  There does seem to be a growing selection of “bottles to cook with” and it’s Christmas for goodness sake.  These really won’t do!

It doesn’t have to be this way you know.  Just get organised.  Lay in some decent bottles and make sure you label them so they don’t get drunk by the rampaging hoards of returning university students... Check stocks regularly and, crucially, allow yourself the enjoyment of a really good tidy up from time to time when you can open those bottles that you think might be too old and occasionally come across one that isn’t and is really surprisingly good.  Free up space for some new acquisitions and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.  Then you’ll have what you need, when you need it.  Once you’ve done that you can chuck out all those part used jars of body butter and bath creme from the bathroom.  If you’re brave enough!

 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Jeremie Mourat

Some of you may remember the wines of a producer called Mourat who has his vineyards in the Vendée in western France.  We have stocked them twice before and each time they have met with universal approval.  They were dumpy bottles with a stylised picture of an owl on the label and showed liveliness and freshness across the range.

Delicious as we all found them, these are actually Jeremie Mourat’s entry level wines which speak volumes for the more specialised varieties further up the scale.  We have brought in three such wines which we tasted earlier this year and simply could not resist.  They are not exactly cheap - high quality never can be - but they are worth every penny. 

Jeremie Mourat

Jeremie clearly has something of a gift; not only is he a fine, non-interventionist winemaker, but he knows his vineyards in their considerable variety and matches the differences in geology and micro-climate to the right grape.  His methodology is beautifully natural; the best winemakers work with nature, guiding and monitoring the processes rather than trying to force the pace.  Respecting the fruit and encouraging it to give of its best is what Jeremie’s skills are all about and this classy, finely tuned trio reflects his fastidious standards in impressive style.

Le Moulin Blanc

If your favourite wine is a 15% abv, thumping Shiraz with all the subtlety of a flying brick these may not be the wines for you.  However, if you enjoy refined flavours, clever wines for food where elegance counts for more than brute force, these could be right up your street. 

 
The Mourat Winery
 
The Wines

Behaving like an exquisitely balanced dry Vouvray, this is an exemplary expression of this delicious grape with green apple freshness and lightly honeyed ripeness, for an incisive palate with complexity and mouthwatering zip.  Delicious with fish, shellfish and free-range fowl.  Organic.

A pretty colour and a pretty nose too with the youthful impression of fresh grapeskin and enticing notes of raspberry fruit.  The palate is so clean, fully ripe with a gently juicy texture held beautifully by a little mild tannin for structure and the reappearance of that grapeskin note on the finish.  Drink with feathered game, roast ham or turkey.  Organic.

From a south facing vineyard close to the river, the conditions here are perfect for the development of noble rot.  The mineral geology makes its way to the finished wine where, with the natural acidity of the grape, it is at once medium sweet yet tangily fresh with barley sugar botrytis, a little fresh ginger and a whiff of candied pineapple.  Fresh, clean, rich but zingy, try it with fruit or not too sweet crème brulée.  Organic.

 

Friday, 7 October 2016

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one; you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one;
you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!