Simple rules for drinking better wine, more of the time
However much some of us think we know about wine, the reality is probably a little sketchier. Which is why it never hurts to be reminded of those essential nuggets which help us understand the types of wine we like so we can drink more of the good stuff. And that’s what we’re here for right?
We sat down with the wine team at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester (Vincent Pastorello, Head of Wines, and pictured left below, and Christopher both well, right, Head Sommelier) for a ‘Back to Basics’ session. Here’s what we learned:
If in Doubt, Put It in the Fridge
In the event that you don’t own a sizable wine cellar in your urban flat, where should you actually store your wine collection at home? Anyone who’s ever been in a wine cellar knows that too cold is better than too warm. “Heat is wine’s biggest enemy so if in doubt, put it in the fridge,” says Pastorello. “Providing there’s no threat of freezing, here it is most safe and cannot be destroyed.”
With Glasses, Less Is More
“People often think, the more expensive the bottle, the bigger the glass,” says Pastorello. Actually, the opposite is often true, as when a delicate vintage can be completely lost in an echoing and oxygen-heavy space. If you’re looking for an all-rounder that works best with reds and whites of all variety, err on the side of smaller styles like the standard white wine or chardonnay shape.
You Don’t Need a Fancy Opener
Forget those fancy wine openers you see advertised in the back of direct mail brochures for £70 a pop, an inexpensive ‘waiter’s friend’ for under a tenner remains the sommelier’s choice, allowing you a failsafe three-stage approach from cutting the label like a surgeon to pushing off the cork without any white knuckle force or wedging the bottle between your knees.
If You Only Buy Two Wine Gadgets…
Get a cradle and a pump. If you’ve been carefully storing your wines flat, suddenly putting it upright on the table is a very bad idea, which is where a simple cradle comes in. It’s also bound to impress dinner guests. A simple wine pump meanwhile is a must for helping wine last longer at home, and removing the excuse for finishing off a bottle on a Tuesday night.
Write Down the Names of Wines You Like
Another good way of making sure you settle on the right bottle at a restaurant is to make a note of recent bottles you have enjoyed. “Try to remember the last bottle of wine that you liked”, says Pastorello. “The name of a producer can really help the sommelier understand what you are looking for.”
Avoid Saying ‘Dry’
It’s tempting to ask the sommelier for a dry white wine but it’s not actually that helpful. After all, 90% of the wine list is dry so it really doesn’t narrow things down. Try talking about body instead. “The word body tells you a lot. Light, medium or full bodied, says Pastorello. “From this we know where to go. If you don’t like the feeling when your mouth is dry, tell him you don’t like tannins. Body is power.” Light-bodied wines include Sancerre, Chablis, and Pinot Noir. For medium-bodied, think Chardonnay and Syrah. Full-bodied could include American Chardonnay, Bordeaux and Grenache. “Alcohol levels getting higher,” he says, “most of the time it’s been in aged oak for white. The wine gets thicker, richer and more intense.”
Learn To Speak ‘Sommelier’
As a rule of thumb, sommeliers have a handful of phrases they use when describing wine. Knowing them – and even better understanding them – is always going to come in handy. Complex is a wine that unfolds many different flavours as you drink. Crisp describes a fresh and often acidic wine on the palette. Dense means it is concentrated in flavours and aroma. Elegant means light and well-balanced. Flamboyant means fruity. Opulent means rich and bold.
Let Your Mouth Do the Talking
Next time you sip a wine, these simple mouth checks will help you work out the different elements on show. Sticking your tongue out as you sip will tell you if it’s dry or sweet. A wine’s acidity is determined by how much it makes you salivate e.g. a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a classic example of wine with high acidity. Tannins, only found in red wine, affect the side of your tongue and make your gums go dry. Understand these basic principles and you’re a long way to knowing what you like and why. And that’s half the battle.
Don’t Like Chardonnay? You’re Basically Wrong
Most of us have developed some rigid beliefs about what we like or don’t like, but often these are based on a couple of bad bottles and a lot of misinformation. Take the much-maligned chardonnay for example. “Chardonnay is my favourite grape variety,” says Pastorello. “I love to see people who start with the perception that they don’t like it because it’s too oaky, and then see them discover that it’s the best wine in the world. People forget that Chablis is made with chardonnay, without using any oak. It’s just so versatile.”
‘Back to Basics’ wine classes with Vincent and Christopher take place on 29th July, 9th September, 1st October and 4th November 2015 and are priced at £150 per person. Guests will also be gifted with a Champagne NV Selection Alain Ducasse Brut. For reservations call 020 7629 8866, alainducasse-dorchester.com
By Will Hersey