Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
There are so many traditions, do’s and don’ts, relating to the enjoyment of your glass of wine, it was refreshing for me to read a leading wine writer saying something to the effect of “there are no rules and regulations about wine, only recommendations”. Of course he might be the same writer who says dry white wine should be drunk at exactly nine degrees centigrade, but I take his point, namely that wine is to be enjoyed and not made hard work of.
The increasing detail on wine labels is a case in point. Hugh Johnson says he doesn’t really want to read about the subsoil, the temperature of fermentation or even the exact blend on a wine bottle.
“Tell me something about this bottle we plead, that doesn’t make me wish I’d stayed awake in chemistry!”
However a little bit of knowledge about what Oz Clark calls “making the most of wine” can greatly enhance your enjoyment. Serving temperature guidelines is one example. Overheated red wine loses some of its aroma and tends to taste flat. Thus they should be stored in a cool place even if they are for imminent drinking. Leaving a bottle of red on a sunny windowsill even for a few hours before opening can ruin the wine. I once ordered a bottle of Chianti in a pizzeria in Pavia near Milan and the wine was unpleasant because it was overheated, probably due to storing too close to the wood fired pizza oven! I remember wondering at the time why everyone else was drinking beer! Over-chilling white, a faux pas committed by many restaurants can kill off any delicate flavours, which is why I am not a big fan of the ice bucket.
Having suitable glassware is important. Large tulip shaped glasses for red, with a tapered mouth to concentrate the aromas and smaller glasses for whites to help keep the wine cool while sipping is usual practice. If you want to go further down this road there are, for example, different glasses for Bordeaux and for Burgundy, designed to maximise enjoyment of the relevant grapes involved.
Having some knowledge of the best way to ‘taste’ a wine will among other things, impress your fellow restaurant diners, although I haven’t actually reached the ‘aspirating’ stage myself, when one purses their lips draws in air and then exhales through the nose! I would however appreciate the value of tilting, swirling and checking the viscosity of the wine.
Decanting wine can help the flavour blossom and in the case of older fine wines can help separate the wine from any sediment. Some wine experts will tell you that pouring and then leaving your glass of wine for ten minutes will improve the flavour, especially in the case of bottles with screw caps. Never fill your glass more than halfway in order to allow room for the aromas to rise. (Oops, that sounds a bit like a rule!)
Vintages! This is not a difficult one unless you are a collector. If you want to ensure that the wine you are buying is from a good year, any pocket wine guide will provide a chart of good and bad vintages. You can easily ascertain for example that the 2004 Margaux rates eight out of 10 and is ready for drinking but has not yet reached its peak! One tip, you might consider the merits of buying, let’s say a Bordeaux, from a good grower in a bad year. Most of us would not notice that much difference in the vintage if truth be told and you are probably getting a great value wine.
Finally, food and wine matching is a subject that deserves a full article itself. You may believe that roast pork can only be enjoyed with an Alsace Pinot Gris, or you might, like Oz Clark, get so fed up with all the rules about which wine to drink with which food that you will get a ‘burning desire to slosh back a Grand Cru Burgundy with my chilli con carne!’
Those of you who remember ‘Sideways’, the excellent film about wine snob Miles and his adventures in the Santa Barbara growing region, might recall that (spoiler alert) he ends up drinking his precious 1961 Cheval Blanc from a paper cup in a cheap burger joint.
Tommasi, Valpolicella — delicious light Valpolicella, from one of the best growers in the Veneto. New into Next Door, Clonakilty. €13.99.