5 Ways To Pretend You are A Wine Connoisseur
September 17, 2014
Being in the presence of a passionate connoisseur, be it for wine or any other topic, is always fascinating. It’s actually so fascinating that in most cases, you just would love to become that passionate connoisseur and have others drink your words. How cool would that be? Admittedly, I am not a wine connoisseur (far from it), and the only way I avoid ending up the laughing stock during mundane dinners is by quoting or mimicking scenes of the movie Sideways (a personal favorite). So when the opportunity to participate in a wine tasting activity popped up, I realized it would be my one and only chance to distance myself from Hollywood and seriously start making sense when asked “so what kind of wine shall we go for?”. Just like Barry White saved thousands of possibly unsuccessful dates, the young and truly captivating sommelier Nicolas Smith from the La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels (“Company of Surreal Wines”) saved me from my ongoing wine ignorance. “The people who walk in darkness shall see a great light”. With these 5 tips, thou shalt be the light…
OK, let’s start with the bad news. If you are not a true sommelier, then you probably won’t have enough technical words to captivate your audience. So this is when the carafe comes in handy to make sure your sudden sommelier impersonation is flawless. With that precious object in hand, start talking about it without actually talking about the wine… Foreplay is always recommended:
- “Ah! We are having red wine. Great! Generally, we would have to go for a large carafe just to facilitate and accelerate the aging of the wine, but this carafe will do the trick for today”.
- “Why are you staring at me with that surprised look on your face: yes, white wine should be carafe as well, usually in a small carafe, but this one will do nicely for today”.
- “Trust me, I know what I am doing: give me back the carafe and you’ll get a much crisper and tastier champagne!”
If you don’t have a carafe, don’t panic! Go for the real connoisseur’s tour de force: the best way to release the flavors of a wine is by opening the bottle a day before drinking it!
Now that you have proven you know your carafe, it’s time to show you actually know how to use it! Of course, a real professional will know the perfect way to carafe each sort of wine, but for our purpose, our main objective is to impress! The first step is to pour a bit of wine in the carafe and “coat the carafe” (throw in a bit of French as well while you do this: This process is called “aviner” in French). Stir the carafe and then empty it. Then tell your audience that you will “wake up the wine”. A simple step, but a surprising one that will generally attract the attention of those that were not too convinced with the previous “I know my carafe” story. Just vertically chunk the bottle of wine in the carafe and let the liquid pour itself out violently.
This is when you will want to mention a couple of technical terms, just like a magician always talks when he performs his tricks. Talk about “reduction”, a natural process that can’t be avoided and gives a tight taste to the wine. Waking up the wine breaks that reduction and tightness, loosening up and awakening the flavors. When the bottle is empty, simply remove it and stir the carafe vividly for a few minutes before pouring the wine in the glasses. Oh, and just in case you think that changing glasses each time you taste a new wine during the dinner is cool, well, forgive me for being the bearer of bad news but… it’s not. Use the same glass (empty though, don’t mix!) and, just like the carafe, coat the glass with the next wine. Make sure the previous wine was lighter than the new one though, and do change if you are switching wine colors!
Now it’s time to talk about the wine. First, look at it and bring it to a light source to check the density of the color. Then tilt the glass and check for consistency. Since you are not a connoisseur, don’t start jumping into a long monologue. Pretend to be precise by being vague. Just say you are checking the age of the wine and if it is syrupy or not. Then… the moment of truth: Taste the wine! Chances are, your audience is completely ignorant with wine terminology, so throw in some evasive words to pretend you know what you are talking about:
- “This wine is very crisp, and slightly chalky. I love mineral wines, they taste so pure!”
- “I always seek drinkability and lightness in a wine, and this one (mention the name by reading it from the label on the bottle) never disappoints”
- “Acidity is the spine of the wine, yet our carafing process has gotten rid of the acidity and offered a bouquet of flavors… notice that nutty aged Gouda cheese taste?
Talking about French geography is always a success. Needless to pretend you know the region where the wine comes from, but talk in general. “Did you know” sentences are perfect in this situation:
- “Did you know Côte du Rhône wines are of much better value than Bordeaux wines: equally good, yet 1/3rd of the price”
- “Did you know that the slopes of the Rhône Valley are so steep that the vineyards are treated by helicopter?”
- “You still think the term Premier Cru is for excellence! Erroneous: it’s a geographical region created in the 13th century by local monks.”
Do away with all the clichés and try some cool moves that will likely impress your audience.
Candle the wine: if you don’t have a carafe, or if you want to gently carafe the wine, pour it in the glass or carafe over a candle in order to “see through” the wine and look for impurities and depot. After all, you want to drink your wine, not eat it!
Don’t smell the cork: Some think it’s cool, but it’s actually passé! Leave it for the “amateurs”, but do mention it: “you might expect me to smell the cork, but I leave that for the amateurs” (add a sigh for a better result).
Cut out the decorative aluminum foil protecting the cork below the lip of the bottle, not the top: from me to you, it’s just for style as there is no real purpose.
Say you never leave home without your trusted corkscrew (and say the handle is made out of a fancy camel bone carved by French monks in the late 12th century), but you surprisingly forgot it today!
Don’t overdo it though… Cool is only 1 letter away from fool.
You can tell an amateur from a connoisseur just by the wines he is going to like and mention. To the question “what is your favorite wine?,” an amateur will generally throw names of great châteaux at you, but with a good chance of not even being able to describe the taste (unless he read this article too). So don’t be a label drinker. Be original! The best wines are generally the wines that come from local producers that really personally take care of the whole process. Here are some wines you can show off with: Mont Louis Sur Loire (white Cheney), David Lefort (Red Bourgogne), Cornas (Red Syrah), Saint Estèphe (Red Bordeaux). Throw in a desert wine as well to make it extra pro: Valentin Zusslin.
Well, that being said (and read), taking wonderful advice from a complete wine amateur might not be the smartest thing to do, although the above is all based on true facts. But knowing more about wines (and having a great time while you are at it) is easily within your reach. Nicolas Smith, the Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels’ talented and friendly sommelier (a Canadian, so he speaks perfect French and English) talks about wines in a way that will have you travel through taste, colors and land for 1:30 hours. For 65€ per person, a completely justified price for the wines tasted (some bottles are worth 100€), 5 wines are tasted and accompanied with bread, cheese and cured meats (ham with truffles, smoked ham, paté…). A great way to taste delicious wines and know more about them (and the region they come from), get great tips and spend a wonderful evening in a warm and welcoming venue with a very open minded and friendly crowd of maximum 10 people.
Where: Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, 7 Rue Lobineau, Metro line 10 Mabillon or lines 10/4 Odéon
When : Ask for dates and program by email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Price: 65€ per person