The Basics of Wine – 2

I learned from my dad how to smell and taste wine. We were having dinner, enjoying some London broil with sides, and drinking some red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, a good drink. We swirled our glasses to give it some air and picked up on the rich aromas. He told me to drink it; to swirl it around, drink it down, breath in through my mouth, and then breath out through my nose. In this way the flavors were brought out to me, and I could take a moment to understand it all.

And with that, I give you The Basics of Wine – 2

Right off the bat, four major taste groups associated with wine are sweet, bitter, sour, and salty.

Cabernet Sauvignon – cocoa, cedar
Pinot Noir – cherry, spice, cigar

Sauvignon Blanc – lime zest, herbaceous
Chardonnay – green apple, lemon, butter

Notice the difference in aromas associated above between red wines and white wines. Traditionally, white wine has a crisp balance of flavors, refreshing and with a light body. Red wine, on the other hand, contains warmer, sweeter, heartier varieties.

Since you might not know every type of wine out there, the most common share a collection of flavors: raspberry, olive, oak, pepper, blossom, spice, nut, caramel, coffee, smoke, leather and so many more act as undertones if appropriately recognized in the vintage.

When you taste wine, try and keep it in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. The tip of your tongue will notice it the most, the sweetness of the wine. Sweetness varies from sweet to dry. Your mouth will notice the acidity after you swallow it too, a crisp (perhaps bitter) aftertaste that makes you salivate. It can be flat or quite vibrant and tart.

Wine has body like all natural concoctions. You can simply look through the glass to measure it, but tasting it is the ultimate deciding factor. Some are thin and some are full, rich with flavor. Wines less transparent indicate a quality of grapes and/or the time it took to make. You can taste the difference, as well.

An important word to remember is “tannin,” which comes from the zest of wine grapes. It attributes to how bitter or soft a wine tastes, and is also an indicator of the grapes used and the barrels it’s stored in. Crushed grape seeds and skin are left in the barrels to blend with the wine, and often leave sediment at the bottom of bottles. It’s harmless; stir it up with the rest.

A good wine has balance, an innate way of keeping all the flavors together without overpowering the senses. Balance is influenced by things like sweetness, tannin, alcohol, acidity, but in the end dominated by your own judgments about the wine.

And finally, all wines have a finish, an aftertaste that lingers, almost always for the better. It can be long or short, soft or intense, warm, bitter and crisp. The aftertaste of some wines can linger for minutes.

With this sort of knowledge, we can experiment with red and white wines, and search out the subtleties we enjoy most. In time, you may develop a palette enamored with wines of a certain vintage, from a certain climate, or of a certain time, left in wait to be enjoyed over food and conversation with friends.

In the next section, I’ll talk more about how wines compliment food, and offering pairings to try for yourself.

The Basics of Wine – 1

Red Wine



I didn’t get my basic understanding of wine from any one place. I got a bit of it from my dad, a bit of it from reviews and critics, and a bit of it from wine tastings. Over time I’m learning more about wine, and my appreciation for it is growing. I feel like the only setback to enjoying wine is not knowing how to enjoy them. We should know what’s out there, first of all.

With that in mind, I give you The Basics of Wine – 1

Let me start from the top – the four major groups of wines:
table, sparkling, fortified, and sweet.

Table Wine
Table wine is what you commonly see at a dinner or party. There are three types of table wine: red, white, and rosé. Red wine is more widely-renowned for its complex flavors and exotic varieties. White wine is crisp, refreshing and best served chilled. Rosé is actually red wine, not white. The grape skins are removed within hours of pressing, and that brief moment in comparison is what gives rosé its light and fruity taste, also best served chilled.

Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine is a luxury, a gift for all celebrations. A bottle of Champagne comes over to your table, and the party begins with the pop of the cork. Carbon dioxide bubbles shoot out the top, and long thin glasses fill and free the bubbles within. These bubbles are naturally made from the grapes, grown in Champagne, France. I
f it’s not from Champagne, it’s not Champagne. Sparkling wine is made all over the world, and the climate of that region alone is what makes it so unique.

Fortified Wine
Fortified wine is made through a crafted process. Alcohol, like Brandy or Liqueur, is added during and/or after fermentation. This infusion stops the fermentation process altogether, and increases the alcohol content significantly. Popular types include Marsala, Port, and Vermouth.  You can find these wines in nice bars and kitchens even, as the natural flavors go great in cooking.

Sweet Wine
Sweet wine is a real treat. The grapes are altered during the fermentation process to give them a unique, sugary taste. There are different types of alterations which render different end products. For instance, Ice wine is made from grapes that are frozen on the vine. Late Harvest and Noble Rot are the two other known styles, made by leaving the grapes on the vine for extended amounts of time. Only the finest grapes with certain bacterial ingredients are selected to produce these kinds of wines.

With an understanding of the different types of wine out there, I think it’s high time to try a few (if you’re old enough). Grapes are divine, and good for you. Go drink some grape juice on a nice spring day, or have some friends over with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bruschetta on the table. Toast to someone’s success over a bottle of Dom Pérignon. Whatever choice in wine you make, it’s sure to be a good one now that you know what to choose from.

In the next section, I’ll talk more about the flavors and tastes in wine, as well as how to recognize and taste them.

Wine review: 2006 Ste. Chapelle Riesling – Idaho, USA

Cafe Paragon in Providence, RI has been a favorite of me and my closest friends for almost a decade. We always had gone there to celebrate birthdays, get together for the holidays and sometimes just to have a really good meal. The food is excellent, and it has compensated for the horrible and rude service for all these years.

Last night was no different. One of my friends was up from North Carolina where he is going to graduate school, he was in the area for some job interviews. The other friend took a break from training for a race he has in Vegas next week and came to join. Comparatively, I am the least obligated of the three of us. The point is that we were getting together, which is rare, and we figured Paragon would be the ideal place.

Now you have made it to the third paragraph, you are probably wondering when I am going to talk about the wine I had mentioned in the title. Well, soon, don’t you worry. See, talking about a wine just for its own sake would kind of be like talking to you about Michael Jordan without mentioning the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s. What is that supposed to mean? A good wine is nothing without a proper context, and the context for this great wine I had last night is clearly important enough for me to spend two hundred words setting up that context for you. So now to the wine.

I had picked the Ste. Chapelle mostly for its price. At $18 for the bottle it was a bargain considering most of the wines ranged from the upper $20’s to lower $40’s. Once the waitress brought the bottle to our table she offered me a taste before I committed (although I wonder if I didn’t like it would she have taken it back) to consuming it. After taking a generous nose I detected the bright, nuanced fragrances of fresh citrus fruit almost immediately, something I had come to expect from a Riesling, but was pleasantly surprised when the mild consistency of the wine took over as I tasted. The Riesling did bring some sweet notes to the back of my palate, but they were actually welcome since it gave the wine great versatility throughout my whole meal, which consisted of grilled chicken glazed with a honey Dijon sauce, squash and zucchini in a light, tangy red sauce, mashed potatoes with a liberal usage of butter and a pretty good crème brûlée for dessert. Ste. Chapelle, being the first wine I had from Idaho left me with a pretty good impression. I found it to be comparable to Rieslings from New England in all the important areas such as how it complements a dish of lighter fare but does not back down when paired with a dessert as let’s say a Pinot Grigio would have, therefore the flavors linger long after the meal is through, making this wine a great value.

I am going to end by saying you should try this wine with chicken or pork. It would overpower a pasta dish unless a lot of garlic were used, and it is too sweet for fish but would work well with scallops or shrimp and even lobster, although I prefer the later with a Chardonnay, this isn’t to say the Ste. Chapelle wouldn’t compliment a baked stuffed lobster well however. As said earlier, it goes well with a dessert like a crème brûlée or anything else custard based, and would probably hold its own with an apple pie or a coconut cake. I ended up enjoying the whole bottle on my own, and since it was 12% ABV it provided me with a pleasant disposition after glass number four. I would like to see what else the state of Idaho can produce in the wine arena, so I will stay on the lookout for more from that region.


Arrows Let Fly

When arrows fly they always point
At those that they will soon anoint
With red wine and its cleansing toll
Which pours whenceforth from uncorked hole

And when the wine has cleaned his eyes
The anointed one a vision spies

I see a field of forgotten Greeks
Surrounded by far off mountain peaks
I see brother Ulysses scheming there
And Daphne with her leaf-like hair
Achilles tells me, “Tis better to slave
Than rule for eternity in the grave”
And so I leave him and cross the plain
For council I might ascertain
A sign in cumulus, nimbus sky
The same revealed to Constantine’s eye
When formed, the sign reveals afar
The Shepherd King’s personal star
And the Blue Man’s hand descends from its veil
To whisk me to heaven by my lone ponytail
The Last Great Prophet now I meet
Who speaks softly in a voice most sweet
We converse for hours but do not walk
In a dialogue where I rarely talk
Until he asks to where I’m off
I say “To the highest mountain top”
And when I start on my journey
The prophet brings the mountain to me
At the peak, ‘neath a tree, sitting cross-legged
Is a wise man with a large bump on his head.
He says, “Embrace diversity
But accept universal unity
To the air, the sea, the Earth, the plants,
And the animals from the yak to the ant”

And then I see a blinding flash
And exhaling, I have peace at last


London Broil and Red Wine with Dad

May 30th, 2009

While visiting home recently, I spent the evening with my dad, preparing my favorite meal, London Broil. Him and I discussed the etiquette for preparing a meal like this, and in the event I was to cook this for guests or “special someones,” I decided to take down what we talked about.

The following is a guide to preparing a great London Broil, and how to accompany it with a matching wine. I found this to be helpful with every steak dinner I’ve made since then.

A. Always grill your steak, or broil it if you don’t have a grill.

B. Get yourself a nice steak, preferably a “Top Round.” Cut away at the excess fat that you can. Season the steak with salt and pepper to taste. Alternatively, you could rub the steak down in olive oil and season with your own array of herbs and spices, but salt and pepper bring out the steak’s natural flavors.

C. Get yourself a good wine to pair it with. London Broil works great with Red Wine. Tonight’s recommendation is a Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Veeder Winery in Napa Valley, 2005 vintage.

  1. Tasting your wine is important before imbibing. To taste wine, open the bottle and let set for a few minutes to air out. You may decant the wine to speed up this process.
  2. Pour “a good sip” of wine into an appropriate red wine glass. Swirl the wine around in the glass a few moments to unlock the aromatic flavors, and smell. Smell with determination, placing your nose in the glass, tipping it to bring the smell as close to your senses as possible.
  3. It is important to note that wine should never be cloudy. It should always be clear when held up to the light. Unless it is noted by a somalier to appear cloudy, send it back for a good bottle.
  4. Drink the wine, swishing it in your mouth to contact every tastebud on top and under your tongue. The better the wine, the stronger and longer the aftertaste.
  5. Wine activates all of the four major taste groups: sweet, sour, salt, and acid. While wine has so many different flavors to identify, they all come from these four major categories.
  6. The best way to savor the flavor of a wine is, right after swallowing, to breath in through your mouth, and exhale through your nose. You will taste the wine once more, capturing the aromatic flavor of the wine.

D. Grill the steak on high heat for about four to five minutes on each side, depending on the size and thickness.

E. The time-tested method to see if the steak is done is simply to feel it. If it is soft, it’s not done. If it is tough, its not only done, but possible overdone. You must use your personal judgement to determine how done you want it, as each person prefers their steak differently. Five minutes per side will cook the steam to about medium-well.

F. Remove from the grill, and let it rest for another five minutes. The steak is still cooking on the inside, even after you take it off the heat, and the juices in the meat will be reinfused in it, making the steak taste a lot better than if served fresh from the grill.

G. London Broil is not so much a type of steak, but moreso a method of serving it. It is sliced, at an angle, in thin strips. Cutting the steak at an angle or “against the grain” allows it to break apart easier when eating.

H. With your personal choice of sandwich bread, stack the meat up and accompany with your favorite toppings, steak sauce or au jus.

Bon Appétit!