Monday was Introduction to Wine and Tuesday was Wine and Food, both taught be JB Severin of The Wine House in West L.A.
Introduction to Wine
Champagne: To uncork you twist the bottle (unlike my usual struggles to free the cork). The pressure inside the bottle will "walk" the cork out of the bottle. Also, if your champagne is fizzing, it's not quite cold enough. Champagne is a geographic designation - it must come from Champagne, France to legally use the designation (more about that here). They also have a very particular method of producing Champagne that must be adhered to. Otherwise, the correct term is sparkling wine.
Wine: When pouring wine, never fill a wine glass higher than its widest point. This exposes the maximum surface to air. Grapes are ideal for making wine due to their high percentage of liquid, but anything that sugar ferments can be used, including plums, berries and honey.
The deciding factors in which wine to serve are what food you're serving it with and whether or not the taste appeals to you.
Weather is a huge factor in the outcome of the grape harvest. Rain at the time of picking is the kiss of death, because when it rains, grapes dump their sugar into the plants vines. A bad year for wine is almost always the result of rain.
That whole sniffing the cork thing? It should smell like cork and wine. Seriously.
You also want to check that the branding on the cork matches that of the bottle.
Hold your wine glass by the stem so that body heat from your hands doesn't effect the wine. Make a visual inspection of the wine. One of the things JB had us do was to see if we could read our handouts through the wine. There is almost no Pinot Noir that you can't read through.
Swirl the glass (this aerates the wine and helps get the fruit component to come out) then sniff it by tilting the glass up to your face and put your nose into the glass. The glass should make contact with your face around the bridge of your nose/between brows (depending on the size of the glass) and the area between your nose and lips. Take short sniffs, like a dog.
The aroma of a wine is the primary fruit smell of what the wine was made from. The bouquet is the smell after the wine making process where other things (like additional sugar) may have been added. A well-made wine will have both aroma and bouquet. With red wines, if you can't smell the aroma, it needs to oxygenate ("breathe") and this can take any number of hours.
Per JB, the negative connotations long attributed to the use of screw-caps on wine bottles (that it is inferior wine) is long gone. Because cork is grown in a forest, it's exposed to organic materials and critters and therefore requires a chlorine wash before use. Chile, Argentina and New Zealand are emerging wine producing countries and a lot of their bottling plants are set up for screw-caps. In fact, the growing use of screw-caps is enabling cork forests to regenerate. Champage, however, must have corks.
For storage, the ideal is 58-60 degrees in total darkness with no movement. Don't store in the fridge - the cold numbs the wine and after a couple of weeks it never recovers. If you don't have access to a wine cellar, and interior closet (with no direct sunlight) with the bottles on the floor (because heat rises) works. My brother is a big wine buff and stores his this way.
To chill, put the wine bottle in a ice bucket with ice and water. The ideal temperatures are 40-45 degrees for champagne, 48-52 for white wine and 64-68 (not "room temperature") for reds. The higher quality wine you have, the more this is important. If you're serving a lower quality white, serving it colder (say, Two Buck Chuck out of the fridge) helps mask the inferior smell.
JB actually had good things to say about boxed wine. It can keep for as much as two months. Just buy a good quality wine. The spigot shut-off and the interior collapsing bags keeps air from getting in to the wine. He also doesn't recommend buying a wine simply based on a numerical score, in fact described it as absurd. It's one person's/publication's opinion. When a customer in his store asks for a wine recommendation, the first question is, "What is it going with?".
NV Lanson 'Black Label' Brut Champagne
2013 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand wine. About $13/bottle. I became a big fan of NZ wines this week.
2012 William Hill 'North Coast' Chardonnay
California wine. About $15/bottle
2012 Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling 'Gobelsburger'
Austrian wine. About $17/bottle
2011 Byron 'SMV' Pinot Noir
California wine. About $19/bottle
2012 Torbreck 'Woodcutters' Shiraz
Australian wine. About $19/bottle
2001 Vina Santurnia Rioja Gran Reserva
Spanish wine. About $27/bottle
Wine and Food
We went over a lot of different wines and spirits (dessert wines, aperitifs, fortified wines, sake) but the main point of today's class was to demonstrate how different types of food can affect how a wine tastes, and therefore whether or not it should be served with a particular dish.
As JB emphasized yesterday, the first question asked when choosing a wine is what food it will be paired with. A good place to start is that opposites attract - if the food is hot or salty, a sweeter wine is best. If the food is high in fat, go for a more dry wine.
Even a restaurant might not always have a great wine list. JB singled out a current critical darling restaurant near the school as having great food but a poor wine list. If you really know your wine and would rather not be at the mercy of the restaurant, he recommends paying the corkage fee and bringing your own.
Today's wine selections:
2009 Domaine Carneros Burt Carneros
2013 Borgo M Pinot Grigio
Italian wine. About $10/bottle.
2012 Cambria 'Katherine's' Chardonnay
2011 Kauer Oberdiebacher Furstenberg Riesling Kabinett
2011 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina
From Chianti/Rufina region (Italy).
2012 Twenty Bench Cabernet Sauvignon
NV Fonseca Vintage Character Port 'Bin 27'
Today's food selections (Chef and her assistant cooked for us):
1. Cheeses - Chevre, Brie, Stilton
2. Seared Ahi with Ginger
3. Pasta with Tomato, Olive, Capers & Spicy Peppers
4. Braised Short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes
5. Almond Cake with Strawberries & Lavender
It was a trip seeing how the same wine can taste different depending on what you just took a bite of.
Next up: Spain and Mexico!