Archive for the ‘wine buying’ Category

Wine etiquette for restaurants

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

To BYOB, or not to BYOB? That is one of the questions diners face when considering wine etiquette.

Wine is often credited for having a civilizing influence on the people who drink it. Like many civilizing influences, it has spawned a hoard of customs and protocols. Some are useful, like red wine with meat; some sentimental, like passing the port to the left; some obsolete, like long-stemmed glasses; and some just plain silly, like sniffing corks.

Knowing which are worthwhile and which are a waste of time can be more valuable than knowing the best Bordeaux vintages or being on the Grace Family Vineyards “A” list.

Serving wine Take, for example, the care and treatment of sommeliers. You have just finished a delicious dinner in a good restaurant. The bill is €200, €160 for food and €40 for wine. Not cheap but well worth the cost. You gladly add a 20 percent tip, €40. Then your dinner companion whispers, “Shouldn’t you leave something for the sommelier?”

The wine was the the sommelier’s suggestion, and she did make a point of discussing it as if you knew something about the subject. But wasn’t the wine included in the price of the dinner, and wasn’t the tip based on the total price – presumably €32 for the food and €8 for the wine?

We tend to overlook how much the wine we order adds to the tip, even when we spend more on what we drink than on what we eat, as wine enthusiasts often do. If the wine bill comes to several hundred euros, as it often does these days, should the tip get even bigger?

My feeling is that the 20 percent is adequate, unless the service was very special – for example, if it involved going to considerable effort to locate a particular bottle, or collaborating with the chef to make the evening special.

More restaurants are moving away from the traditional wine service of opening the bottle (without placing it on the table), offering the cork for inspection and pouring a sip of wine to taste. What does one do with the cork anyway? Sniffing is supposed to tell you if the wine is bad.

Rubbing it to see if it’s wet is supposed to show if the bottle was properly stored on its side. But isn’t that what the sommelier is supposed to do? As for that preliminary little taste, unless the wine is truly foul, it isn’t going to do much for you.

Bottle diplomacy

Most people don’t readily recognize corked wine; even experts often don’t detect that moldy smell until the third or fourth taste, and by then the server is gone.

Ary's Warung restaurant, Ubud, Bali, by s.rejekiCalling her back and saying, “I’ve changed my mind; this stuff is corked,” can be embarrassing. If you know the wine person, you can say, “Just pour it.” After all, you’ll know soon enough if there are problems.

Unfortunately, this tends to confuse some enthusiastic young wine stewards who have been taught to take pride in this pre-prandial rigamarole. Happily, some restaurants are bypassing the wine ballet by bringing wine to the table after it has already been opened at the bar. The ultimate decision on the wine is still the client’s; it is just that the whole process has been simplified.

Of course, there will always be a few bad bottles, and one day you may get one of them. Suppose you do feel something is wrong with the wine but, coward that you are, you’re not about to face down the wine person.

Here’s how to do it. Don’t say, “This wine is no good.” Too confrontational. Try, “Taste this and tell me what you think of it.” Now you’re asking for help. Even if the wine maven thinks the stuff is OK, it will now be much easier for you to assert yourself and say, “I don’t like it.”

Actually, these little dust-ups are increasingly rare. Winemaking, and bottling, have vastly improved in recent years. Badly made vinegary wine is practically nonexistent. Yet corked bottles are still a problem.
To some wine fans, bringing one’s own bottle is the solution to all these problems, including that of high restaurant wine prices. One word – no, three: Don’t do it. Unless you are very sure the restaurant welcomes it. A few still do, mostly on the US West Coast. But even there, the picture is changing.

Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, which once welcomed all wines, now charges a $20 corkage per bottle. Restaurants pride themselves on their wine lists and often have major investments in wine. You wouldn’t expect Sirio Maccioni to admit you to Le Cirque 2000 with your own ham sandwich. Why should he welcome you with your own wine?

Step-by-step guide to buying wine

Friday, March 8th, 2013

If you don’t know much about wine, even buying a bottle may seem intimidating — the choices among wine types, brands, labels, and prices seem almost infinite. Here are a few tips to make your enjoyement grow, through learning.

Narrow the field

A wine shop in New HavenBefore visiting a store, decide how much you want to spend and whether you want a white, blush or red wine. This will narrow your choices and provide some direction for the staff person helping you.

Seek advice

Try to shop at stores with staff trained to help customers make decisions. All wine shops offer this service and, these days, more and more supermarkets and upscale groceries do, too. These people are familiar with the wines they sell and can steer you in the right direction once they know your preferences white vs. red, dry vs. sweet, light vs. heavy — and the occasion.

You can also get further recommendations from newspaper, magazine and on-line wine columnists and from wine-knowledgeable friends. You can also consult wine websites of reference.

Notice storage conditions

It is important to purchase wine from stores that take proper care of their inventory. Extreme heat or cold, direct sunlight, and dramatic temperature fluctuations are enemies of wine. If you notice any of these conditions in a store, it’s probably best not to shop there. Also, before you buy, make sure the wine is filled up to the neck of the bottle, the cork is not pushing out of the bottle, and there are no signs of leakage.

Taste before buying

Wine glassesMany wine shops offer wine tasting, so you can sample before buying. Charitable wine tastings, local wine tasting classes, and winery tasting rooms (if you live near, or are visiting, a wine region) also offer this opportunity. Informal tastings with friends, where you can share the cost of trying different wines, are also a great way to explore.

Don’t spend too much

Good wine is made and exported all over the globe, not only from established producers like California and Italy, but from emerging regions such as Chile, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and Bulgaria.
This sea of quality wine keeps the lid on prices and means you can always find great values. You needn’t spend more than USD 12 per bottle to begin your wine education.

Be adventurous

Given the above, there’s no reason not to explore the wine world in all its diversity. Don’t stick only to well-known varieties like chardonnay or cabernet — experiment with other whites like sauvignon blanc, riesling and gewurztraminer or reds like zinfandel, gamay or syrah. Also, try examples of a variety from different countries to understand how regional conditions affect wine character. Expose yourself to every type of wine.

Trust your tastes

The ultimate goal of wine buying is to buy wines that taste good to you or your guests. Just because a merchant, friend or writer says a wine is good doesn’t mean you’ll like it. Conversely, don’t shy away from a wine because someone else trashes it. The only arbiter of good taste in wine is you.

Reading labels of Portugal wines

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

The present post complements an article on Portugal wine regions and varieties.

Classification System

Vinho regional (country wine), started in 1992, is the lowest quality level for a Portuguese wine (above vinho de mesa, the basic table wine).

Next up, the IPR (indicação de proveniência regulamentada) wines are those waiting in the queue to be given DOC (denominação de origem controlada) status, the highest of all.

There are now 19 DOC regions – including Madeira, Bairrada, Dão and Douro. Port has its own separate DOC. The term Garrafeira is sometimes still used to indicate a producer’s best wine. It can be used on the label of any quality wine with half a degree more alcohol than the minimum. In addition, reds require at least two years in tank or barrel and another one in bottle; the rare whites need six months each in barrel (or tank) and bottle. Reservas just need the extra half a degree alcohol but the term is increasingly used for premium bottlings.

Often Used Terms On Portugal Wine Labels

Adega – Originally a wine cellar or cave often used now to simply indicate a wine producer
Branco – A white wine.
Bruto – Dry sparkling wine.
Casta – Grape variety.
Casta predominante – Predominant grape variety.
Colheita – The year of vintage.
Engarrafado por – Bottled by.
Engarrafado na Origem or na Quinta – Estate bottled wine.
Engarrafado na Regiao – Bottled in the region of origin but not from any particular property or vineyard.
Carrafa – A wine bottle – meia-garrafa: a half-bottle.
Carrafao – A 5-liter jug of basic quality table wine.
Garrafeira Literally a wine cellar. But this is also a legal term indicating, for a red wine, lengthy aging in bulk (two years) and bottle (one year). White wines must be aged six months in bulk and six months in bottle before release. A garrafeira is a producer’s top wine. Its quality depends on the producer’s standards.
Quinta – A vineyard with a dwelling and vinification facilities. Roughly equivalent to the French term “chateau.”
Produzido por – Produced by.
Reserva – A reserve wine which has met certain legal requirements. The terms especial and partrcular added to this term have no legal definition; they are just embellishments.
Seco – Dry most often seen on white wine labels.
Meio-Seco – Half-dry – usually indicates an off-dry or slightly sweet Vinho Verde or sparkling wine.
Tinto – Red Wine.
Vinho – Wine.
Vinha – Vinevard.
Vinho Espumante – sparkling wine made by one of several natural methods, usually the classic methode champenoise.
Vinho Espumoso – Artificially carbonated sparkling wine.

Wine Pairing Rule 5 – Practice & Experiment Often

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

This film is the last in a series of eight by Neil Smith, owner of the WineSmith wine shop in Ashburn, Virginia.


Neil Smith: Hi, I am Neil Smith with WineSmith and today, I am showing you how to pair wine and food. Now, we are going to talk about our fifth rule which is the most important and that is to practice and experiment often. You could watch these clips over and over again but unless you start actually practicing pairing wine with food you will never really master the art of it. There are plenty of inexpensive wines in the market today which means there are lots of opportunities for you to try a different wine with a different meal every night of the week if you like and the final point of this is to break all the rules. You have to experiment different combinations and see what works for you even if that means breaking all of the first four rules that I just mentioned. So, that’s our fifth rule and just to recap our first four rules – we started that with matching the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. The second rule is to either just try for complement flavors or contrasting flavors. The third rule is to pay attention to sweetness and acidity in the wines and the fourth rule is to never forget to consider sparkling wines and dessert wines when planning a menu. So, those were our five rules for pairing wine and food. I hope you have taken a lot of away from this video and I hope you will enjoy starting to pair wines with food more often. Thank you.