Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day 38: No One Wines Today

By: Sara Cann

Why? Because we were drinking (sort of).

Whites on ice

To complete the foundation of our culinary education, we had a full day of wine lectures and tastings. I took an entire course at NYU about wine, but I walked away from today’s class learning more than I did in my eight-week class. (Maybe because I’d usually walk away tipsy at NYU.)

But today’s lecture was fascinating. We tasted six reds and six whites, and learned the proper way to spit–which is much harder to do gracefully than I thought. (I looked like a drooling fool with spittle connecting my lip to my cup. Gross, I know.)

Our tasting palette

The taste test was arranged so you could learn how to pair certain flavors with particular characteristics of the wine. The first thing we learned was that two like flavors, say sweet and sweet, won’t make each other stronger. In fact, if you eat a chocolate bar and follow it up with a sip of coke, your coke will taste more bitter than sweet. The same applies to wine. So we tested the theory with a sickeningly sweet Riesling. To temper this sugary wine, we matched it with the flavors of pad thai: We took a spoonful of jelly, a dollop of hot sauce, a squeeze of lemon, and a pinch of salt. The sweetness of the jelly mellowed the wine while the spice and acidic notes complimented the sugar.

We did the same thing for acidic wines. If you take a sip of a white wine that makes your face pucker and leaves your tongue dry and chalky, it’s probably a Sauvignon Blanc. This grape is dry (little sugar) and acidic, and will pair perfectly with a salty and acidic food. The acidity will cut the acid in the wine and the salt will balance the acidity (think: fish in a lemon sauce would be the perfect food to eat with a Sauvignon Blanc). Our Chef told us to taste a spritz of lemon seasoned with salt, and then re-taste the wine. And when we did, the wine became smoother and fruiter. It’s like witchcraft–try it the next time you’re throwing a dinner party.

Wine tasting class

TIP OF THE DAY: Wine lists freak you out? Think “Merlot” is the name of a vineyard rather than a grape? Here’s your cheat sheet to figure out what type of wine you like:

There are six major grapes, and each has a distinguishing characteristic:


1. Riesling: Can be sweet or bone-dry (no sugar), low in alcohol, and high in acid. If you want something sweet, ask your waiter or wine-store manager for a sweet Riesling.

2. Sauvignon Blanc: Moderate alcohol levels, rarely oaked (matured in wooden barrels that give the wine a vanilla aftertaste), highly acidic.

3. Chardonnay: Higher in alcohol, buttery flavor, and vanilla aftertaste or “oaky.”


1. Pinot Noir: Mildest of the red wines thanks to the lack of tannins, which will leave your mouth feeling dry and chalky. Light body, earthy flavor, and will smell like fresh dirt.

2. Merlot: Stronger in flavor than a pinot noir with hints of dark fruits like cherry or plums. Has more tannins than a pinot noir, but less than a Cabernet Sauvignon. Richer flavor than a pinot noir.

3. Cabernet Sauvignon: Darkest of the red wines with the highest count of tannins. You’ll hear people throw out buzzwords like coffee, chocolate, or tobacco when assessing this wine. If you like a heavy red, go with a Cab. Or if you’re eating a juicy steak.

So what happened to Syrah? It’s not considered one of the original six grapes, but was recently developed, and is the same thing as “Shiraz” (just the Australian name for it). It’s an economical grape since it does well in poor soils, and has an intense, fruity, and spicy flavor.

*And if you like wines that have more intense, fruity flavors and less acidity, choose a wine from the “New World”–basically anywhere not in Europe (think: South America, Australia, New Zealand, etc.).

Sara Cann is a Classic Culinary Arts student who took a break from the magazine editing world to test her chops in a kitchen. The outcome? Who knows. But you can follow her culinary adventure on Fork Adventures.