1. When a waiter serves you a wine, you should:
a. Sniff the cork and take a sip of the tasting amount that has been poured for you.
b. Sniff the cork, throw it over your shoulder for good health, and check the label to make certain it's the wine you ordered.
c. Put the cork aside, check the label to make certain it's the wine you ordered, then smell and taste the amount that has been poured for you.
d. Put the cork aside and offer one of your dining partners the first taste of the wine that's been poured for you.
The correct answer is c) Put the cork aside, check the label to make certain it's the wine you ordered, then smell and taste the amount that has been poured for you.
Wine Smarts: Sure, if a cork is excessively dry, it could mean that oxygen has seeped into the bottle and spoiled the wine, but if that's what's wrong with the wine, you're going to taste it anyway. Instead, when the waiter presents you with the bottle, look at the label and make sure it's the brand and the year that you ordered. (Mix-ups do happen and you don't want a price surprise when you get the bill.) Then, if you selected it, do the honors by taking the maiden sniff, swirl, and sip!
Good Wine…Gone Bad
Taste something "funky"? If you sip and it goes down like vinegar -- don't be shy -- send that bottle back. Good wine does behave badly on rare occasions because of a bum cork (which has prompted some reputable winemakers to introduce plastic corks or screw-tops).
2. What is an "appellation"?
a. A mountain range where grapes are grown.
b. A wine-producing region defined by certain geographical features.
c. The name of the grape variety that the wine is from.
d. The taste of apples that remains in the mouth when a wine is swallowed.
The correct answer is b) A wine-producing region defined by certain geographical features. Appellation is actually a French term for a region. In France (and other European countries like Spain and Italy) wines are classified by region; in America, they're mainly grouped by grape (Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.).
Wine Smarts: A particular appellation will have its own specific soil, climate, sun, water-quality, and contour features (also know as "terroir"). All these variables affect the taste of the wine. If you like a particular wine -- whether it's European, American, or Australian -- check the label to see what region it comes from. Next time you're out scouring the wine shops, it's a safe bet that if you like a wine from a certain area, others from the same area will also be a hit.
3. What is the difference between Shiraz and a Syrah?
a. Nothing: They're two names for the same grape.
c. A Shiraz is a much more full-bodied red wine than the fruity Syrah.
b. A Shiraz is a special winemaker's hat; a Syrah is a crisp white wine.
d. None of the above.
The correct answer is a) Nothing: They are two names for the same grape. Just to make you think wine smarts are more elusive than they actually are, in Australia, the grape is known as Shiraz, and in France, it's called Syrah. In the U.S. (even more confusingly), it's called both.
Wine Smarts: Shiraz/Syrah is a classic Rhone red grape allegedly brought back from Shiraz in Persia in the fourteenth century. Identified by a characteristic jammy, black pepper fragrance, Shiraz thrives in the warm Australian climate, the U.S., northern France, and, increasingly, South Africa. You get a lot of bang for your buck with Shiraz, as most bottles are priced under $15. Another split-personality grape? Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are basically Italian and French names for the very same thing -- a grape typically yielding a dry, very crisp white wine.
4. White wine pairs well with ______. Red wine pairs well with ______.
a. Sushi; beef satay.
b. Cracker Jack; buttery popcorn.
c. None of the above.
d. All of the above.
The correct answer is d) All of the above. Ditch the rulebook when it comes to food and wine pairings. The ultimate judge of what goes with what is your palate.
Wine Smarts: The old thinking was poultry and fish with white and red meats with red, but that was before there was such a variety of reds and whites on the vino front. Today you can find a Chardonnay that will hold its own with ethnic eats, like a Moroccan lamb dish, or find a Syrah that's a perfect match with grilled salmon. Balance the weight of the wine with the weight of the food, and your taste buds will be happy. Even snacks in front of the TV feel sophisticated with a glass of the right wine. Still not sure which wine to choose? Tell your sommelier or wine shop owner what you're eating and ask them to steer you in the right direction. There are a ton of moderately priced wines to experiment with.
5. What does it mean to call a wine tannic?
a. It means it's somewhat salty.
b. It means it's somewhat sweet.
c. It means it's somewhat bitter.
d. It means it just got back from a weekend in Cabo.
The correct answer is c) It means it's somewhat bitter. But sometimes that can be a good thing.
Wine Smarts: Tannin is an acid found predominantly in red wines. It's derived primarily from grape skins, seeds, and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannin acts as a natural preservative that helps wine age and develop. As long as a wine is balanced, tannins are there to keep red wines robust. Certain wines are more tannic than others, and that will affect the kind of food you serve with them. To tone down the tannins in a wine and bring out its fruitiness, pair with protein- and fat-rich food (think steak au poivre, Maytag Blue cheese, fois gras) that coats the tongue and smooths over the rough spots.
6. White wines should be served ____, and red wines should be served _____.
a. During the day; in the evening.
b. Very cold; at room temperature.
c. At the table; in bed.
d. Cold; at room temperature or slightly cold.
The correct answer is d) Cold; at room temperature or slightly cold.
Wine Smarts: There's nothing like a glass of crisp, cold Sauvignon Blanc on a summer evening (or anytime, for that matter). Cold, that is, not frozen. When a white wine gets too cold, it paralyzes your taste buds -- you won't be able to discern the flavors. As for red wines, room temperature is the rule of thumb -- especially for fuller-bodied reds. You may also want to pour your red wine into a decanter to let some air in and to soften the tannins (you suave little thing you!). That said, many lighter-bodied reds, like a light Pinot Noir, can benefit from a slight chilling (say 10 minutes) in an ice bucket.
7. What is the Noble Rot?
a. Letting a vineyard decompose to make way for a new varietal.
b. A mold caused on purpose to make a concentrated wine.
c. A drinking game where the participants chug dessert wines.
d. None of the above.
The answer is b) A mold caused on purpose to make a concentrated wine.
Wine Smarts: You're a true wine geek if you know the answer to this one: The Noble Rot (or Botrytis cinerea) is an intentionally cultivated mold or fungus that attacks grapes under certain climactic conditions (cool mornings giving way to warm afternoons) and causes them to shrivel, deeply concentrating the flavors, sugar, and acid.
One of the most famous examples of its use is in the wineries of Sauternes, France -- which is known for its incredible dessert wines.
8. What does it mean when you see the term "Meritage" on a wine label?
a. The wine is the best the winery has produced.
b. The wine is French and has received high honors.
c. The wine is a Bordeaux-style blended wine.
d. The wine is high in residual sugar and tastes "soft."
The answer is c) The wine is a Bordeaux-style blended wine. It's actually a fabricated term -- combining "merit" with "heritage."
Wine Smarts: You will only see the term "Meritage" on American wine bottles. It's used to describe Bordeaux-style, red, and white blended wines. The made-up word arose out of the need to name wines that didn't meet minimal labeling requirements for varietals (i.e., 75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Gros Verdot, St. Macaire, and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Vert, and Semillon.
9. In Champagne-speak, what is a cuvee?
a. The finished blend of a Champagne.
b. Unfermented grape juice.
c. A grape-growing district.
d. A voluptuous champagne bottle.
The answer is a) The finished blend of a Champagne. When you see the word "cuvee" on a bottle, it's basically a synonym for the particular champagne blend -- the company's secret combination of grapes that results in its signature taste. The winemakers from the Champagne region of France have spent over 300 years getting their formulas just right, so they deserve props.
Wine Smarts: The whole Champagne-making process begins when grapes are culled from a specific grape-growing district. After they're pressed, they're considered "must," or unfermented grape juice. The first fermentation process takes the juice and transforms its sugar into alcohol; the second fermentation adds those effervescent CO2 bubbles. Next, the wine has to languish by law for a set period of time -- and, finally, we get to pop the cork!
Beyond French bubbly, there are number of excellent sparkling wines (the generic term) on the market: Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, and a variety from the U.S. As there are so many affordable Champagnes and sparkling wines available, you should indulge regularly -- don't wait for a special occasion!
10. Which glass is not recommended for serving a Pinot Grigio?
a. An oversized balloon-sized glass.
b. A medium-sized glass with a thin rim.
c. A flute.
d. A tulip-shaped glass.
The answer is c) A flute. Flutes are made with one glorious function in mind: serving Champagne and sparkling wines. The tall, narrow shape of this sexy stem, combined with its small mouth, contains bubbles so that they move slowly and retain their effervescence.
Wine Smarts: Since a Pinot Grigio isn't a sparkling wine, it can be served in any of the other types of glassware mentioned. Experts recommend sticking with glasses that are roomy (enough for swirling), thin-lipped, and have tulip-shaped bowls (narrower at the top and wider at the bottom to focus aromas). A set of well-priced, all-purpose wine glasses will do fine for both reds and whites; just steer clear of the super-cheap ones made of thicker glass. (Thick glass distracts you from the tasting experience -- when you take a sip, your mouth is making contact with a heavy rim, and that's what your brain is registering, not the wine.) Of course, if you must have those Riedel-tasting glasses for special occasions, hook it up!
1-4 right Something tells us that you feel more comfortable reaching for a cold Heineken than a glass of vino. We don't have a problem with that, but if you took this quiz, you just might have a great wine future ahead of you. Start with frequent field trips to your local wine shop and become the inquisitive customer. Experiment with different wines (and try them with different foods) until you get a feel for what you like. You might be surprised how well a robust red wine can ramp up savory barbecued ribs.
5-7 right Not too shabby. You've tipped the bottle a bit, but you could take your knowledge to the next level: Why not go to wine college with your spouse? Look up a course in wine at your local culinary center or university. And whether you're in Aspen or Daytona Beach, you can always tap into the local wine scene by checking out localwineevents.com.
8-10 right Here, here! You're already a true wine connoisseur. If you worship at the vine this much, consider joining a wine club (try wineclub101.com) and building your own collection. And maybe there's a trip to the wine country in your future? We love Gallo of Sonoma's Tasting Room in charming Healdsburg, California, for an educational (not to mention stylish -- wait until you see the design of this place!) wine-tasting experience: galloofsonoma.com/taste_gallo_of_sonoma.asp?id=87
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