Wine Education: Adega Fall Wine Classes

Developing your own personal wine palate is not a very easy concept for most people to wrap their minds around.

It’s easy to pinpoint why we like a certain type of food. But ask most people to speak ad nauseam about why they like a Pinot Noir or Rioja and you might either get a confused look, experience silence or hear: “I know what I like and what I don’t like.”

We’ve had a lifetime of trial and error, tasting and sampling, and smiling and frowning over food options that we have tried since we were kids. We know what we love. We know what we don’t love so much. We know what we can only have a small dose of and we most certainly know what takes us to a very special, elated place.

When it comes to wine, most of us in the United States haven’t had a lifetime of trial and error, tasting and sampling, and smiling and frowning over wine. Most of us were only able to access wine in our late teens or early 20s for the first time. We tend to be at a disadvantage compared to many of our European counterparts.

As a result, it’s difficult for us to sometimes rub two adjectives together to describe what we like about wine and why. Some might opt for an ubiquitous statement like: “I like a nice full-bodied red” or “I’ll take any white wine, except for Chardonnay.”

The great thing about developing your own wine palate is that it just takes a little trial and error, tasting and sampling, and smiling and frowning – which could be a lot of fun and easier than you think.

I’ve taught a number of wine classes in NYC and the easiest way for me to get my students to really connect the dots to what’s going on in the glass to what they are experiencing is to walk through a systematic process. It’s called the Five “S’s” of wine tasting. Now, there are several variations on the S’s that sommeliers and wine educators use. Some educators use four. Some people use seven. I like to use five. I’ll tell you what they are and why I use five.

SEE – The first “S” stands for “see.” This is an important first step which allows you to state the obvious (red, white, rose, sparkling) and then uncover some not so obvious things about the coloring and style of your wine.

SWIRL – The second “S” involves the student physically getting involved in the process, by swirling the wine. Swirling the wine helps warm up the wine a bit and allows it to interact with oxygen. This helps you get a better sense of the intricate aromas the wine if offering up in the glass.

SNIFF – The third “S” is all about sticking your nose deep in the glass and taking a series of sniffs to see if you can pick out the smells that are present in the glass of wine. Then you verbalize what you are experiencing. This is a very important step as the sense of smell is very crucial to wine tasting, wine consumption and wine enjoyment.

SIP – The fourth “S” is finally about getting that juice in your mouth. You want to allow it to fully interact with and engulf your entire mouth to get a deeper perspective of all the elements of wine. This step is all about tasting the wine’s unique characteristics, how it was produced and an sense of what region from which it came.

SAVOR – The last “S” is for the wine taster to take a moment and really consciously experience the wine. That means thinking about how it feels in your mouth. Concentrate on the flavors you are getting from the wine. The taster should ask themselves: What does it do to your mouth? What does it taste like when you swallow it? What are the main flavor profiles? What flavors are secondary? Now, you can begin to think about if that wine will be something you would only have in small doses or if it could be something you might crave – and why!

Taking this systematic and guided approach to wine tasting provides you time and opportunity to analyze the whole experience of wine. I personally opt for the Five S approach because I really like to end the experience at savor. Savor to me is at the point where you and the wine really bond.

In this day and age, we get into a routine where we’re running, running, running in our daily lives. We’re multitasking and sometimes we are phoning in many of our experiences. We are not paying attention to these little luxuries of life like food and wine. The savor step forces you to be in the moment and try to determine what exactly is going on in your mouth.

I’d hope the savoring step would be a memorable and pleasurable bonding experience. Even if it is not the most tasty, it still forces you to fully taste the wine. That is an important step in the right direction toward understanding what you like and how to choose wines to satisfy your palate.

My goal is for you as a wine taster to appreciate the wine from its appearance, its smell, its flavors and make a concerted effort to be in the moment to get to know the wine on a real level.

Cooking with Wine: 101

Just as there is a lot of confusion about what types of wines to serve with a meal, there is an equally large cloud of confusion that surrounds the idea of cooking with wine. Here’s what I want you to do. Take a deep breath, exhale, pour wine into your dish and into your glass and enjoy.

There is no need to stress out. We all know that having wine with a meal can take it from good to great or from amazing to astonishing. That’s because the components of wine, primarily the flavor profile and acidity, work well with particular dishes. The same concept can be applied to using wine in your dish to allow those components to really accentuate the meal, regardless of if you are preparing a marinade, making vinaigrette, sautéing, boiling or even baking.

These aren't hard and fast rules, just some guidelines to consider. Trust your palate because ultimately it's your enjoyment of the meal and experience that really matters. Here are some initial Do's and Don'ts to consider when cooking with wine:

* Don't cook with wine you wouldn't want to drink (exceptions are rich sauces, stews and roasts); while most of the alcohol burns off while cooking, the flavor remains. Therefore, make sure the flavor will complement your dish

* Do buy a quality wine costing $15 and under to cook with, plus enjoy with the meal

* Don't use expensive wines to cook with. Save that bottle to have with the meal

* Do use slightly older wines or box wines for cooking rather than buying new bottles if you cook on a regular or daily basis

* Don't use cooking wines from the grocery store. These wines typically have a lot of sodium added to them

New Summer White Wine: Viognier

Voigner (pronounced VEE-OHN-YAY) is a grape varietal from the Rhône Valley in France.

Outside of the Rhône, Viognier can be found in regions of North and South America as well as Australia and New Zealand. In some wine regions, the variety is co-fermented with the red wine grape Syrah where it can contribute to the color and bouquet of the wine. 

Like Chardonnay, Viognier has the potential to produce full-bodied wines with a lush, soft character which makes it a nice winter white that hints at the upcoming Spring time. 

In contrast to Chardonnay, the Viognier varietal has more natural aromatics that include notes of peach, pears, violets and fresh minerality.

Sparkling, Bubbly and Fizzy Wines

There’s no doubt that there is a certain cachet surrounding sparkling wines. Wines with bubbles are fun and lively and remind us of special moments in life. As I always think of wines as a simple luxury in life, wines with bubbles up the ante a bit more.

Here is a break down of sparkling wines to better help the category:

Champagne: This is a very popular sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. The “Champagne method” calls for the secondary fermentation of the wine to take place in each individual bottle to create carbonation.  The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier (two red grapes), and Chardonnay (one white grape). Champagne can come in white or rose and using several different variations of those three grapes. Only sparkling wines from Champagne, France can be called Champagne. Anything else is “sparkling wine.” This was the beverage of choice for royalty in the 17th, 18th and 19th century and is why some of the prestige and cachet of sparkling wine still exists today.

Prosecco: Prosecco is a light and easy sparkling white wine that comes in either a dry or extra dry wine and made from Glera grape in Northern Italy. Today, you can find rose versions of prosecco too. Prosecco usually is produced using the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and then bottled. That makes the wine less expensive to produce and very palatable and approachable. Prosecco is fairly inexpensive and is also a great sparkling wine to use when making sparkling wine cocktails like a Mimosa, Bellini or to top off a flavored martini.

Cava: This is a lovely sparkling wine that comes from Catalonia, Spain. It may be white (blanco) or rosé (rosado). Cava uses the Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes, indigenous to Spain.  The Catalan word cava means cave or cellar. Caves were used in the early days of cava production for the preservation or aging of wine. Catalan winemakers officially adopted the term in 1970 to distinguish their product from French champagne. Cava wines are made in the “Champagne method,” but can be purchased at the fraction of the price of champagne.

Sparkling Moscato: Moscato originally comes from Piedmont, Italy. It is a semi-sweet, lightly sparkling, low-alcohol wine. As the name implies, it is made from Moscato Bianco grapes grown in vineyards near the town of Asti. However, you can find variations of this wine from Spain, France and the United States. The characteristic notes on the nose are floral aromas and hints of peach, apricot and honey. It is one of Italy’s most famous and most popular wines. This wine, of course, comes in a still version as well.

Lambrusco: This is another Italian sparkling wine, but it comes in a red (yes, red), rose or white form using  the Lambrusco grape from Emilia-Romagna and one in Lombardy. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, sweet Lambrusco was the biggest selling import wine in the United States. It is very fun to drink in the summer or special occasions with hard and soft cheeses and cured meats.

Sparkling Shiraz: This is another interesting sparkling wine that happens to be a red, sparkling wine.  It is made in the same way as Champagne – that is, bottle fermented, aged on lees, and left to develop in the bottle. It used the Shiraz/Syrah grape in Australia. This wine features a very different set of aromas from the previous wines like the smell of blackcurrants, blackberries, chocolate, cherries, strawberries and more. It’s frothy and has a purple hue. The palate features powerful fruit. It’s a dry sparkling, but it is fruit forward with nice acidity and tannin structure. On the finish, you’ll find hints of berries, mushroom, spice, cherries and pepper.

Hopefully one of these options – or any other sparkling wine from throughout the world – will strike your fancy.

Pinot Noir: A Timeless Classic

Love them or hate them, Pinot Noir is a classic grape varietal that hails from the Burgundy region of France.

It has found new homes all over the world, however it is a finicky, challenging and troublesome grape to grow. It needs a long, cool maturation period in which to grow and develop properly. That means it doesn’t need a lot of heat or sun to ripen.

As a result, the grape develops very thin skins that lead to the wine having a lighter color and typically softer tannins (the tactile sensation that dries your mouth out).

Pinot Noir is a very versatile wine when it comes to food and wine pairing because of the moderate to high acid content and it can also serve as a lovely Spring and Summer Red when served slightly chilled