This is document that supplements the DVD:
WINE THE BASICS
A Comprehensive Guide to Wine for Beginners by Richard Berguer. (2007)This material is available in the website www.thewinedvd.com as a complimentary to those who purchase the DVD. We reapresent the material here for informative purposes only and we encourage to acquire the DVD (available at Amazon among other retailers) that provides very interesting material for beginners and advanced wine lovers.
A Note From the Author
by Richard Berger 2007
Wine is about discovery…discovering new flavors, new tastes, new regions, new grapes,
Wine is not complicated, although many people believe that it is. That’s why we made this program…to demystify wine, and to make it more accessible to people who may be afflicted with oenophobia (fear of wine). I don’t know if that’s a real word, but I’ve seen the behavior many times…and you may have seen it too. I’ve watched people in situations where they have been responsible to order wine in a restaurant, bring wine to a dinner party, or buy wine as a gift become paralyzed with the fear that they may make a
If you only get ONE thing out of this program, I hope it is this: There are no bad choices
if they are right for you. If you like white wine with steak and merlot with lemon sorbet…I say…”That’s great!”
I hope you will allow yourself to learn and explore, keep yourself open to new tastes and flavors…and to also learn about the history and traditions of wine that have raised wine to
an art form. There is a vast body of knowledge and a great history there…and some of it
may come over time, much like many of the other finer things in life…like some types of
art or music that take you a while to appreciate, but grow on you until they just feel right.
We’ve tried to present a variety of facts and opinions here in the hope that you will come away from viewing our program both excited about your new knowledge, and with the desire to go out and learn even more. There are many places to learn…books, magazines, TV, Internet, newspapers, wine tastings… I hope you will delve into some of them and be inspired to make great food and great wine something you’ll pursue as long as you live…
Today the rules have changed a lot…partially because food has changed a lot, and the traditional fine dining experience of lighter white wines with the first course giving way
to bigger red wines with the main course is no longer the only way to go. You’re finding chefs who are creating different fusion cuisines of many countries and cultures and who
are far more willing to experiment…and I think that’s exciting…And I also think that it gives a person who is a fan of wine even more opportunities to try new things. So…just
go for it…I’m sure you’ll make a couple of mistakes, but I bet you’ll find some really great tastes along the way.
One last random thought…If it tastes good, it is good…but if you don’t like it at first, don’t
be afraid to give it another chance at some future time…it may turn out that your palate has evolved and you will be able to appreciate those same flavors and same tastes in a new way…
Los Angeles 2007
Supplemental Information for Scene 1
An important thing to understand is that a bottle of wine is a living thing, and like all
things alive…it has a life span. It starts out young, fruity and fresh…will mature gracefully under the proper conditions, until that bottle reaches the point of perfection, and will drink as perfectly as it can for that particular bottle. In some wines, this can happen fairly fast…requiring only a year or two, with other wines the process is much longer, taking many years to reach that point of optimum drinkability.
Many things can affect the bottle throughout its lifespan…the way it is stored being the most important. The proper temperature and cellaring will insure that a bottle of wine
does exactly what it is supposed to do; improper conditions can ruin a good bottle.
One of the other important factors (maybe most important) is contact with the air. If you notice, the wine is bottled with a little air inside. This is deliberate on the part of the winemaker and allows the wine to slowly age. Sometimes, you will order a bottle of wine that will improve during the course of your meal…this is known as “Getting better in the Glass” and is due to the fact that the wine, now out of the bottle, is coming in contact
with the air. Sometimes wine will be put in a decanter for the same reason. Air brings out many of the aromas and flavors, and is an important part of how it drinks.
Notice the glasses that Rick and Kim are using. For the red wine, the glass is rounder and
has room to stick your nose right down into the glass. For the white wine, which is
usually a little more delicate, the glass has more of a “chimney” to funnel the aroma up toward your nose while giving it time to react with the air.
Sometimes (not always) the glassware that a restaurant uses can be an indication of a couple of things…first, whether the chef or owner is knowledgeable about wine…and secondly, whether he cares enough to want his customers to fully enjoy the wine that is
on their list. Using the correct glassware is usually a little more expensive for the restaurant, but a chef or owner who is proud of their establishment will do it.
Tasting wine is very subjective, so any attempt to try to tell you what you should like is
just silly…but here are some guidelines that you can use as a frame of reference.
A. Look at the wine first. You can do this most easily against a white background such as a tablecloth or napkin. The color of wine can vary greatly, even in
wines made from the same grapes…
B. A white wine, for example, is never white. The color can range from a light yellow-green to almost brown. A deeper color can be an indication of a couple
of things…it can mean that the wine is more full bodied, has more flavor, and/or has been aged longer. If the wine is actually brown, it may mean the wine has turned.
C. For red wine, it’s similar…as the wine ages, it will start to oxidize (come in
contact with air) and the color will become more “brickish” or darker and
somewhat more toward brown. And again, the color of red wine has a wide
range, from pale red or purple to deep red-brown or even a mahogany-brown.
An expert can make a good guess at the age of a wine by looking at the “legs”
or “rim”, which is done by tilting the glass and observing the edges of the
wine as it runs back down. A nice deep silky color usually means that the
tannins have started to evolve and are causing the wine to mature.
D. Swirl the wine. Swirling accomplishes two things…it lets you observe the
texture and body of the wine in the glass, and it aerates the wine to allow the
flavors to come out as you get it ready for your nose.
E. Smell the wine. Stick your nose into the glass. This is the moment of the first
impression. Don’t be afraid…now is when you get the “Bouquet” or the
“Nose” and you start to find out if this is a wine you will like. As a novice or
beginner, you may find it hard to describe or put into words what you are
experiencing. Don’t worry about it. As you do this more, your comfort level
will increase…you’ll start to notice similarities, differences, more aromas
inside the aromas, complexities…it’s a beautiful thing.
F. Taste the wine. For people who are more advanced, they will break the actual
tasting into three (or even more) areas: The Beginning (or Start), The Middle,
and The Finish. They are just what they sound like…The Beginning is when
the wine enters your mouth…notice the sensations it causes, the flavors. As it
moves farther into the middle of your mouth, more taste buds come in contact
with it, maybe causing you to experience other sensations or become aware of
different flavors. The Middle is where many people like to slosh it around, or
breath in some air to really get the most out of the wine.
G. The Finish…the wine is heading down, and now is when you will become
aware of the “aftertaste” of the wine. Is it pleasant? Did it “bite” a little? Did
the taste linger for a satisfactory amount of time? The Finish is when you can
sit back for a moment and decide if you like it or not…the moment when it all
should come together.
Just one more note about tasting…Wine reacts to food and vice versa. You notice that
Rick always encourages Kim to have a bite of plain cracker in between tastings. This is to
neutralize her palate, and you should get into the habit of doing this too. If you have the
strong taste or flavor of something remaining in your mouth from one type of food or
wine, you will not be able to accurately taste what comes next. Use plain white crackers
or bread…something with no real taste of its own. Commonly a baguette is used for this.
3. Some Wine Words and what they mean.
Most things people say about wine are pretty obvious to figure out with a just a little bit
of experience. Just remember that it is all pretty subjective…you’re using words to
describe something that must be experienced to be really understood. It’s like if you went
hang-gliding and tried to explain to your friends who had never done it what it was
like…At the end you’d wind up saying, “You just have to try it”.
Words like “Big” or “Bold” are pretty simple, here’s a few of the ones you might need
Backbone – Usually refers to the right amount of acidity. Sometimes can refer to
tannins or alcohol…but it is a term used to talk about “Structure”
Balanced – All the flavors and aromas are working together in harmony. None of
them overpowers any of the others.
Complex – Wine with many different flavors, some of them may only become
obvious after repeated tasting, or some flavors may exist underneath other flavors.
Corked – A not un-common fault where the cork had some bacteria on it at the
time of bottling, leaving the wine with a moldy or “wet cardboard” smell and/or taste.
Crisp – Usually used for white wines…refers to a tartness or acidity that doesn’t
overwhelm the taste.
Dry – Not sweet. Dry wines often match best with food.
Earthy – A term to describe a range of flavors and aromas that are “Organic” in
nature…tree bark, barnyard, etc. A little goes a long way.
Elusive – When you’re at a loss for any other words…
Fat or Flabby – Lacking structure, too little acidity.
Forward – A big burst of flavor hits you at the start, sometimes people will say
“fruit forward”. It can be a good thing if the taste stays consistent through the finish,
disappointing if the finish is weak. Sometimes wine is purposely made to either mature
early or be drunk young. These are usually “Forward” wines.
Fresh – A generalized term meaning the wine has good, pleasant aromas and
tastes and fruitiness.
Grassy – Usually a taste or aroma found in white wines, especially Sauvignon
Blancs…like the smell of a fresh cut or mown lawn.
Herbaceous – A more general term for grassy, green, vegetal, or “haylike”
Hollow – Usually refers to a wine that has a weak mid-palate.
Inky – Usually a favorable term describing a dark or opaque red wine.
Jammy – Just what it sounds like…so fruity it tastes like jam or jelly. Often a tag
for big Zinfandels.
Lean – Usually applied to an “acidic” light wine. This can be a plus for a wine
that goes well with certain foods.
Length – Just what it sounds like…how long the flavor lingers in your mouth.
Mid-Palate – Is used to describe the behavior of the wine in the middle of your
mouth after the Start. Sometimes used to discern a great wine from an average wine,
which may fall off in this part of the journey.
Mouth Feel – Texture in the mouth.
Muted – Usually not a favorable description. It means that the basic elements of
the wine are present, but it still doesn’t taste like much.
Oxidized – Wine which has had either a cork that leaked or too much exposure to
air and is ruined.
Persistent – Refers to the amount of time one can taste the wine in the mouth or
the aftertaste…similar to “Length”
Ripe – A catchall term that refers to the dominant fruitiness of a wine. Usually
means the wine has some balance but is somewhat less than “Jammy”.
Short – The opposite of “Length”…little finish or aftertaste.
Smooth – Usually means that the tannins have lost their astringency and the wine
is drinking very nicely.
Soft – Just what it sounds like…soft in the mouth, fruity…almost to the point of
being “Flabby”. Some of the wines made for the mass-market are consciously made to be
far along in this direction so as to appeal to people with undeveloped palates.
Steely – A wine with the kind of acidity that tastes slightly metallic, sometimes
found in very good wines.
Stony or Mineraly – You can taste the rocks in the soil…Again, some very fine
wines may have this taste somewhere in them.
Straight Forward – A wine that is not complex, but is uncluttered in its taste.
This may be a good thing or a bad thing.
Structure – A general term that describes the wine’s character or body. It is
usually based on acidity, tannins, and alcohol balance.
Weight – Used to describe the texture and body of the wine. Weight may be used
with words like thin, thick, dense, light, heavy.
Youthful – Usually means that the wine needs more time in the cellar, but can be
a positive when talking about wines that are meant to be drunk fresh, like Beaujolais.
There are hundreds, probably thousands more words used to describe wine. If you hear
one you don’t understand, ask the person who used it what he (or she) meant. Start using
words to describe the wine you’re drinking, either to yourself (so you’ll more easily
remember what it tasted like) or to your friends so they can share what they think with
you…try it…it’s fun. Just remember to associate the tastes with the words.
4. In a Restaurant
The only reason you might ever actually sniff the cork is if the wine in the glass smells
“musty” or “moldy”…sometimes sniffing the cork may help reveal that the wine is
actually “corked”…in which case you are quite within your rights to ask for a new bottle
and your waiter or sommelier will usually confirm it for you without a problem.
Looking at the cork is something that you may want to do if you order an expensive
bottle. There was a time when some inferior wine was being passed off as quality wine
by the simple process of steaming off the real label and substituting a much better or
much more expensive label. The cork will usually have the correct information (Winery,
Chateau, and Year) printed on it.
Traditionally, you are presented with the wine list at the same time you are
presented with the menu, or even before. Do not let this throw you. The reason
behind this is because many gourmets prefer to choose the wine, and then order
their meal around the wine or wines they have chosen.
Today, anything goes…you may want to wait until you decide on your meal
before you order wine, or have a glass of wine and then a bottle of something else,
or two glasses of different wines with the different courses…it is entirely up to
you and what you feel comfortable doing. Be self assured as you inform the
waiter of your decision and your desires. He’s there to help you enjoy the meal.
The traditional markup in a restaurant is three times what you would pay for the wine in a
retail store. If you know the prices of a few wines you can make a judgment about how
the restaurant is pricing its list. Sometimes you will find that you feel you are being
charged more than normal, but these days you will find that more and more restaurants
are “wine friendly” and charge less than normal in order to encourage their customers to
both try more and drink more. Try to find a couple of these in your area…it’s worth it.
I feel that a good meal deserves a good wine, so I usually leave the least expensive bottles
alone…but almost every wine list has a couple of relative bargains on it somewhere if
you look. It’s also OK to ask the waiter to bring you a small taste of a wine if you are
unsure about it…usually they are very obliging about this. This usually only applies to
wines they serve by the glass.
As far as bringing your own wine to a restaurant, it may or may not be a good idea,
depending on the policy of the particular place. Here’s a couple of rules to follow:
1. Expect to pay a “Corkage” fee, This can range from a very few dollars to
almost as much as a bottle off the wine list. You can decide if it’s worth it.
2. Do not EVER bring a bottle of a wine into a restaurant that they have on their
wine list. This is considered really bad form.
3. Bring a good wine. Don’t bring in cheap wine. This should be obvious. A
good meal is a good time to open that $200 bottle that a friend gave you for
4. You may want to ask about the policy of the restaurant when you make your
reservation, just to avoid any misunderstandings.
Supplemental Information for Scene 3
The reason that we are presenting our program focused around Four Grapes plus Merlot,
is very simple…these grapes can make great wine, and they have stood the test of time.
As you become more advanced, you will find that many other grapes in many other
regions of the world can make wonderful (and quite different) wines. The first time you
open a good Barolo (just for one example) and stick your nose into the glass, you’ll know
you’ve hit on something very special…And wines from Germany, Spain…all over the
world, great wine is being made…
And yet…we keep coming back to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot,
Cabernet Sauvignon…These wines usually make up the bulk of every wine list, every
serious tasting, and lend themselves to accurate pairing with, and enhancement of many
different foods. That’s why they’re still around after all these years, and that’s why it
pays to learn them and then use that knowledge as a basis to compare to other wines
made from other varietals.
I hope you will not just watch this DVD and think you know something…I hope you will
actually go BUY a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and try them out. Learn the difference
in taste between the California and the French versions…taste the difference in the ones
from the North Coast, Central Coast, Graves, Entre Deux Mers…Do the same for the
other grapes…You don’t need to do it all in one night, or three weeks…just take the
opportunities as they come…in a restaurant, with a meal you cook, at a dinner with your
friends…you may want to keep your own tasting notes in order to help you remember
flavors and tastes and reinforce your frame of reference.
When you find yourself in a wine store, and are looking at the bottles…you might still
not feel totally comfortable…so here’s a couple of things to look for:
1. If it’s in a Burgundy-style bottle…make sure it says “Bourgogne” somewhere
on the label…that way you can be sure that the wine is a Chardonnay if it’s
white, Pinot Noir if it’s red…UNLESS it says “Boujolais”…then it’s made
from the Gamay grape.
2. If it’s in a Bordeaux-style bottle…make sure it says “Bordeaux” somewhere
on the label…that way you can be sure that the wine is mostly Sauvignon
Blanc if it’s white, and a blend based on either Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon
if it’s red. All Bordeaux wines are blended, so if it doesn’t say on the label
(usually on the back), you might want to ask the seller if he knows about the
particular varietals that go to make up the blend. For the Whites, it’s
interesting to note that the blends are made from Sauvignon Blanc and
Semillon…which is much sweeter. So you can have White Bordeaux wine
that ranges anywhere from very dry and nicely acidic…to wines that are so
sweet that they’re considered dessert wines. Sometimes you will find another
grape called Muscadelle present to add a floral boquet to some of the sweeter
wines. There are a few other grapes that can be found on occasion, but more
for yield than any particular quality they add. Some white Bordeaux wines
will carry the label “Sauternes” on the bottle, which is a region on the Left
Bank. These wines are usually quite sweet, as are the white wines from the
The type of grape that the wine is made from and the particular place that the grape is
grown is a very important concept to understand. Different regions of the world or
different regions of a particular vineyard can affect the taste of a wine dramatically. If
you run across something you haven’t tried, the first pieces of information about the wine
should be those. There is no better way to develop your ability to understand wine than
this…and you should always try to do it in conjunction with tasting the wine.
The art of pairing wine with food can be a complex and lifelong study. We offered a few
very basic examples in the scene…let’s see if we can clarify it a little, just so you can get
started (There’s more info – a lot more – later in these pages). Here are a couple more
very basic ideas about this…
1. Light with light, heavy with heavy…this is the classic way to do it, and it still
works, although now the rules have changed to allow you to not only
experiment, but be self-assured in terms of whatever it is that you like. Light
wines like Sauvignon Blanc, or Pinot Noir (for the Reds) lend themselves to
light dishes…salads, grilled fish…if the food has a light, delicate flavor a
more robust wine will tend to overpower it. For Pinot, lighter meats or poultry
works well, but you should also consider…
2. How the food is prepared…If we’re talking chicken, and you make it in a
lemon-butter sauce…a more delicate wine will allow the flavors to mix
together nicely, while a bigger wine will probably clash…whereas if you were
making the same chicken in a tomato-based sauce (like Chicken Cacciatore),
the sauce will have a chance of standing up to the bigger wine and probably it
all can work together well.
3. Sweet foods will make the wine seem a little drier than it actually is and you
may want a wine that is a little sweeter.
4. Foods high in Acid usually go well with more acidic wines because the wine
will stand up to them.
5. Big Red, very tannic wines go well with your classic steak or lamb chops
because the fat in the meat will smooth out the tannins. Sometimes other bitter
or astringent foods can work with these wines…like salad herbs or olives.
6. Wine ultimately acts like another type of spice and will either pick up or fight
other flavors in the dish.
7. Be adventurous and let your own palate be the ultimate judge.
If you’re still getting a little lost, try taking a bottle each (really do this, I mean really –
line them all up on a table) of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet
and lining them up in that order. The first thing you’ll notice is that the Bordeaux-style
bottles are on the outside, the Burgundy bottles on the inside. This is a very simplistic
way of determining what to serve with the meal. As you visualize the weight and texture
of the food, visualize the weight and texture of the wine from “light” to “heavy”…and
you’ll find that this may make it easier for you.
Supplemental Information for Scene 4
Reading the label…
Your ability to puzzle out the meaning behind what’s written on a wine label will largely
determine your ability to consistently choose good bottles of wine. The most important
things to look for of course are the type of grape (or blends of grapes) the wine is made
from, and where those grapes come from and/or where they were grown. Just that very
basic information alone can help you avoid making too many mistakes.
As you become more advanced and better at this, you’ll want to pay attention to more
things, so that you can really be specific about what it is that you can expect from that
particular bottle. For example…for French wine, various levels of government or
regional wine authority regulations apply to basically any bottle of wine you can buy.
This is mostly known as the AC, or AOC…which stands for “Appellation Controlee” or,
“Appellation d’Origine Controlee”, which basically means the Appellation (or area) of
controlled origin. You will see either the phrase or the abbreviation (AC or AOC) on
many, many bottles of French wine.
The reason that this is important is that it is a method of quality control, and it does this
by regulating all of the elements that go to make up the wine…For example…
To be able to put the particular AC or AOC on the label, the winemaker must adhere to a
number of standards…among them…
1. Permissible yield-per-acre, since growing more tonnage usually means lower
2. Which particular land in the area can have grapes grown on it. In France, records
of which grapes grow well in which areas have been around for centuries.
3. Which grape varietals can be grown in which particular areas…again, this is
based on historical data.
4. Pruning and fertilization techniques.
5. Alcohol content…in other words, by making sure that there is a minimum alcohol
content, the AC ensures that the grapes reach a certain degree of ripeness, which
guarantees a certain sugar content, which guarantees flavor.
6. Winemaking practices…again, based on historical data
7. Official tasting panels…since 1979, all wines that apply for an AC or AOC rating
must pass by a tasting panel. Wines that meet all the criteria established for that
AC are allowed to use the designation on the label.
A bottle of Bordeaux wine that bears the Appellation of Bordeaux, is less strictly
controlled than a bottle which bears the Appellation Haute-Medoc…which is a subregion
of Bordeaux, and a bottle which bears the Appellation Margaux, is likely to be
better still…since Margaux is a sub-region of Haute-Medoc.
RULE: Generally, the smaller the AC, the higher the quality of the wine.
Wines that do not meet the standards of the AC or AOC are labeled (in descending
1. Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure or sometimes “VDQS” – some of these wines
can be surprisingly good…and will be less expensive.
2. Vin de Pays
3. Vin de Table
Other countries have tried to base their own standards on the French system, none with
the same kind of success…in the U.S. for example, you will sometimes see the
designation “AVA” which stands for American Viticultural Area.
Another thing that you may want to be aware of is the exact name of the winemaker or
wine producer. The reason this may be important is that, in France, there can be a number
of producers with the same surname…some of them will produce high-quality wines year
after year, others will have a somewhat spottier record. Also, the way that vineyard land
has been passed down and divvied up over the years can mean that the same Grand Cru
vineyard can have several different wine producers and all the wine will not be the same.
When you see Grand Cru on a label…or Grand Cru Classe, or Premiere Grand
Cru…These are terms with specific meanings as to exactly how they are applied, but they
all mean that the wine in that bottle should be pretty wonderful. A term like Grand Vin de
Bordeaux (or Bourgogne – or other region) however, is not regulated by either the
government or the AOC, and is more of a marketing term.
In the U.S. it can be a little more complicated…there is no exact term that means the
same as “Mis en Bouteille au Chateau”. The phrase “Estate Bottled” comes very close,
but it is less precise. Turn the bottle around and look for “Grown, Produced and Bottled
by…” You should get in the habit of reading the back of the bottle anyway.
For California wines, the bottle must contain 75% of a particular grape before it can
claim to be that type of wine on the label…so if it says “Merlot”, you can be sure that at
least 75% of the wine in that bottle was made from Merlot grapes.
Where this can get a little confusing (for California wines) is that some extremely good
wines are blended to the extent of not having 75% of any one particular grape prominent.
This causes the wine to be labeled something unattractive…perhaps like, “Red Table
Wine”…even though the wine may be of premium quality.
Then there are terms like “Reserve” or “Vintner’s Reserve”…I’ll quote here from one of
the actual government publications regarding this (this is from 1994)…
“Although not defined in the regulations, ATF has permitted the use
of such terms as “reserve,” “vintner’s select,” “barrel select,”
“premium,” etc. on wine labels. The Bureau considers these terms to
be mere “puffery.” It has been ATF’s position that consumers
recognize these terms as expressing the proprietor’s subjective
evaluation of the wine, rather than as terms denoting any objective
The Wine Institute, which is a California trade organization, had filed a petition with the
ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms) to try to have some regulatory standards
applied to some of these terms so that when American wines were exported, everyone
around the world would know what they meant.
As far as I know, there has not been any agreement reached about the legal usage of any
of these terms…however, most reputable winemakers use “Reserve” or “Vintner’s
Reserve” in the true sense of the word…they have “held back” the wine for added aging
and/or believe the wine to be of superior quality.
For Spanish and Italian wine, the term “Reserva” does have an actual legal meaning. For
American wines, the term is unregulated, so you may want to ask a few questions. Here
are some other (Un-regulated) terms you may find on American wine bottles:
“Private Reserve, Proprietor’s Reserve, Special Reserve, Special
Cask Bottling, Grand Reserve, Limited Cask, Special Selection,
Winemaker’s Reserve” It can drive you a little nuts…
The thing to remember is that you ultimately have to taste the wine.-
WHAT IS A NEGOCIANT?
One of the other confusing things about wine and winemakers is the difference between
an actual winemaker, and a “Negociant”…I’ll try to clarify it.
When you see the phrase “Mis en Bouteille a Chateau” on a wine bottle, you know that it
means a certain thing…it means that the wine was made from grapes grown on the
property of the Chateau, and then put into the bottle at the same location. It also usually
means that there is only one individual in charge of the whole process, and the wine is not
touched by any third party.
Other, similar phrases such as “Mis en Bouteille a la Propriete” – or Bottled at the
Property, or “Mis par le Propriétaire” – Bottled by the Proprietor, or “Mis en Bouteille au
Domaine” – Bottled at the Estate, mean essentially the same thing…that the wine was
made where the grapes were grown.
Other phrases that you might see on a bottle of French wine, such as “Mis en Bouteille
dans nos Caves”, or “Mis en Bouteille dans nos Chais” (both meaning essentially
“Bottled in our Cellars”) usually should be taken to mean that the grapes were grown
elsewhere, then shipped to another location before the winemaking process got started.
The reason that this is significant is that it implies that the grapes were bought or traded
on the open market…this is where the “Negociant” comes in.
A Negociant is a person (or a company) that may or may not possess its own vineyards,
but in terms of the particular bottle of wine in question…they either bought the grapes,
then made the wine…or bought the wine already made…OR – they bought different
batches of wine and blended it themselves. The very best Negociants have long term
contracts with either grape growers, or rights to the yield of certain vineyards, or
contracts with winemakers they know will produce quality year after year. And usually
those Negociants will proudly display their name on the label.
In some cases (again, due to French inheritance laws and how land has been split up),
using a Negociant is the only way for the owner of a very small parcel of land (maybe
just a couple of rows of vines) to get any of his “Cru” vineyard wine to market. In a case
like this, the Negociant is buying the yields of a number of small growers and blending
them into excellent wine that would never reach the market in any other way.
Other Negociants are more interested in how much they can make and how much wine
they can sell, and consequently wine from these merchants will be less good. In America,
the situation is not that different. Here we have “Negociants” that are very large
companies, buying grapes or wine from many sources, and putting wine on the market
that will usually be consistent, but lacking the special attention that a smaller winemaker
will give to their product. And again, following the French model, we have some smaller
Negociants that can take advantage of odd-lots of very good wine, blend it, and sell it at
sometimes deep discounts…and the wine will be quite good.
It’s all about knowing who the Negociant is, and what kind of reputation they have.
In California, phrases such as “Cellared and Bottled by” or “Vinted and Bottled by” are
usually an indication that a Negociant or a 3rd party was involved. On bottles of French
wine, you will sometimes see the phrase “Négociant-éleveur” which means that the
Negociant had much more to do with the actual making of the wine, and wants you to
The actual terminology (for French wine) will be, “Mis en Bouteille par (and here they
insert the name of the Negociant – such as Louis Jadot, Louis Latour, etc.)…so the
bottom line would be – don’t be afraid to try “Negociant-type” wines, but it’s a good idea
to keep track of some of the particular Negociant names that go along with the wines that
you find pleasing to your palate…That goes for French AND California.
Supplemental Info – Bordeaux
The best way to understand Bordeaux wines is to look at a map of the region. There are
many such maps available (and in many degrees of detail) online. Almost all Red
Bordeaux wines are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (in varying proportions –
depending on where it’s grown and made) with a couple of other blending grapes
(Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot) thrown in just for individuality.
If we start at the sea and work backwards, it’s like this…The Gironde River runs from the
Atlantic Ocean until it splits into two smaller rivers…the Garonne (the south fork) and
the Dordogne (the north fork). The Gironde river is affected by very strong tidal currents,
and this may have had something to do with why the soils in the Medoc and Haut-Medoc
region are particularly suited to growing the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
Working back from the Atlantic…First, on the Left Bank of the Gironde River is the
Medoc region. The entire area of that growing region (or AOC), including all the subregions…
which we’ll get to in a moment…are known by that general name.
The Lower, or BAS MEDOC is nearest the ocean, with the HAUT-MEDOC (or higher, in
this case slightly higher in elevation) region next. It is in the Haut-Medoc region that the
most famous sub-regions (or Communes) are found…Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-
Julien, and Margaux.
Almost all of the Chateaus that were classified in 1855 are found here. The 1855
classification is important because it categorized the best Bordeaux wines (Left Bank
only) into Five “Growths”. First Growth being best, Fifth Growth supposedly not as
good…but any classed “Growth” wine should be pretty wonderful. By the way, you’ll
never actually see the growth classification on the label. You’re just supposed to know.
Over time, that listing has hardly changed at all…in 1976 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild
was elevated to “First Growth”, or “Premiere Cru”, and a couple of the Chateaus have
closed, and a couple have seen their reputation slide a bit…but it’s remarkable how well
the list has held up and stood the test of time.
The method of classification was probably based on two things…the price of the wine,
and the ability of the particular Chateaus to make good wine in bad years, which also
would naturally affect the price and the reputation of the Chateau.
A couple of other designations are worth mentioning here. Beyond the first five growths,
in ascending order, are: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Superieur, and Cru Exceptionnel.
Just to clarify the designation of “Bordeaux Superieur”…when you see this on the label,
it is merely an indication of the alcohol content (one percent higher) which is important
because it doesn’t reflect anything about the quality of the wine. A quality designation
would be that the word “Superieur” would be preceded by “Cru Bourgeois”.
As far as what you are likely to see on a Bordeaux label, here’s a couple of things to keep
in mind…If the label merely says “Appellation Bordeaux Controllee”, it usually means
that the grapes come from the area known as Entre-Deux-Mers (the land in between the
Garonne and Dordogne rivers, or else north of Libourne, which is on the RIGHT BANK.
If the label says “Appellation Medoc Controllee”, it’s likely that the grapes were grown
in the Bas-Medoc region, and of course if it says “Haut-Medoc” on the label, the grapes
are grown closer still to the communes that contain the most highly classified Chateaus.
Two other names you might see on a Bordeaux label are “Listrac” and “Moulis”. At one
point, you might see these two geographically-close communes linked together, now it is
becoming more fashionable to keep them separate. They are both part of the Haut-Medoc
On the Right Bank, the story is slightly different. A good bit further from the ocean, the
two most famous right-bank communes of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol sit just north of the
Dordogne river. The wines of the Right Bank are made from blends where the Merlot
Because of the fact that these AOC’s were not classified in 1855, in 1955 (the one
hundred year anniversary) there was an attempt to classify the wines of Saint-Emilion
(Pomerol has never been classified), and they have come up with these categories:
There is the designation “St-Emilion”, then “St-Emilion Grand Cru”, then “St-Emilion
Grand Cru Classe”, then “St-Emilion Premiere Grand Cru Classe”.
The other thing that may be somewhat confusing is the fact that St-Emilion has decided
to re-classify about every 10 years…with promotions and demotions as they deem fit.
Pomerol is much simpler. They have never classified their Chateaus, and some of the
very, very best of the Merlot based blends come from there (also most expensive). The
soil is a thick, heavy clay, and this seems to give the wines a soft, seductive character.
These wines tend to run in the direction of spice and vibrant (almost brazen) fruit. It is the
smallest (acreage-wise) of the Bordeaux Appellations.
A couple of the other regions of Bordeaux worth mentioning are Graves, and Entre Deux
Mers. In Graves (coming from the French word for gravel – as in the soil of the region),
there is the Commune of Pessac-Leognan which has a couple of the finest Chateaus,
including First Growth “Chateau Haut-Brion”.
Entre Deux Mers is a large growing region that produces both red and white wines
although the reds are rarely labeled as such, merely carrying the Bordeaux designation.
For the Bordeaux white wines, the most interesting region is by far Graves, where the
wines are made from mainly Sauvignon Blanc grapes which makes the wine deeply
complex with the taste of the “flintiness” of the soil adding to the experience.
In Entre Deux Mers the white wines are primarily made with more of the Semillion grape
which gives the wines a softer, simpler, more refreshing character.
Just remember that all Bordeaux wines (red or white) are blended wines.
Finally there are Sauternes and Barsac, which produce some of the rarest and most
expensive sweet white wines in the world. Chateau d’Yquem wines regularly command
among the highest prices of any wines made. These wines are produced by the “Noble
Rot” process which leaves the grapes on the vine way past the normal time for harvest.
At that point, a mold (Boytrytis cinerea) attacks the grapeskins until almost all the liquid
inside seeps out, concentrating the sugars. The grapes are then harvested by hand and
pressed into what can only be described as glorious.
Supplemental Info – Burgundy
Burgundy Wines…Chardonnay or Pinot Noir…but:
Let’s just take Chardonnay for a moment. From Chablis in the North to the Macon (or
Maconnaise) in the south…the flavor of the same wine (made from ONLY the
Chardonnay grape) runs the gamut all the way from luscious and fruity to “Steely” and
“Flinty”. Is it due to the way the wine is made? The soil? The weather?…It’s all of these
things. That’s why people who love Burgundy wine can sit and talk for hours about the
minutiae of a particular vineyard, village, or growing season.
The growing regions of Burgundy start (from the north on down) with Chablis, which is
known for its white wines, which are characteristically not finished in oak and are clean
and crisp…sometimes almost too tart/crisp for some people, but they pair wonderfully
with food…not much red wine is made here.
Just south of Chablis is the Cotes de Nuits, and here starts the Cotes D’Or… or “Golden
Slope”, a commonly used term that is applied to the Cotes de Nuits and Cotes de Beaune,
the next region to the south. It is in these two regions that almost all of the Grand Cru
Appellations are found.
Next come the Cotes Chalonnaise, and Maconnaise, and finally comes Beaujolais,
which is not really considered part of Burgundy due to the fact that most wines are made
with a different grape (Gamay) and use different winemaking methods. The Cotes
Chalonnaise and Maconnaise wines taste quite different than those of the Cote D’Or,
usually being described as having a more “earthy” or “mineraly” taste…and some people
will find that they like them better.
The designation of Grand Cru, or Premiere Cru is important in terms of understanding
how Burgundy wines get and maintain their reputations. In Bordeaux, you’ll remember
that there was the Classification of 1855, and the various Chateaus were rated 1st Growth,
2nd Growth, etc. In Burgundy, the Cru designations are based on an original classification
in 1861 which divided the various wines and vineyards into tête de cuvee (literally “head of
the class”), 1st, 2nd, 3rd class, and Regional. This system remained until 1935, when the
system we use now was instituted.
If you think of Burgundy as a pyramid, you can easily get a sense of how and why the
classification system works. At the very top of the Pyramid, are the Grand Cru wines.
There are 33 Grand Cru appellations, then there are 55 Communal (or Village)
appellations, then 28 Regional appellations.
There are also about 500 growing sites which are allowed to use the designation
“Premiere Cru” (sometimes you will see this written as 1er Cru), which are Vineyards
that are allowed to add their name to that of their Village…so you might see something
like “Givery 1er Cru” followed by the name of a particular vineyard…where Givery is
the name of the Village (or appellation). A different example…the Village of Santenay
has 390 hectares of vineyards of which 140 are considered to be Premiere Cru.
The place where it really starts to get confusing is when you understand that the French
inheritance laws (since the time of Napoleon) have caused all the land (here and
elsewhere in France) to be divided, re-divided, sub-divided, and hacked up until you find
some owners with 2 rows of vines in a Grand Cru vineyard, and no way to grow enough
grapes for a bottling. This is where the Negociant comes into play in a good way.
The way in which the Burgundy system (as complex as it is) really works well is that a
negociant can come in, buy grapes (or wine), bottle it and sell it…BUT…he will still keep
the correct designations on the label. So if he gets grapes from a Grand Cru Vineyard, it
will say Grand Cru on the label…Premiere Cru…it says so on the label…and you, the
consumer can use the information to have some assurance that you’re getting what you
pay for. Just remember that all this talk about Villages, Vineyards, Grand Cru, Premiere
Cru, Regions…all of these terms just refer to SPECIFIC places that grow grapes, and
have been designated with these terms as a type of rating system…the more specific the
location, the better the wine will likely be.
So, at the base of the Pyramid would be the wines with the designation of Burgundy AC,
or Appellation Bourgogne Controllee…these wines can be made from grapes grown
anywhere in Burgundy. Next, you will have the “Regional” wines, such as Cote de Nuits,
or Cote Chalonnaise…then come the “Village” wines, which will have the name of a
specific village on the label, such as “Puligny-Montrechet”, or “Givery-Chambertin”.
And then you will have the Premiere Cru wines, and, even better, Single Vineyard wines
that will bear the name of the particular vineyard on the label under the name of the
Village…Finally, the Grand Cru’s…These make up about one percent of all the wines
that come from Burgundy and are the best of the best.
There can never be very much production of these wines because of the acreage involved,
and so the price of them is usually very high due to the rarity. In rare instances you will
see the word “Cazatiere” on the label of some Grand Cru wines, and it means that the
wine is not only a single-vineyard wine, but it usually refers to a very small plot of land
that is very special.
Here’s a list of just the major regions and Villages of Burgundy:
Chablis – white wine
Cote de Nuits – white & red
Vosne-Romanee…Vougeot…Nuits St George
Cote de Beaune – white & red
Cote Chalonnaise –
There are many other names you will encounter as you navigate your way through the
wines of Burgundy and find out which ones you’ll like. Take the time…learn some of
them…It’s all worth it.
California Wine is pretty easy to understand…first of all, it has the name of the grape
right smack on the front of the bottle. So if you want Merlot…you just look for a bottle
that says Merlot on it….none of this Pomerol, St. Emilion stuff. A nice Cab…just look
for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon…no Medoc, Haut-Medoc. It’s simple…it’s…it’s…
Well…you don’t get off quite THAT easy. California wine has a few peculiarities of its
own that you might want to be aware of. First, there’s the labeling regulations. We’ve
mentioned the fact that if the label says for example, Merlot…the wine has to be made
from at least 75% Merlot grapes. Same with the vintages. If it says 2004, you know that
either 85% or 95% of the grapes were harvested in the year that’s printed on the label. It
just depends on the AVA…Wait!! What?! What did he say?! What’s an AVA?
Well…Here’s where all of that French Appellation/label reading stuff is going to come in
handy. Now that you understand how the French do it, the American (and particularly
California) system is going to really make sense. The one main difference is that in
America, we don’t (or I should say the ATF – which makes the regulations for Alcoholic
beverages) really make any labeling requirements regarding the quality of the wine.
The French you remember, in order to bestow an AOC designation on a winery, had a
bunch of rules that the winemaker had to follow in order to earn the designation. This has
turned out to be a pretty good method for assuring a certain level of drink-ability in those
French wines that follow those rules. America’s answer to that system is the AVA, or
American Viticultural Area.
In order to understand what they are, let’s look first at what they are NOT. An AVA is no
guarantee of, nor has it anything to do with, the quality of a wine…legally. In practice, it
may have a lot to do with how you make your choices in a wine store or off a wine list.
Just the same as if you develop a taste for wines from the Margaux or St. Estephe
Appellation, so you may find that you develop a preference for wines from Stag’s Leap,
which is in the Napa Valley AVA…the only problem is that Stag’s Leap (or more
precisely, the Stag’s Leap district) is ALSO an AVA…
This can get a little confusing, because in theory, one AVA is just as good as another
AVA…in practice, it’s just like France…usually, the smaller the region, the more control
over the product, and the better the wine is going to be.
For example, I have in front of me (as I’m writing this) three bottles of different
California Merlots. One says “2001 North Coast”, one says “2001 Santa Barbara
County”, and “2001 Yorkville Highlands”. How do I figure out which one I think would
be better wine? Well…in California (as well as most other places), you want to turn the
bottle around and look at the back of the label.
When I do that, this is what I see…The bottle that says “North Coast” says a couple of
other things as well: It says that the grapes come from Mendocino County plus other
coastal counties…this is what we should expect. The AVA designation of North Coast
ONLY guarantees that the grapes come from the counties of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino,
Lake, etc. Then, at the bottom of the label, it says, “Cellared & Bottled by” and then the
name of the winery. So we know that this is a negociant style wine, which may or may
not be a good thing.
The next bottle says, “Santa Barbara County”…so we know that the grapes come from a
smaller area. When we turn the bottle around, it says…”Produced and Bottled by” and
then the name of the winery…that tells us that the grapes (or the largest part of them)
were grown in Santa Barbara County, bought by the winery (maybe they grew some of
them), and then they made this bottle of wine. All of the process of winemaking under
conditions somewhat more tightly controlled than the first bottle.
The third bottle says “Yorkville Highlands”, which, if we do a tiny bit of research, we
find is a smaller AVA contained in the Mendocino County AVA. When we turn this
bottle around, it says, “Grown, Produced, and Bottled by” and the name of the winery.
Since we already know that this is essentially the same as “Estate Bottled”, we can
wonder why the winery chose not to use that designation on the label. The reason might
be because up to 25% of the grapes may have come from somewhere else…but the
chances are good that THIS bottle of wine is the best of the bunch.
The only better designations for California wines would be, “Estate Bottled” (which
means that ALL the grapes come from the same AVA) or even better would be “Single
Vineyard”…which means that all the grapes come from a single property.
So…here are the actual labeling requirements….A wine with a “California” designation
on the label…100% of the grapes must come from California. A “County” designation
such as Mendocino or Napa…75% percent of the grapes must come from that county. If
you go to a smaller AVA, like a “Stag’s Leap” designation, 85% of the grapes MUST
come from that AVA. If there is a “Vineyard” designation on the label, 95% of the grapes
must come from that Vineyard.
In America, we don’t really get into telling winemakers how they have to make their
wine, but we do regulate the origins of the grapes, and in practice it seems to work fairly
well…the place where it can get tricky is that some AVA’s are HUGE. For example, the
Ozark Mountain AVA covers areas of 3 states…Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
In my opinion, until you really get to the point of knowing the Terroir of the California
regions, there is really only one reason to pay attention to any of this AVA stuff, and it’s
If you find a great bottle of Napa Cabernet from say, Yountville…and you look for other
bottles from the same winemaker/vineyard and the same year, and you can’t find
any…let’s say that you got the last bottle in the store, or it’s been in your cellar for a
couple of years and you don’t remember where you got it…Well, there’s a very good
chance that if you look around for other bottles of Yountville Cabernet from that same
year, it’s going to be something that you’ll like.
In California, “Estate Bottled” means roughly the same as “Bottled at the Chateau”,
always a good indication that the wine was carefully made. We’ve covered other terms
that you see on California labels, like “Reserve”, etc.
For California wines, I’m of the opinion that you do yourself a lot of good by learning
about different winemakers and trying wines from the different regions. Almost all the
wineries have websites and they put a lot of information out there for you to mull over,
and mostly they are very good about answering e-mails regarding their products.
Please see the list of weblinks for more specific info on California AVA’s and complete
listings of them.
Pairing Wine with Food is taking the Creativity and the Art of Wine to a whole other
level. There has been so much information put out there about this that it can get both
daunting and confusing as you try to work your way through it all. Let me try to put it
into one sentence and simplify it for you:
It all comes down to taste.
So…taste a bunch of wine, taste a bunch of food, REMEMBER what they taste like, and
try to visualize or imagine how they would go together. This is not as simple as it sounds
for most of us. We forget the subtlety of flavors…We forget the intensity of flavors…the
taste of a great bottle of wine may fade after awhile…that perfectly seasoned and
prepared sea bass we had at that little bistro by the sea…we remember the setting, we
remember the meal was a memorable one…but the taste may not spring to mind.
There are some people by the way, that are unusually gifted in this area. Among great
chefs, the ability to remember the nuances of dishes tasted years ago more or less goes
with the territory. Robert Parker (Author of The Wine Advocate and probably the most
influential wine critic of today) is reputed to be able to taste a wine (blind – or without
looking at the label), then taste the same wine 10 or more years later and identify it as
being the same wine. Even he says he does not understand his gift.
For the rest of us, we will have to muddle along and try to figure out a method of how to
do it until we develop our palates…then we can hope for some inspired moments.
One of the basic things we should be aware of is the “weight” of the food. A steak would
be considered a “heavy” meal…that’s pretty obvious. A seafood salad would be a “light”
one…But…If we took the seafood and put it into a pasta…is it still “light”? How about if
we add a lemony-garlic-butter sauce on the pasta? How about chopping in some fresh
tomatoes? How about a tomato-based sauce? How about if we replace the seafood with
meatballs?..Made out of Turkey and Veal? AAaahhhhhhh…….it can make you crazy.
There’s hope…The next most important concept in understanding how to pair wine with
food is to develop a sense of the ACIDITY of both. So in the case of the seafood pasta
with a lemon-garlic-butter sauce, you have to figure out if you want the wine to MATCH
the acidity of the sauce, or if you want the wine to be more acidic (thereby making the
food seem softer), or if you want to use a softer, fruitier wine with less acidity to bring
out the lemon and garlic in the sauce and be more in sync with the taste of the butter.
Your choice might depend on the amount of each of the 3 ingredients in the sauce.
If you wanted the food to tone down, a new, acidic Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
might be just the answer…if you wanted more of the taste of the lemon and garlic, an oak
fermented Chardonnay or a Riesling that had a little sweetness to it might be the exact
taste that you were looking for.
If we were going to make that seafood pasta with a Tomato sauce, you might want to go
with red wine…anything from a mildly spicy Pinot Noir, to a Chianti that could be so
acidic that the red sauce tasted sweet by comparison…
So…acidity and its opposite, SWEETNESS, are two of the major factors in how the taste
of the food affects the taste of the wine and vice versa. Normally the wine should be a bit
sweeter than the food…if the food is sweeter, it will tend to bring out any astringency or
tartness in the wine, making it seem less sweet than it may actually be. Salt, on the other
hand will tend to do the opposite. A dish that is salty will usually tend to bring out more
of the fruitiness of a wine and tone down any astringency or bitterness.
It may take you a while to get a feel for this, but we all like to eat, and almost all of us
like food that tastes good…so keep some notes along the way, remember the things that
work, and you’ll soon see that it really isn’t brain surgery.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is something like what you saw in the
DVD…an evening of wine and food that lets you experience a wide range of flavors and
combinations of flavors.
I wouldn’t start out by trying to imitate exactly what you saw in the program, because,
quite frankly, it was TV and we had to cover too much ground. In a minute I’m going to
list all of the things we tasted with which wines, but my recommendation is that you
break it up into a few evenings so it doesn’t get out of hand.
Another thing that you might want to experience (before I get into explaining what you
watched in the program) is this…You noticed that we had Asparagus and Artichokes on
the table. These are a couple of things that are hard to match with wine…and learning
what doesn’t work is every bit as important as learning what does…you may find it helps
you “zero-in” on complimentary flavors.
With that in mind, I suggest that you try the following…and by the way, you should
actually try all of this stuff. Reading about it almost doesn’t matter. Pairing wine and
food is almost all about experiencing tastes…Anyway, try some of these things….
A salad with a vinaigrette dressing
Try them with both sweet and dry red and white wines…these are all tastes that are hard
to pair with wine, and you’ll get a sense of what doesn’t work very well…and this may
help you learn about those things that you prefer.
Wines We Haven’t Mentioned, but Which You Should Try
There are a number of wines that we haven’t mentioned in the program, and of course
there are literally hundreds of grape varietals…this can be both useful as well as
confusing when trying to pair wine and food. Here are a few of these wines that I think
you should become acquainted with for those occasions when our “Four Grapes plus
Merlot” won’t do the job:
Syrah (or Shiraz)
I think for the whites, Riesling and Gewürztraminer are wines that can have a wide range
of sweetness, and this is useful to know…and for the reds, Beaujolais usually is quite
fruity and has very little tannins, Zinfandel is usually pretty “spicy”, and Chianti usually
is nicely acidic…these are wines you may not think of right away when making pairing
choices, but you should become a little familiar with them for those occasions when your
usual choices may not be quite right.
You’ll find that all these wines are not that dissimilar from what you know already, but
they all have slightly different characteristics as far as matching them with food. Taste a
bunch of them and have fun…
Just one more thing…When nothing else works, try Champagne….
Things to Consider When Choosing Pairings
There has been a ton of stuff written about pairings, and I would encourage you to go out
and learn what other people have to say about it. It’s beyond the scope of this program to
delve very deeply into the details of a subject that has so, so many possibilities and
To my mind, there are a few most important things to consider. They are:
1. How is the food prepared? Is it grilled, fried, poached? Baked in a casserole?
Sautéed? Steamed? The preparation method will likely make a big difference in
the wine you choose because it will alter the flavor of the food. It will also bring
into play the flavors (or lack of them) of other things that are unique to the
cooking method…such as the kind of oil you might fry something in, or the
carrots and mushrooms you might put in the casserole to keep it moist.
2. Is there a sauce? If there is a sauce, you will usually want to match the wine with
the sauce…as that will tend to be the overpowering taste of the dish. If the sauce
is a reduction, it will be an even more powerful flavor.
3. What are the spices that you are using in the dish? Remember that Eric talked
about “Red fruit, Black fruit”? Certain spices tend to combine well with certain
types of fruit…For example, cloves, thyme, and rosemary seem to combine well
with red fruit, while pepper, cumin, and curry seem to match up with low-tannin
black fruit wines…For me. Your palate may lead you in other directions.
4. Is it an “Ethnic” type of cuisine? Certain types of ethnic foods lend themselves to
certain types of wines. Examples would be…
a. Chinese – The seasonings are largely Garlic, Ginger, Oyster Sauce, Soy
Sauce…A sweetish, fruity White can work well, or Mild-Tannin Red if
it’s Pork or Duck.
b. Thai – Not too different than Chinese except more aromatic and spicier. A
crisp White wine or maybe a spicy Pinot can work.
c. Indian – Coconut, Curry, Cumin are the main spices. I like Mild-Tannin
Reds or Oaky Chardonnay
d. Mexican – I like Margaritas or Cerveza…but if you have to drink wine, go
for something like a Beaujolais that has low spice, lots of fruit, and very
little tannins…that’s what I like anyway…
At a certain point it just all becomes about what it is that you have a preference for…But
don’t forget the concept of “Regionalism”. If the style of food is native to a particular
place, try the wine that comes from that place. I was recently at a Moroccan Restaurant,
and tried a couple of glasses of Moroccan Red and White. They were quite good wines
with the meal, and I didn’t even know they made wine in Morocco.
What We Did in the Program
In the tasting scene in the program, we were interested in letting people experience two
things…the difference in taste between California and French wines, and some very basic
food flavors that are fairly traditional, and yet would allow our friends to see how these
French and California wines would react to the same foods in slightly different ways.
If you are very new to wine, I would suggest that you might want to try some of this at
home, but on a smaller scale. Pick either one or two types of wine, get the French and
California versions, and invite some friends over…you’ll have a lot of fun.
For the whites, we started with Sauvignon Blanc, and paired it with slices of Honeydew
Melon, Grapefruit, Pineapple…and our cheeses were basically goat cheese and brie.
When we moved on to the Chardonnay, we became a bit more ambitious…My friend Al
cooked the scallops that you saw in the program, as well as a Penne Pasta in an Alfredo
sauce. And again, the wine was paired with the same fruit and cheese (plus we added
Swiss cheese and Gruyere) and here is where we paired it with a piece of Endive, and
then the Endive with a smear of goat cheese…just to contrast the flavors.
When we started tasting the reds, we started with Pinot Noir, then Merlot and finally the
Cabernets. We wanted to explore the flavor of the Pinot with some sautéed Portobello
mushrooms, and then with some Penne pasta with a tomato sauce…both very different
types of flavors, but they both match well with the character of the wine. Finally, we had
a classic Pinot match-up…breast of chicken pan-fried in butter and thyme with
As we moved on to the bigger reds – the Merlots and the Cabernets, we paired them first
with Gorgonzola cheese, then Steak-au-Poivre, and then some pears poached in brandy
before we tried them with light and dark chocolate as a finale. These are a few of the
classic flavors for “big” red wines, but there are many more…some of the weblinks will
lead you to them.
One final comment…all of the things we tasted are easy to prepare, and you can certainly
make them yourself…but if you have a friend or friends that like to cook, let them get a
little creative, it will insure a memorable evening. Just make sure it doesn’t get out of
hand and that there are always a couple of very simple tastes or foods to pair with the
wines so the flavors can be understood.
SAUTEED SCALLOPS –We served with Chardonnay
1 lb Scallops
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp diced garlic – about 2 cloves crushed
Optional – 2 fresh rosemary sprigs (leave out if you want a really simple taste)
Optional – 1 lemon cut into wedges
Some chopped parsley for sprinkling over the scallops, a couple sprigs for garnish
Medium sized sauce pan
In the sauce pan melt the butter over medium/high heat. Add the garlic and (optional
rosemary), stir with a wooden spoon till the garlic begins to brown (maybe 40 seconds).
Add the scallops and cook about 2 minutes on each side (more if you want a firmer
texture). Spoon out the garlic, remove the optional rosemary and serve.
You can try this with and without a spritz of lemon to see how this affects the wine on
PAN DONE CHICKEN BREAST – We served with Pinot Noire
4 de-boned chicken breasts with the skin
2 large onions – sliced into rings
1 cup button mushrooms – stems removed
1/4 lb butter
Pinch or two of Thyme and Rosemary (either fresh or dried)
Sprinkle paprika on the skin of the chicken breasts.
In a medium large pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onions
and sauté until onions are limp and beginning to brown. Move the onions to the outside
of the pan in a ring so that when you add the chicken breasts they will have a clear
surface to cook upon. Add another 2 tablespoons of butter and increase heat.
Add the thyme, rosemary and chicken breasts skin side down to the center of the
pan…cook the breasts until the skin has browned.
Add the mushrooms, Salt and Pepper to taste. Reduce heat and turn over the breasts.
Add more butter, cover and cook until the breasts are tender and cooked through.
Transfer to a serving tray and serve.
STEAK AU POIVRE – We served with Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon
About this dish….Steak au Poivre is a great meal if you include side dishes like string
beans and boiled or baked potatoes. For tasting purposes I have prepared this dish
without cream and cut into smaller strips after preparation. For your own tasting party
leave the steaks as prepared. Steak au Poivre is a good reason not to hate the French.
This Recipe is for Four
4 sirloin steaks or filet mignon, 6 to 8 ounces each and no more than 1 1/2 inches thick,
trim off as much fat as possible.
Kosher or sea salt
Coarsely crushed peppercorns (a bottle you might find in a grocery spice rack will do or
you can crush your own in a cellar – if you wish use mixed peppercorns rather than just
white or black)
Unsalted butter – alternatively, you can use a cooking oil or olive oil but I much prefer
Shallots (optional) – chopped
Cognac – use a reasonably good cognac, not cooking swill
1 cup heavy cream (optional – I leave out the cream usually but…it’s up to you)
1. Thaw the steaks from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour prior to
cooking. Sprinkle all sides with salt.
2. Spread the crushed peppercorns evenly onto a plate. Press the fillets on both sides, into
the pepper until it coats the surface. Make sure that the pepper is deeply embedded in the
steak. You can also use a French mallet (a wooden gavel with points on the ends) to
pound the peppercorns into the steak. Set aside.
3. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter or heat the oil. As soon as the
butter begins to turn golden, gently place the steaks in the pan. First sear the steaks on
both sides briefly, then you can press the sides against the pan to help the steaks retain
their juices. Turn the steaks over and continue to cook. Optionally add the shallots at this
time. For medium-rare, cook for about 4 minutes on each side.
3a. IMPORTANT NOTE: Although you see me do this in the video this is potentially a
fire hazard so please TAKE CARE with this optional step and keep your face well away
from the pan. While the steaks are cooking you can sprinkle a little of the cognac over the
steaks and ignite the alcohol vapors coming off the pan.
4. Once done, remove the steaks to a plate, Cover loosely with foil and set aside to keep
warm and moist. Pour off the excess fat but DO NOT wipe or scrape the pan clean.
5. Take the pan off of the heat, add 1/3 cup Cognac to the pan and carefully ignite the
alcohol with a long match or very, very carefully tilt the pan until the flames from the
stove ignite the brandy (obviously you don’t want to do this on an electric stove). Again,
let me remind you that this is potentially dangerous so please be VERY careful (refer to
6. Gently shake pan until the flames die. Return the pan to medium heat and (optionally)
gradually add the cream to your desired thickness, if you leave out the cream you may
want to add and fire more cognac to produce more liquid, and if you wish, you may use a
roux of oil/butter and flour to thicken the sauce.
7. Still under low heat bring the mixture to a light boil and whisk until the sauce coats the
back of a spoon, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Add another spritz of Cognac and season,
to taste, with salt. Put the steaks on a serving plate, spoon the sauce over them, and serve.
POACHED PEARS – We served with Merlot/Cabernet
About the poached pears, they are usually made whole with the core removed only. For
the purposes of the video and tasting we made them in halves. This recipe should work
with any red wine including Port or any white wine. Desert wines should be okay too.
4 pears (Any kind will do but Bartlett and Bosc have a good outer texture)
1/4 cup of white sugar
2 to 3 cups of a red wine such as Zinfandel or a white wine such as Chardonnay
1 can pear nectar
Spices (Star anise, crushed cinnamon stick, vanilla bean – sliced lengthwise, a few pepper
corns) – use all of these, some of these, or your own.
Lemon zest (only the skin, no pith)
Raspberries (a handful) washed, drained, crushed
1 deep small saucepan that will hold the 4 upright pears (the pears will need to be
covered in liquid so use a saucepan which will allow you to do this)
1. Core the pears from the bottom, carefully so they don’t split. A small knife is good for
this though there are such things as melon ballers, or apple corers which will do fine.
Make sure the pear will stand upright by itself. If not, slice the bottom so that it will.
2. In the sauce pan: combine the wine, water, spices, and pears (upright in the saucepan).
Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes (until the
pears are tender).
3. Once tender, carefully move the pears to a plate and set aside. Strain the liquid into a
bowl and discard the solids. You can scrape the vanilla seeds into the liquid if you wish.
4. Pour the strained liquid back into the sauce pan, add about 2 heaping tablespoons of
the crushed raspberries and juice to the liquid and reduce over high heat until the sauce
thickens into a syrup. This should take about 20 minutes.
5. Place each pear into a small shallow desert bowl, pour some syrup over each and
sprinkle with a little of the lemon zest.
Eat and enjoy
Note: I would like to thank my friend Al Krever for the above recipes. Al is one of those
people who have a natural talent for flavors and cooking. His help was invaluable in
making this part of the program work.
Some of My Favorite Wine Websites
(Of course, most of these pages have other links)
**Some Websites appear more than once…it’s
because I feel their different pages are important**
Glossaries/Dictionaries/Definitions of Terms
Fun and Informative – General Info
Reading the Label
**NOTE: Check several. Vintage Charts can be somewhat opinion-driven**
Click to access VintageChart.pdf
Pairing Wine and Food
** NOTE: Keep in mind that many opinions
about pairing wine and food are purely subjective**
A Little More Advanced
Some Government Rules, Regs & Info