Archive for September, 2009


The Wine List Please

Posted on Sep 25 2009 | By

wine listQuick. Name a dining experience that can cause a range of emotions from unease to an appetite-ending clutch in the throat. Might it be the innocently posed question from a companion, “Would you please select a wine for dinner?”

Who me?

Faced with an extensive wine list and dinner companions looking for you to navigate its rocky shoals, finding the safe haven of a good bottle can be intimidating. And if it’s a business dinner with important clients in tow, the pressure can be magnified considerably. Make a poor selection and you might be apologizing to the group throughout the meal.

Relax. Being asked to choose a wine means someone thinks you have the savoir-faire to handle the assignment.  There are some simple strategies that can be employed to reduce your anxiety and assure success.

First, conduct some quick market research. Ask the diners what type of wine they are interested in. It will be useful to know what entrees they are ordering. But, laboring over a dinner menu is a time-honored tradition. If you wait for everyone to choose an entrée, it’s possible the table will be empty glassed by the time the first course arrives.

A neat delaying tactic is to quickly order a bottle of bubbly—along with fluted glasses. It does not have to be an expensive bottle of champagne. Today, Spain produces a delicious sparkler called Cava; Italy, Prosecco; and the United States, sparkling wine. It’s a rare diner that won’t enjoy a bubbly aperitif with hors d’oeuvres. It’s an inventive and festive way to kick off the meal. Your guests will be looking forward to the rest of your wine choices after this successful opening.

With a libation safely at the table, continue assessing what wines your group is interested in. If it’s a white, do they favor a light and crisp style or one more full bodied? If red, does a softer, medium weight wine have appeal, or a bigger, richer, fruit forward one? In a matter of moments you’ll be able to assess their style preferences.

Now its time to employ your secret weapon—the sommelier. The sommelier, pronounced suh-muhl-YAY, is a professional wine expert employed by upscale restaurants. He, and increasingly she, is trained to provide descriptions and recommendations on any wine on the restaurant’s list. This individual may also be called the wine director or wine buyer. Regardless of the title, if a restaurant has a solid wine selection, there will be a knowledgeable employee available to describe and recommend the wines.

 Here are some categories your can focus on:


Light & crisp: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigo, unoaked Chardonnay

Fuller bodied: Oaked Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Semillon




Light to medium weight: Beaujolais, Dry Rose’, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chianti

Richer & fuller bodied: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah (Shiraz), Zinfandel, Barolo

Once you’re ready to order, ask the waiter if you can test taste any of the wines selected. It’s possible an opened bottle may be available, and if it is, your server will be happy to let you sip first. If you are considering two or three possible selections, ask for glasses with a dollop of wine in each. There’s no better way to evaluate a wine than tasting before ordering.

If there are four or more wine drinkers at the table, you may need to order at least two bottles. If this occurs, it presents an opportunity during the dinner for others to taste a wine other than the one they are drinking. By encouraging these mini-tastings, you’ll create a learning moment while enhancing the fun factor.

When the wine arrives, the waiter will present the bottle to you. After all, you are the expert that placed the order. First, look at the label and confirm it’s what you selected and is the same vintage as shown on the wine list.

After it’s opened, the cork will be handed to you. There is no need to smell the cork since it will tell you very little about the wine’s quality. The tradition of smelling the cork actually originated in the early 1900s when wine fraud was prevalent in France. Often inferior wine would be bottled in used expensive bottles and sold at inflated prices. To guard against such fraud, diners would compare the printing on the cork to see if it matched the label. If it didn’t, the buyer knew he was being sold a cheaper wine. Today, such fraud is rare and smelling the cork became a fairly useless replacement for the original physical examination.

Rather than sniffing the cork, be alert for a dried or crumbly one, or one saturated with wine through the top. This could signal an over the hill bottle.

Tasting WineNext, the waiter will serve you a small amount of wine for your approval. This part of the examination is important. Look for any off smells, particularly wet newspaper, vinegar, burnt match or wet dog. If you pick up any such odors, there’s no need to taste the wine. Call for the sommelier and have him address your concerns. If it’s a flaw, he will quickly confirm the problem and order another bottle. However, if there are no faults in either the aroma or taste, but you simply are not enamored with the wine, it’s not proper to reject the selection. The bottle is good, it’s been ordered and it should be consumed and paid for. In such situations, you have learned a valued lesson about that specific type of wine.

If a white has been ordered, it will typically be placed in an ice bucket. As the bottle is consumed, be on guard not to let it get too cold. An over chilled white will lose it fruit characteristics and become more acidic. With less than half a bottle left, you should remove it from the ice to maintain its flavor.

 During the course of the meal, your waiter may periodically take the bottle and pour each guest more wine. If you wish to maintain control, simply advise staff that each diner will pour their own servings. This is a useful strategy since some people prefer less wine while others more, and it gives each diner control over their alcohol intake.

diningOnce the wine and food have been served, you can relax and enjoy your meal. Wines today are generally well made regardless of varietal or country of origin. Restaurants labor over their lists to assure the selections are creditable. As your companions enjoy their selections, your reputation as a knowledgeable wine person will be enhanced.

And next time the question is posed, “Will you please choose the wine?” you’ll respond confidently, “I’d be delighted to.”


Published in the Culpeper Times on September 24, 2009.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

John’s September Pick of the Month

Posted on Sep 25 2009 | By


2007 Cabernet Sauvignon


Proprietor, winemaker and B&B owner Jimm East has produced a fine example of a rich Virginia Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that can be a bit of a challenge to grow in the Old Dominion. From its deep garnet hues, to aromas redolent with smoke and black cherry, and finishing with a palate of black fruit and cassis, this is a serious red for serious wine drinkers. Pair this fifteen-month oak aged black beauty with Prime Rib and Yukon Gold potatoes. Drink now through 2013.

Sharp Rock Vineyards is located off Route 231—on one of its prettiest stretches in Virginia—at 5 Sharp Rock Road, Sperryville, VA 22740. The vineyards lay in the shadow of Old Rag Mountain and the quaint, rustic tasting room is opened from February through December, Friday to Sunday from 11am to 5pm. (540) 987-8020.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES