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Not sure whether gurgling your merlot at the dinner table is appropriate? We ask a world famous sommelier for help.
“I’ll have the Cabernet Sauvignon,” you say, mumbling the last part of the n in gnon because you’re not sure whether or not to commit to proper pronunciation. You point to the wine on the menu to make sure your choice is understood. When it arrives your dinner partner across the table watches you closely, you’re not sure how seriously to take the sip. Should you smell it first? How long do you need to hold it in your mouth before you swallow it? And if it tastes bad, how can you return it with grace?
We speak to a world renown sommelier Richard Bernard about the basics of wine tasting and drinking. Crowned France’s top sommelier in 1997, today you’ll find Richard with his guests at the stunning Le Saint-James hotel in Bouliac, France.
SUITCASE MAGAZINE: How should I taste wine at a restaurant without looking pretentious or ill-informed?
RICHARD BERNARD: Do not hold your glass with the whole hand. To hold it properly, you’ve got to hold it by its leg. The most important thing is to share your knowledge, it’s not essential to demonstrate it. When you’re in a small group of friendly people, you can also explain the different stages of wine tasting but avoid the noisy retro-olfaction stage as it’s disturbing for others. Furthermore, do not impose your point of you, be open-minded and let people express themselves.
SM: How should you hold a glass of red wine, white wine or champagne?
RB: Wine glasses or even champagne flutes must be held by their legs even if you want to warm up the wine.
SM: Is drinking rosé any time other than spring or summer a major faux-pas?
RB: If you like rosé, just go for it, regardless of the season.
SM: If you are given a glass of wine in a restaurant or bar and it is utterly horrible how do you handle the situation with decorum?
RB: If the wine has been advised to you, you can politely say that you don’t get the wine’s balance and subtleties. It may be possible for the sommelier to suggest you another one. If you have chosen the wine by yourself, tell the sommelier that it wasn’t what you expected from this choice. Ask him to taste it. If it doesn’t taste good, he must change it and suggest you another one. Try to be conciliatory and convincing.
SM: What colour wine are you supposed to drink with cheese?
RB: French people drink powerful and tanned red wine. English rather appreciate porto. Each country has its own cultural criteria. Nevertheless, white dry wine is one of the best options.
SM: Which new region/country has made dramatic improvements in their production over the last decade or so?
RB: Germany and Austria have developed their productions while South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and South America continue their impressive advancements.
SM: What exactly are ‘legs’ and what do they tell you?
RB: Oily traces running down the side of the glass after agitation, the legs give an indication on the viscosity of the wine. It also tells if the wine is light-bodied, powerful or sweet.
SM: Why do some wines give you a headache and others not so much?
RB: It depends on the quality of the wine. Some sulfites can make it harder to digest.
SM: What does ‘corked’ mean? (as apparently has nothing to do with an actual cork)
RB: A bad cork or an improperly corked bottle can turn a good wine bad, leaving mouldy flavours and aromas. It happens because of a bacteria in the cork (TCA – 2,4,6-trichloro-anisole).
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