Archive for the ‘Wine Etiquette’ Category

Mano-a-Mano: Ribeira del Duero Face-off in the Park   10 comments

It does not matter if he’s gay or straight– every man wants to be Bond.  If he denies this fact, he is either lying or he is a complete idiot.  Putting aside the good looks, hi-tech toys, license-to-kill, babes, jujitsu, and uncanny runs of luck in the casino, the key to being Bond is that everything he does is effortless.    That effortlessness makes him easy to envy and emulate at the same time.  Also, having a great wardrobe, fast car, cash to burn and the right comeback for every situation does not hurt.   What guy wouldn’t want that?

But women are different from men, not that we’ve noticed.  And I’m pretty sure that while most women wouldn’t mind being with Bond for maybe a night or two, they wouldn’t want their men to behave like Bond.   Yep, I’m pretty sure that the endless parade of Bond Chicks won’t fly with the little lady waiting at home.    

But that’s what makes him Bond– there is no little lady keeping the home fires burning while he toils away at disrupting the evil plans of criminal masterminds.  As a result he gets a free pass from women when it comes to playing the field.    

Why is the ole noggin’ noodling on about Bond and gender dynamics?

Saturday night we gathered a bunch of friends for a picnic dinner at a park just around the corner from the house followed by an outdoor screening of the first Bond film, Dr. No.  Released in 1962, it was definitely a product of its time.   

While he avoids an office romance with Moneypenny (as usual), he manages to hook up with two other fairly gorgeous women before Honey Ryder shows up in the second half of the film.  Played by the curvaceous, Ursula Andress, he scores with Honey after the closing credits.  If only it were that easy…

Back at the picnic.  It being a Bond film, we needed some bubbly.  My local purveyor was fresh out of Dom Perignon ’55 ($1,200 per bottle), so we requisitioned 4 bottles of Riondo Prosecco ($10 per), instead.  Great on its own or as part of a refreshing Bellini.  (Yes, we packed a little peach puree in the picnic hampers.) 

Since it is a Bond film, you can always count on there being an abundance of scenes featuring cocktails and manner for serving them.      

One scene, in particular, highlighted Dr. No’s poor manners at the cocktail hour.   Offering Bond a Vodka Martini, he described in detail how it was made to Bond’s preferences– you know the drill: shaken not…, lemon peel, yada-yada.  The message clearly conveyed: the good doctor has done his homework in sizing up his opponent.  By contrast, Bond Girl du jour, Honey Ryder, is unceremoniously handed a nearly overflowing glass of red wine without any explanation as to what she was drinking.  While it does efficiently advance the storyline of the script, there are deficiencies in matters of etiquette that may be disturbing to some:

  1. Bond is served first.  In an age of sexual equality, this may not strike many as so bad.  But in 1962, it misses the mark.  But even today, it is always best to provide for the ladies first.
  2. The detailed introduction of Bond’s drink followed by the short shrift given to Honey’s drink rankled at least one of our female guests, who loudly proclaimed in most lady-like fashion: “Who gives a s**t what she’s drinking.”  It did seem like an odd oversight– what could be the harm in giving Honey a vodka martini as well? 
  3. Red wine as aperitif?  And it looked like a full-bodied red at that.  Bold move Herr Doctor, bold move.
  4. How can you drink a glass of wine filled to the brim?  Just try to swirl that sucker around to get a sniff and see what happens to that pretty dress you’re wearing.
  5. Where is Dr. No’s cocktail?  Never trust a man who serves you a drink without taking one himself.  At best you’re in for a dull time; at worst, you might get smacked around a bit at the end of the meal. 

At the end of the dinner, Dr. No serves a Dom Perignon ’55.  When Bond tries to escape, he grabs the bottle with intention of using it to club Dr. No’s guard.  “That’s a Dom Perignon ’55 – it would be a pity to break it,” says Dr. No quietly. “I prefer the ’53 myself,” replies Bond as he takes his seat.   (Note to self: armed guards looking over your shoulder as you are finishing dessert never bodes well.)

Now if I had given Honey a glass of red, she would have had something to remember.  With the grilled steak sandwiches we served, we poured two wines from the 2008 Ribeira del Duero vintage.  Although not an excellent vintage, it is nonetheless given a very good rating by Espavino.  These two comparably priced Spanish contestants come out of the gates with very different styles.  A little bit like 007 and Dr. No. 

Of course, there can only be one winner.  

Vinedos Alonso del Yerro Ribera del Duero 2008 ($19).   Tempranillo.  Check.  Earthy aromas leading to chocolate notes.  Check.  Dark yet understated fruit.  Check.  Finishing with firm tannins.  Check.  This has an emergent elegance that suggests it will get better with more time in the bottle.  Rated **1/2

Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2008 ($18).  According to the website, this tempranillo is sourced from vineyards that are 15 to 25 years old and carrying the name of the winery, it represents the “heart of the winery”.  A bit more international in style, this guy was a bit more fruit forward.  But the pleasantness of the fruit was marred by an evident use of oak, most likely American oak (as I confirmed later).  And while I would drink this any day, that oakiness is a chink in the armor in a head to head tasting against the Alonso del Yerro.  And so it must take second place, even if I give it the same rating.  Rated **1/2

Back to Honey Ryder:  a girl who just happens to show up on a secluded, radioactive beach in a bikini, with a big knife and some fantastic looking seashells.  The men in our party were in agreement on the qualities that made her a sex symbol in 1962.  Those criteria still apply today.

On reconsideration, maybe Dr. No had it right– hand her a big ole goblet of red wine, coolly avert your eyes from her revealing swimwear, keep your mouth shut unless you have something truly clever to say and see what happens to you.  Just make sure you know where she has stowed the knife.

It’s effortless, you see?

Posted July 24, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Mano-a-Mano, Wine Etiquette

And a Good Time Was Had by All?   3 comments

Like the all-afternoon aftertaste of one of those dirty-water hot dogs you get back home on the streets of New York, my first wine experience on this trip to Bangkok kept repeating on me.  

Arriving by 20 minute cab ride at SIP Wine Bar last Sunday I discovered that they were, um, closed.  Not permanently, mind you, simply a delayed opening.  It’s a shame, I had been looking forward to going to this place since I read about it in the NY Times.  I could have sat outside waiting for the place to open.  But there didn’t seem to be much sense in that as there didn’t seem to be that much to do in the immediate vicinity.  And, seriously, I was not that desperate for a glass of wine.  Also, since I had made plans to meet up with a good friend and colleague who was flying in from Australia later that evening, I decided to simply return to the hotel.  “STRIKE ONE!”

Having now provided my cabbie with a chuckle at my expense, he attempted to be helpful.  On route, he tried to dump me off at one of those large tourist bars I hate.  Kind of like a charmed-starved Applebee’s, but without the charm.  (BTW, who the hell is Applebee and why would he do this to his family name?)

Um, no thanks, Mr. Cabbie.  Nearing the hotel we spotted another wine bar, with a promising name, Bacchus Wine Bar and Restaurant.  Ahhhhh, Bacchus.  Roman god of wine.  Inspiration for Bacchanalian Festivals.  What could be so bad?  OK, maybe that whole human sacrifice thing and getting torn to shreds by Roman chicks in a wine inspired frenzy may not be everyone’s idea of a good time.  But, I’m thinking of the pleasures of the heterosexual version of the Bacchanalia. 

So shall we give the place a whirl?  Grab a glass, perhaps two, some nibbles, make some conversation with whoever is there and get back to Home Base, to catch up with me mate.  Although Bacchus’ ample wine list contained some of my favorites, those had to be purchased by the bottle.  Now, drinking an entire bottle is something that I have, on occasion, been known to do.  However, that typically happens at home when there is food and company.  Or at least food…  And, frankly, there is something odd and vaguely creepy about ordering a bottle to drink by oneself in a deserted bar. 

So I thought I would at least try the wines by the glass which Bacchus offered– two reds, and only two reds.  And in a new twist on vin marketing, Bacchus offered a terrific deal on these two wines by the glass.  Wines that– how shall I say this?–


But what a deal, buy one sucky glass of wine and get another sucky one for… wait for it… FREE!  Suggestion to Bacchus– a  wine bar should offer decent wines by the glass.  And more than just two choices would have been a bonus.  All together now: “STRIKE TWO!”

Bottom of the ninth inning and I am down to my last strike.  You have to protect the plate in these circumstances. 

To cut to the quick, I ended up in the Exec Lounge at my hotel, The Conrad Bangkok.  It’s not looking so well, is it? 

The Conrad is a nice Hotel with well-trained staff.  And if you’re fortunate enough to be placed on an Exec floor, you gain access to the lounge.  It was there that I deboarded the Local Train to the Wine Underworld.  Perhaps anything would have tasted good to me at that point.  But, maybe, just maybe, I found a little gem worth exploring. 

Père Anselme La Reserve de l’Aube Vin de Pays d’Oc Syrah-Merlot 2010.  What a nice little surprise.   Opening with a promise of spice.  Done in a more international style, but still maintaining an identity of self, this is a self-assured wine that whispers, “I may have humble beginnings, but I am an overachiever.”  Rated **1/2

My petit wine pilgrimage had paid off and it turns out that Bacchus allowed me to have the delectable SIP I was looking for after all even though I found it in the last place I would have looked for it.  And so I give thanks to the god of wine, as they say in Thailand, “khob-kun-Krab.”

So it ended up being a good night– just not this good:

Posted April 28, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love, Wine Etiquette

Corked Wines: Bad Wine, Good Manners   Leave a comment

It used to be that when I got a corked wine, I simply assumed, as many people do, that well, this is just part of the experience.  I have no doubt that I have happily consumed many a corked bottle.  Then it happened– one day a bottle so corked, that there was no way it was intended to taste like this.  And it seems the more wines I taste, the more my sensitivity to this fault.  Perhaps this simply the fallout from my paying more attention to what I am drinking.  Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but it seems that as I taste more wines, I am more keenly tuned into this phenomenon than most wine drinkers. 



But what is a corked wine and how can you be sure?  The chief cause of cork taint is the presence of the chemical compounds TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) and/or TBA (2,4,6-tribromoanisole) in the wine.  Though there could be other causes and if you’re truly interested there are plenty of internet sites that provide information about this.  Frequently, TCA is transferred to the wine from the cork.  Corked wine containing TCA has an odor sometimes described as moldy newspaper, wet dog, damp cloth, or damp basement.  Often, especially in very slightly corked wines, the taint presents itself as a suppression of the expressiveness of the fruit.  For us it has a distinctively rotten apple odor owing to a wine that Ms. R once described as smelling like apples.    She seems to have a more TCA sensitive palate than I do so when I’m not sure, she is my go-to arbiter on this matter.   Once she smells apples, I am out.

Is this a common problem?  Depending on your sources, the incidence of cork taint can be as low as 1% or as the Wine Spectator once published 7%.   My personal experience seems to run a little bit higher than the 1% quoted.  Let’s face it, if you had, say a 1% failure rate with any other agricultural product, like say, milk, it would be scandalous.  So why do we tolerate this?  Is environmentally unfriendly plastic the solution?  What about glass enclosures?  I have only seen this once in a Gruner Veltliner I had.  But it seemed to work well enough.   And there are those who would argue that cork imparts other favorable qualities (a certain liveliness for lack of a better term) to wine that plastics cannot. 

There also seems to be a difference in quality amongst cork available on the market with lower failure rates associated with– wait for it–  more expensive cork.  Of course, this increases costs of production and wine producers may not want to do that.

So you and your favorite super-model pop open a bottle and there you are with corked wine in hand.  First things first, what else do we have to open?  Hopefully you have anticipated this and have a back-up bottle of the same stuff.  This serves two purposes– first and foremost, the party must go on.   Second, the back up serves as a benchmark against which to measure the corked bottle– unless it, too, is corked.  Personally, this has not happened to me, but now that I have said it…

Returning the bottle. 

For reasons that are about to become obvious, do not, as many people do, simply dump it in the sink. 

Now, if you acquired this bottle via mail order, physically returning it may be an issue and usually the selling party will simply send out a new one if that is available or grant a credit.  Winery based clubs are especially good at taking care of their customers in this regard.

What about retail purchases?  

Return Policies Vary.  But one thing that I always do is maintain a copy of my receipts.  Not all shops ask for this.  However, especially if you are not a regular customer, it is helpful to have a record of the transaction. 

One thing pretty much all wine shops ask for is that you return any of the unconsumed wine.  Note, it’s always a good idea to return at least 1/2 of the bottle since it’s difficult to say that you didn’t enjoy the wine if you’ve drained the bottle.  Also, some retailers will take the bottle and return it to the distributor for credit. 

Although some retailers forget this, remember, unless you live in a one-horse town, they need you more than you need them.   There’s a lot of competition out there for your business.

As for the return policies themselves, the best from a consumer’s standpoint, is the “No Questions Asked” policy.  The presumption here is that you are not a happy consumer that just shelled out $10 or $100 for a bottle that can’t be drunk.  Two retailers I deal with follow this approach since they understand that no good can come of questioning their repeat customers on matters of taste.  There are limits, of course, and you don’t want to be making weekly visits to  return wines unless the wines are truly and clearly defective.  But that does not apply to anyone reading this blog.

Next best is the “Verification” policy which is distasteful (sorry about that) because it pits your palate for cork sensitivity against that of a staff member in the retail establishment.  The implicit message: “I don’t trust you.  I think you are not as sophisticated a wine taster as I am.”  The retailer’s tacit strategy: If I make it uncomfortable for you to return wine, then you won’t even try.  Another sizeable wine retailer, in Portchester, NY. (you can look them up if you care to), that I have purchased from uses this approach.    At one point, I returned a clearly corked bottle which the then floor manager took from me and went off by himself to taste while I stood by the checkout counter holding my you-know-what while waiting for him to render judgment on my corked claim.  He returned and announced that he was in agreement.  Huzzah!  And just a few days ago, I had a similar experience with another member of the floor staff there.  The $10 bottle that I returned was not overtly corked judging by the nose.  But is had a discernible mustiness that caught in the back of my throat.  This time, I asked to sit with the taster while he assessed my claim.  With one sniff, he immediately pronounced it as NOT being corked in an almost “Ahah!” moment.  (“Dude!  There are degrees of corking!”)  I tasted along with him and explained my objection to the wine.  Then, he wasn’t so sure.  So he took a glass of the stuff to another member of the staff for his assessment while I waited at the tasting counter this time.  (A small upgrade to waiting by the registers.)  Surprise!  Full refund.  But it’s all about how you make the customer feel, folks!   Had he come back and said, “No, this wine is fine.”  What would he have gained from that?  A loss of a customer to be sure.  As it was, I boycotted this store for a long while after the first episode.  And while I may purchase from them on occasion in the future, they are not my regular “go-to” wine merchant and have no hopes of being that if they don’t relax their return policy.

Worst is the “No Return” policy which transfers risk of loss to the consumer.  We do not buy from these stores.   You should not either. 

Corked wines in tastings. 

I was recently in one of my favorite stores for a tasting of Rhone wines.  When we got to a wine that I had actually tasted in the past, I immediately pegged it as corked.  There was a gentleman standing next to me at the tasting table and he said he wasn’t so sure whether it was corked– though he admitted that he wasn’t so sure what to look for, either.  The person pouring told me that the staff, a group of experienced tasters, had a disagreement (2-1 in favor of it being corked) over whether this particular wine was corked.  In the end, for whatever reason, democracy lost out to commerce, and they decided to pour it at the tasting.  But he did the right thing and immediately opened another bottle.  Unsurprisingly, the new bottle tasted much better.  And I received the concurring judgment of my now better-educated fellow taster.

Corked wines in restaurant settings. 

The approach to take may vary depending on who is paying for the wine and who seems to be enjoying it.  Before I go on, a little advice to restauranteurs and retailers alike:  The paying customer is always right.

Recently, at dinner in a restaurant with another couple we know, we each brought along some wines.  The wine they brought was clearly rotten apple corked as evidenced by the immediate and furious under-the-table-knee-knocking-between Ms. R and me.   Yet, our friends seemed happy with it.  What did we do?  Nothing– remember, different palates have varying levels of sensitivity to TCA.  They happily  quaffed gulps of the stuff and quickly polished off the bottle while we drank our red.  Had one of them said, “This tastes funny”, I might have ventured that it was corked.  But they thought it was delicious.  Who am I to question that?  (I hope she does not read this post!)  Moral of the Story: They pay and they like it– I keep my mouth shut. 

At a business dinner in Las Vegas a few years ago, our table ordered a bottle of wine.  While opening it, the cork broke while the waiter was opening the bottle.  (Note to self– if the cork breaks while opening, reject the bottle!)  Initial tasting of that wine revealed a slight mustiness which I thought might “blow off”.  I told the waiter I was not sure that the bottle was untainted, but we would give it a go.  It did not blow off– and more than half way through the bottle I decided to reject it as undrinkable as it was sitting in my glass and most everyone else’s for that matter.  The restaurant manager actually came over to argue that the wine was fine.  With 5 expensive servings of filet mignon sitting on our plates, I’m not sure that was the best tactic he could have employed.  I stood my ground since, after all, I had mentioned warned the waiter that the wine migt be tainted.  In the end, the wine came off the tab and we ordered a different bottle which was quite delicious.  Also, our waiter came by afterward and told us that in an  assessment in the kitchen, there was agreement that the bottle was tainted.  Not that I blamed him for his manager’s bad manners, but yes, he was tipped well.  Moral of the Story: My company pays and I don’t like it, I send it back.  But first, check with the others at the table especially if you allow the wine to be poured out in everyone’s glasses.  Moral No. 2: if you’re not sure, either reject it outright, or let your server know that you may have a problem with the wine that may or may not disappear.  Had I not fired that warning shot, I don’t think that I could have returned the bottle. 

A few weeks later while having dinner with my parents, you guessed it, the waitress opening the bottle broke the cork.  I immediately rejected the bottle.  The waitress was incredulous that I would not even taste it.  This is a restaurant that we went to regularly and the manager called her off.  While I do not for a fact know whether the wine was tainted or whether the waitress simply screwed up the opening of the wine and carelessly destroyed the cork, I will never know.  The bottle was replaced with a fresh one that was uncorked without incident and delivered a nice experience.  Moral of the Story: I’m paying and don’t like it, for whatever reason, I send it back.  And her attitude did impact her tip. 

What do you do if you are a guest and your host tastes and accepts wine that you know is clearly corked?  Smile a knowing smile.  Complement your host on a good choice.  Drink it.  And pray that the next bottle is better.

Have a funny story to tell about a corked wine you had?  Leave a Comment.

Posted November 17, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

Red Wine with Fish: Can we all get along?   Leave a comment

With all due apologies to Rodney King this is one question that many people don’t really struggle with simply because they follow their initial inclination to reach for that bottle of white.  And that usually works out pretty well.    So why mess with success?

Let’s first try to understand why do we do that.  There is the worn out cliché that whites should be paired with fish and reds with meat.  I have fallen victim to this thinking– truthfully, there’s a little guy inside my head who bangs the drum for the white wine when aromas of fish seep from the kitchen.  But, this seems so, what’s the word, prejudiced?  And yet, who hasn’t had the experience of drinking a red wine that unfavorably enhances the fishiness of seafood? 

So why bother with reds?  Well, while I enjoy the whites, I am not always in the mood for white even if I am having seafood.  Also, not all whites do well with fish– think rich whites or buttery California Chardonnay.  Having had some really pleasant experiences with red wine and fish, it’s time to think about what makes a red wine compatible with fish.  In my experience, I have come across some combinations that really work.  The first was suggested to me by good friend, B the Elder: Salmon & Pinot Noir.  A second, by trial and error on my part: Garnacha and Tilapia, a white fish.   A third, I wrote about back in June ( is smoked trout with a Tuscan blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  Still another suggested by another friend, who is very partial to Chilean Carmenere, is fresh tuna– the “other red meat”.  I personally have not tried that, but it does show promise. 

So how to identify red wines that would pair well with fish?  A couple of thoughts:

Acidity.  I think a key component in matching a red wine to fish is a key element in all good white wines– acidity.  The Pinots that I enjoy the most, have that.  Certainly, the Garnacha has that as well.  My guess is that Barberas would also fit the bill.  Cabernets– probably not so much.  Not that some of these don’t have acidity, but not with the same level of intensity as the first mentioned varietals.

Geography.  A second hint that a red wine would work with fish is geography: Red wines that are produced where seafood is abundant are more likely to match up well with the local cuisine.   The two examples cited above (Pinot Noir & Garnacha) fit the bill.  In the case of each of these two suggested combinations, geographic coincidences suggest that the combinations would work.  Whether by design or accident, I can’t say.  Much of the best salmon comes from the Pacific Northwest, home to extraordinary Pinots.  It would be natural, would it not, to seek to marry two crucial elements of that local culinary scene together.  And the result is magical.  But what about my recent discovery that Cannonau (aka, Garnacha) from Sardinia plays well with tilapia.  (see  Now it seems that tilapia were originally found in freshwater areas of the Mediterranean. The fish were raised for food in ancient Egypt and have long been a staple of Mediterranean cuisine.  Now, I can’t say based on this that Tilapia was consumed in Sardinia, but clearly, fish is a chief component of the Sardinian diet.   

But as I did a little bit of research for this posting, I came across a couple of examples worth trying even if they don’t neatly fit into the two guidelines I set forth above.  One stood out as worthy of experimentation Merlot with tuna or monkfish.  The combination with tuna is especially appealing given tuna’s meat-like qualities.  Mmmmm, to be continued… 

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Posted October 17, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

If I Could Drink But One Wine for the Rest of My Life, What Would it be? (Or, What Would Gilligan Have Done?)   3 comments

What is it about brand-name designer wines that get people hooked to the exclusion of all else?  I was faced with this question during a casual dinner the other night at a cafe on the beach.  I confess there were moments during this dinner when I actually felt shipwrecked.  Though I will say that it ended reasonably well.

If you have been reading this blog, you know that variety is an integral component of our wine drinking habits.  We take a very democratic approach to the wines that end up on our table.  I won’t say that all of them are fabulous.  But I can say that most of them are very decent, food friendly, delicious wines that I am happy to drink any time.  And yet, what do you do when confronted a member of the “I only drink high-end Napa Cabs” crowd. 

First off, it would be difficult to argue that the quality is not there.  Surely, for the most part, it is.  Though I find that the value is not necessarily there.   Yes, you get a pretty good drink, but at an exorbitantly high price, no?

But just Napa wines, really?  Look, I enjoy a fine Napa cab as much as the next guy.  But if that was all I could drink, I would be bored. 

There are people out there that revel in being able to order expensive wines to show off their social deftness as well as the refinement of their palates.  Yet if all one drinks are expensive wines, how sophisticated can that palate be?  Can you know what is truly good if you have not tasted and admired what is truly bad or what is good but may be lacking in certain traits which keep it from being great?  In an odd way, it borders on conspicuous consumption. 

Boredom aside, what do you lose?  What about wines that are good/great from another place?  You lose the minerality that is found in Chablis.  You lose the unique sweetness found in Volnay.  You lose the acidity of the Barbera.  You lose the terroir and concentration of Priorat or its more affordable cousin, Montsant.  And what about the glories of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel?  The powerhouse of flavor found in Barolo?  The velvety insistence of well-made merlot from France and Napa.  And what of the refreshment of Cru Beaujolais?  It’s a bit like the Ginger-Maryann debate.  Really, must I choose one? 

There is the economic motivation.  I suppose there are people out there for whom money is no object.  They can afford to drink these wines as often as they like, limited of course to availability.  I have said it before, and I will say it again.  It is just grape juice!  Good grape juice, yes, but grape juice nonetheless.  And I personally I have a problem seeing the value proposition in paying $150, $400 or $1,000 for a bottle of wine no matter where it is from.  I am a drinker and for me the intangible joy of drinking such expensive wines does not approach the value assigned to the wines by the marketplace.

Then there is the snob appeal.  Wine as a differentiator in the social pecking order: If you can’t afford to drink this, then you (a) aren’t a  serious wine drinker, (b) don’t know enough about good wine to be a real judge of quality and/or (c) don’t measure up in some intangible manner.  Also, because these higher end wines tend to have limited production, owning and drinking them somehow makes you special because not everyone can get their hands on the good stuff, you  know.  There is also a bullying aspect to this that I find distasteful.

How about the fact that implicit in the decision to limit one self to say Napa cabs or Barolo is the notion that no other wines are better.  Better at what moment?  And for what purpose?  If I’m having a spaghetti carbonara, I don’t want to be drinking an oaked California Cab.  Give me that Barbera and a Brunello right after!  I can get excellent examples of each for less than the cost of a bottle of Opus One (currently $170-$190 a bottle), and still have plenty of change left over for a few runs to White Castle!

So if I could drink but one wine the rest of my life, what would it be?  Although it seems extreme, I would give it up all together.  I would rather remain with the memories of the variety of tastes I have had rather than risk losing all of my vinous remembrances washed away by the sensation of drinking a singular sensational wine till the end of my days.

All right, Chuckleheads, you don’t really buy that load do you?  I suppose if I HAD to choose I would do so– after all, I can always read this blog to fill in the lacunae of memory.  But please, just don’t make me choose today. 

Posted July 29, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

To Spit or to Swallow?   4 comments

Austin: Who are you today, Baby?
Robin Swallows: My name is Robin Swallows.
Austin: Swallows.  That’s an interesting name.
Robin Swallows: Maiden name is Spitz.
Austin: Well, which is it, Baby, Spitz or Swallows? 

The situation: you go to a wine tasting where many different wines are being poured.  The idea is to sell you some of those wines.  You approach the first table with wine glass in hand.  You receive a small pour.  You sniff.  You swirl. You sip.  And then?  Which is it, Baby?

That indeed is the question.  Having spent virtually no time pondering it, I can say the choice is fraught with risks.   But why spit to begin with?  Seems like a waste of perfectly good wine, no?  Typically, professional tasters do this when assessing a number of wines to determine relative quality and to make buy/no-buy decisions.  No good can come of making a decision to a buy a bottle, case (or a pallet) of something toward the end of an afternoon of swallowing wines.  Been there, done that. 

But if you do swallow before ordering, Caveat Emptor.


Proper Technique– notice the slight lean forward and the wine clearing all clothing. And you get extra credit for standing on the barrel.

Technique.  The Goal–  to taste your wine without wearing your wine.  First off– don’t take too much wine into your mouth.  A small mouthful is usually sufficient.  Swirl the wine around your mouth to hit every part of the tongue.  Salt, sour, sweet, bitter zones.  Lean forward slightly and aim for the spit bucket.  Push the wine out but not too forcefully expelling it in a steady stream.  Try not to miss– nothing pisses off tasting room staff than some yahoo spitting on their bar.  If you must, bring your face closer to the spit bucket, but watch out for the nasty splash back (for this reason alone, you may want to snag your own personal paper cup for this purpose).  

Spit Buckets.  There are unwritten rules when using the spit bucket.  First, if the tasting event you are attending is a social gathering, then ask if it is ok to spit right into the bucket.  Seems that some folks who are there just to drink, don’t like the sight of spitting wine any more than say the spitting that accompanies chewing tobacco.  More often than not they will hand you a plastic cup for you to do your business.   But if you’re in a winery, the spit bucket is your friend.

Drains.  First time I saw this was with a wine maker friend who spurt out into the drains at the winery.  Cooool!  I don’t have many opportunities to do this at home, so had to go for it.  Just watch out for splashes on your trousers, or worse, Ms. R’s white sandals!

Socially Unacceptable?  Not for me.  Socially unacceptable is getting so toasted you can’t tell the difference between a wine glass and a spit bucket.  I save those nights for when I’m home or with close friends!  More on the value of good friends shortly.

The Wrong Technique. Spit? Swallow? Spit? Swallow? What to do? NOT THIS.

Swallow.Reasons to swallow?  We need reasons?

Like Waka Flocka Flame raps “It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party!”  Just remember, you can have too much of a good thing.  Otherwise, you could end up like Judge Rivington who reportedly fell off of the ferry after the Spring Tasting sponsored by Niles and Frasier Crane’s Wine Club.

This is an obvious reason to swallow– it tastes good.  Ultimately, wine is a food item, is it not?  And given that, it is meant to be and should be enjoyed and savored.  Putting aside all the talk of the mystical-magical-transcendent properties of wine, it is about bringing a little more enjoyment to life, a meal, a moment.

Look Ma, No hands!

Are there wines that are just too good to spit?  Naturally and when this happens, I swallow with the best of them.  But even too much good wine will take you to the Point of No Return.  I read recently about a very well-known English wine writer who several years back had so much good old French Bordeaux at a “tasting” that she uncharacteristically misplaced her tasting notebook.  “Woopsy!”

Can you be too thirsty to spit.  This is the Danger Zone.  Think of it– hot summer day, crisp white sipper sitting on ice.  Your last meal was earlier that morning  Could a couple of quickly quaffed glasses be so bad?  (“Hey, is that Waka Flocka on the iPod?”)  Oh Yeah– just don’t forget to just hit the water and the buffet table before the party goes out-of-bounds.

Is it possible to be too grossed-out to spit.  Yes.  But, that’s not me.  But you know what’s really gross?

Judge Rrrrrrrrrrivinton are you in there?

Well at least she’s got nice– um– shoes and a little help from a good friend.  But I don’t envy her choice of spit bucket.  I suppose for some people, the matter of spitting is not one of whether to do so, but rather when: Spit NOW or Spit LATER.

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Posted July 24, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

Wine Snob 101: Ten Wine Terms That May Get You a Beat-Down   Leave a comment

So you wanna impress that young lady on your first date by showing off your knowledge of fermented grape juice? 

Seriously?  OK, got it.  Like the guys from Corporate Headquarters always say: “I’m here to help.”  Translation: I’ll give you the 4-1-1 but after that you’re on your own, dude.   

Let’s start with how we talk about wine.  It’s all about the adjectives.  Personally, I have no problem with describing flavors in wines using terms like vanilla, blueberries, blackberries, chocolate, citrus, cherries as well as other commonly understood aromas like earth, cedar and barnyard.  I just wish some reviewers didn’t use terms that border on the metaphysical, incomprehensible or ridiculous.

Everyone’s taste buds are unique and aroma and taste preferences are driven by personal experience, cultural factors (how else to explain creamed herring, fried pickles and gefilte fish?), physiology (women have more sensitive palates than men– yeah, I read that somewhere), etc.  So if you decide to use any of the following terms, don’t blame me if you don’t get that good night kiss at the end of your internet date.  And definitely, don’t call if some guy at the bar, named Rocco, decides to use your head as a footstool.

Black Jelly.  Yeah, somebody actually used this one.  A Wine Enthusiast Review of Château La Conseillante Pomerol 2006: “A wonderfully firm wine, which balances extraction with pure sweet fruit. It moves comfortably within its tannic structure, the ripe Merlot allowed plenty of play to show off its black jelly and plum flavors.” 

Would it hurt you to say licorice (if that’s what this means)?  Perhaps it would hurt, but not as much as those hand cuffs, I’ll bet.  And just try to say “black jelly” in public without getting beat up.  I dare you.

Hedonistic.  I still can’t completely wrap my mind around what Robert Parker means when he describes a wine as “hedonistic” or “pure hedonism”.  A hedonist is a person that holds that pleasure is the greatest good.  So a hedonistic wine is a pleasurable wine?  That is pretty meaningless– I find many wines to be pleasurable.  But it seems to me that when RP uses the term, he has something more specific in mind.  It seems to me that he means a big wine, with higher concentration, higher alcohol, etc.  Though I enjoy these, they do not bring me the greatest pleasure. 

Pencil Shavings.  You can smell them.  But you better not be tasting them. 

“Yeah, I get pencil shavings” 

Ticonderoga No. 2.

Saddle Leather.  Smell saddle leather?  Taste saddle leather?  The last time I was in a saddle, I had no desire to take a sniff of the thing.  And I’m not about to start.

I’m having a pretty nasty City Slickers moment here.   You know what I’m taking about.

That just sucks all of the joy out of drinking those classic Spanish Gran Reservas. 

Silky.  Silky is what good pinot noir feels like in the mouth– think Victoria’s Secret, Hermes neckwear, most anything from Domaine Serene.  Think of wines that dance across the tongue with light footsteps leaving luscious flavors in their wake. 

Silky has character.  Silky seduces.  Silky might get you into the End Zone.

Silky keeps you coming back for more.… lose the riding crop, OK?

Smooth.  Or more accurately, “smoooooth”.  And when you say this, make sure to half-shut your eyes almost like you’re having a religious vision or are being possessed or something.  I hear people use this term and the first thing I think of is cheap California Merlot.  But these are the same people who won’t “drink any f*****g merlot”.   

What does smooth do?  It brushes the lint from your shoulder and keeps you wrinkle-free.  To me, it sounds like another way of saying “boring”.  The one advantage that you have with this adjective is that if you do decide to use it in public, you will likely get a bunch of folks around you nodding in agreement.

Seductive.  Another example: “Antinori’s 2007 Tignanello is wonderfully ripe and seductive in its dark cherries, flowers, spices, tobacco, sage, cedar, mint and minerals.” 

Sorry, dude, people are seductive.  Dark cherries, by themselves, not so much.  Dark cherries in Ms. R’s hands, different story.  Cherries in Ms. R’s hands after drinking a bottle of Antinori’s 2007 Tignanello?  Unforgettably Seductive.  I think I hear some Funky Music– do you Roger that, White Boy?

Tar. I always thought that tar (in combination with a good measure of feathers) was only good for expressing displeasure with one’s elected representatives and other undesirables. 

Apparently not.  While I don’t mind a certain earthiness in some of the wines I drink, I don’t immediately think of tar as being a component of the aroma/flavor profile of any wine.

Spice Box.   What kind of spices do you really mean?  

Indian?  French?  Chinese?

Perhaps some English Spices?  Those are my favorites.

Enough said.

Transcendent.  “Quaffable, but uh… far from transcendent.”  Miles wasn’t happy enough to screw up Merlot.  Now our wines have to be “transcendent”.  To transcend is to surpass others of the same kind.  Put another way: “This is the best damn wine I have ever had.”

The Best?  At least until the next transcendent wine’s cork is popped.  But until then, you’ll have to settle for

Posted June 10, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

Another Nixonian Dilemma   1 comment


"Holy crap, Leonid! It's a good thing you're only drinking that cheap New York 'champagne'."

 As a wine lover, I believe that one of the great enjoyments of wine is the simple act of sharing it with people who are like-minded.  But what if your guests like their wine plentiful, cheap and out of a big ole jug?  Is it acceptable to serve your invited guests a different wine than the one you have reserved for yourself?  The answer seems obvious and yet this does happen.

A famous example of this was relayed by Eric Asimov in the NY Times Diner’s Journal:

“Nonetheless, secretly reserving a wine for oneself while serving something else to the guests violates numerous rules of etiquette. Not that it’s uncommon. The most famous such anecdote comes from “The Final Days’’ by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in which Richard Nixon is depicted entertaining Congressmen on the Presidential yacht Sequoia, serving them a modest Bordeaux with their dinner of tenderloin while the stewards poured Nixon Margaux 1966, the bottle wrapped in a napkin to conceal the label. Tricky, Dick!”

Imagine the potential embarrassment and the look on his face if that napkin covered ’66 Chateau Margaux had been corked.   You know he’s not drinking the plonk being served to the Congressmen.  What is a Nixon to do? (Please select from the following choices.)

a. Intimately whispers into the ear of his server: “I don’t want to drink that other crap, is there  another bottle of this out back?” 

b. Sits silently sober

c. Drinks the tainted bottle

d. Ask for the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman as a diversionary tactic while a new bottle is ushered in. 

And what if there had been a mix-up with the covered bottles?  Could Dick have known the difference?  And if he thought there was a mix up, how would he even broach that subject?

Assuming the wine was good and we have no reason to believe it was not good, and assuming there was no mix up with the bottles, imagine delighting in the presence, the majesty, the power, the finesse of a ’66 Margaux and not being able to discuss it with anyone.  It is possible to be completely alone in a room full of people.  This sort of self-imposed vinous exile smacks of hubris and speaks volumes about a person’s character, personality, sense of entitlement, etc.  

There is one other thing that I need to mention here.  Nixon resigned from office in 1974.  If Woodward and Bernstein were correct in their reporting, that means he was drinking what could have been a fantastic, age-worthy bottle of Margaux within 8 years of the vintage date!  I would have thought that the leader of the free world should be able to score a well aged bottle of fine bordeaux.  My money is on the fact that the “modest bordeaux” being served to the other guests was actually drinking better than the Margaux (at least I really want to believe that).  Which begs the question, how much did he really know about wine?   

This two-tiered wine service is rife with potential landmines. 

Let face it– there are people who don’t “get” the wine thing.  For them it is just another way to ingest alcohol– and maybe we should have a six-pack of Bud on hand just for them IF THEY ARE INTERESTED IN THAT SORT OF THING.  And there are those who on principle, decline to pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine.  But to put out a different wine for them than the one I’m drinking is just bad manners and if history is any teacher, you will be found out.  Even Tricky Dick eventually received the painful lesson that accompanies the discovery of a deception.  I have found that many of my friends who are not fluent in the culture of wine are actually intrigued enough to pursue better bottles once they have been introduced to higher caliber wines and realize what goes into and comes out of a decent bottle of wine.  And even if they don’t take to it as passionately as I do, friendships are made and strengthened over good wine, or at least what people may think is good wine.

Drink the value wines right along with the larger crowd.  Best to save the good stuff for a smaller crowd of 2-4 people or in Nixon’s case, party of 1 in a darkened Oval Office.  And if you’re thinking of recording conversations with friends, colleagues, drinking buddies?  Best to avoid that altogether, Dick.

Posted May 8, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

When is it OK to put ice in your wine?   4 comments


Ice in Sangria?  De Rigueur and the only time I will do it.

White Wine Spritzer?  Never OK for so many reasons.

Wine on the rocks?  Hell no!!

We have a friend, a certain Ms. L, who drinks primarily (OK exclusively) whites.  She insists on the ice thing.  Reason?  She likes the clinking in her glass.  Reminds her of a party, I guess. 

Recently, she joined us with some other friends for a visit to one of the cathedrals of Italian wine and food excellence, Eataly in NYC.  After ordering a nice bottle of white, she proceeds to dump several ice cubes into her glass.  One of my other friends, Mr. M (a native of Piemonte) was about to have a seizure upon witnessing this.  I quickly shot him a look and whispered, “I know; just look away.”  But Ms. L, it seems is not alone. 

Is this behavior limited to people who are not wine professionals/critics/lovers?  Apparently not.  During a trip to Sonoma a few days ago, I saw a Dry Creek Valley winemaker do the same thing!  His explanation?  Gives him an opportunity to drink more without getting hammered.  Here’s an idea: DRINK MORE WATER.  Personally, I like Ms. L’s explanation better.

So why should this bother me?  It doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the wine I happen to be drinking.  Or does it?  How much of a snob am I?  (Note to reader: these are rhetorical questions that I do not expect any of you to answer.)

Speaking of snobbery, is this any different from pouring a lesser wine when the people drinking it are not truly appreciative of, or willing to make an effort to appreciate, what’s in the glass?  Do you pour Petrus for the masses?  Hell, bad example, I don’t pour Petrus for myself.  But you get the idea.  People will tell you that they are not wine drinkers, until they find out that you’re pouring from a special bottle.  Then it turns out the unruly hoard is lining up for their allocation… usually a nice tall glass of the stuff.  “Fill it to the brim please.”  They are so polite.  They are also the first to say the wine is too dry and that they wished it was, you know, sweeter.  Ugh! 

But I digress.

So how do we solve the ice problem with Ms. L?  Even though I don’t care for ice in the wine, Ms. L is a good time and sure to keep the party lively.  Surely, that’s worth putting up with an ice-cube or two?  I keep some low-cost yet quality white wines in the house.  This way when it’s “bombs away” into the wine glass, I don’t feel as bad.  And I can drink the same thing.  And when she says, this is so much better than Santa Margherita!  I can respond, “And at half the price!”  All of a sudden, that ice problem just melts away…

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Posted May 7, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love, Wine Etiquette