Impress hosts with your grape knowledge
July 15, 2007
No one will ever know you’re bluffing.
Tasting expensive wines at a dinner party can be intimidating, but it needn’t be. Just adopt the demeanor of those poker players who dominate cable TV and trust your senses. There’s a good chance no one will have the grapes to call you out, especially if you sell your convictions.
Ideally, people learn to enjoy the endlessly fascinating subtlety of good wines and the complexity introduced when they are paired with food.
But in the short run, don’t be afraid to go out on a vine.
If your host offers you a cabernet sauvignon with great anticipation and you pronounce, after tasting it, that it has a black cherry flavor, you probably won’t get any quizzical looks. If you sip the wine for a few more minutes and observe that you are beginning to detect a note of black currant as the wine opens up, chances are your host will be reluctant to contradict your palate.
The truth is, different people taste different flavors in complex wines.
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If your host is a big fan of chardonnay (isn’t more than half of the Western world?), just prepare yourself to determine if you’re tasting apple or citrus. How difficult can that be? If you decide the citrus flavor actually leans toward grapefruit rather than the more common lemon, you’re well on your way to becoming a wine stud, or stud-ette, as the case may be.
If your dinner companion has developed a specialty in shiraz wines from Australia (the counterpart to syrahs from France), you can fool even the most astute oenophile by proclaiming that you enjoy the slight mineral component on the finish of the wine.
Chances are, you’re going to encounter a pinot noir from California or Oregon this summer. Your choices are between raspberry and strawberry fruit. Think you can handle that? OK, concentrate hard and see if you can detect an earthiness, almost a fungus flavor on the finish.
If you can pull this one off, your reputation will grow by leaps and bounds.
And if you really want to reach for the brass ring, summon up your courage and utter this sentence at your hosts’ dinner table: “Ahhh, clearly the terroir (pronounced tare-wahr) of this region has exerted great influence on the fruit.”
If you can say this with a straight face, you’re a better wine taster than I.
So what the heck is terroir? Essentially, it’s a fancy French word for the environment the grape vines grow in. That includes climate, soil content, angle of light, extremes in temperature and a certain je ne sais quoi we’ll call “the magic in the air.”
Just remember, several of your dinner companions are half in the bag anyway.
– Tom Ross