Surviving Dinner

Episode III: Wine 101
Okay so now that we’ve covered the beer family of beverages, let’s move on to a short overview of your grape based libations just in case you’re out for a nice Italian dinner and like most red blooded Americans, hate Peroni.  
People have been drinking wine pretty much forever for purposes of hydration, in religious ceremonies, and for social lubrication. The oldest known winery was recently discovered in a small cave in Armenia (along with the first shoe!) and is believed to have been in full operation over 6000 years ago. There is also archaeological evidence of wine drinking dating back to the invention of pottery in the Neolithic Era (~10,000 BCE), with the history of wine closely linked to the birth of agriculture and civilization itself. The point is it’s probably safe to say people are going to be fermenting grapes for many, many years to come.
Wines are named for either the predominant variety of grape used (e.g. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon) or if made from a blend of grapes, by the region in which the wine was produced (e.g. Bordeaux, Tuscany). Although there are endless styles of wine, there are really only two basic colors; red and white, corresponding whether red or green grapes are used. The wide range of hues comes from the length of time the skins are in contact with the wine, the blend of grapes, and the barrels in which the wine is aged.
When serving wine, temperature is important. Reds should be served at slightly less than room temperature, around 65F, and whites need to be served at 45-55F. The balancing act is that colder temperatures limit imperfections but also kill some of the complex smells and flavors that make wine awesome. Warmer temperatures tend to bring out too much of the alcohol. If like most average folks you don’t have a wine fridge, a good trick is to throw a red in your normal refrigerator for 20 minutes before taking it out to serve. Whites are basically ready to drink a couple minutes out of the refrigerator but shouldn’t be stored in there because it tends to flatten the taste. A handy (and wicked classy) wine accessory worth picking up is a decanter. It’s a glass vessel that comes in a variety of shapes and designs that is used to aerate or let the wine “breathe”. The idea is that by pouring the wine into the decanter, you infuse it with oxygen, kickstarting the aromas and smoothing out any harsher flavors. For similar reasons, the glasses in which you serve the wine are also important. Reds are usually best in stemware with bigger open “bowls” to continue the oxidation process while whites are served with lesser exposed surface area to keep lighter wines “crisp”… Same idea with your champagne flutes. My suggestion to the casual home wine drinker  is to purchase at least a few glasses of each of the three general shapes and plan to break at least one or two a year…trust me it happens.  
Since wine really is that much better when consumed with good food, you’ve probably ordered it at least once at a restaurant. The basic rule for what to order is that reds are best paired with meats and hearty dishes while whites compliment fish and lighter sauces. Personally, I just order whatever wine I feel like and usually end up happy, especially by the third glass. Note that at any decent restaurant there is a ceremony that the server should perform when presenting your bottle of wine. The bottle is shown to the diner to confirm that it’s the right one, then the server opens the bottle and pours a small amount in a glass for a taste check. This is not to make sure you like it or not, it’s to ensure that it hasn’t spoiled either via some defect in the cork allowing air to get at the wine or possibly exposure to light or heat in storage. Don’t be afraid to send a wine back if it tastes at all acidic or sour or looks brown…most likely, they’ll have a backup.
Alrighty then. That’s all I’ve got for your wine primer. My suggestion to continue with your education is to get a little practice in. Compare different styles and varieties and see what works for your own palate. Worst case you may end up sticking with your Genny Light but at least you’ll have a couple of good benders along the way! Salute!

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