Sunday, March 7, 2010

"T" is for Taking the Time for the Song and Dance

This is part three in the series called Romancing the Grape.

In many restaurants the mark-up on wine can be hefty. You pay not only for the wine, but for the sommelier or server's song and dance - that is the art of opening and presenting the wine to you, the host, and your guests.

After ordering from the list, the server will return to your table, presenting the bottle of wine to you. He/she will display the label. Be sure to read the name of the winery, the style (Bordeaux) or grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon) and most definitely the vintage date. The same wine can vary in quality and price from year to year.

While attending sommelier training at George Brown College (I need not mention the year), my teacher, Jacques Marie, taught us that a professional server or sommelier will blend into the wood work. Today too many servers are looking to be the centre of attention during your dining experience. A trained, professional sommelier or server will create a quiet, seamless and professional experience for the host and his/her guests.

Quietness is key. This includes the sommelier quietly pulling the cork from the bottle rather than popping it out. The sommelier uses the cork screw to pull the cork about three quarters out of the bottle neck. Wrapping his/her hand around the cork, the sommelier will then gently wiggle the remainder of the cork from the bottle, thus ensuring complete silence in opening the wine.

Again quietness is key. At no time should the server or sommelier interupt or listen in on the table conversations.

The sommelier may then wipe the rim of the bottle if some cork has been desposited here.

After opening the bottle, the sommelier will then put the cork in front of you, the host, who ordered the wine. The bottle may be placed on your table for stability or the sommelier may hold the bottle in the air. In either case, the sommelier stands to the right of host.

You may have noticed some people smelling the cork. This is to apparently determine if the wine is ‘off.’

Smelling the cork tells you very little about what's in the bottle. A musty or moldy smell from the cork could mislead you, as well. It is common for the cork to develop a little mold just under the capsule. It will most likely not affect the wine in the bottle.

Look at the brand name on the cork and make sure it matches the brand on the label. If the names are different this could be an indication that the wine is homemade or a fake.

For some it is advantageous to feel the cork. If it is completely dry, this may be a sign that the bottle has been stored upright, rather on its side, thereby allowing air inside the bottle and causing the wine to oxidize – to age before its time. Young wines, however, may have dry corks because they have just been bottled. If the cork is gummy, this may be a good indication that the wine has oxidized.

The sommelier or server will then pour an ounce into the host’s, glass. The host’s job is to swirl the wine, smell it and taste it. If you’re unsure as to what to smell, just concern yourself with the taste. If the wine tastes pleasant, nod and let the sommelier then fill your guests’ glasses first; yours last.

If the wine’s taste reminds you of cooked fruit – the kind you put into a pie – then the wine may very well be oxidized. If the cork is gummy and the wine taste liked cooked fruit, ask for another bottle of wine. Cork taint affects approximately about three percent of all wines. So, your chances of getting one are slim.

If ready for a second bottle of wine to be brought to the table, make sure the server does not put new wine into your used glasses. Politely put your hand over the bowl and request a new glass for your second wine. If you’re switching from white to red wine, it’s also appropriate to ask for a clean glass.

If you like the wine, be sure to tell the restaurant owner. This is the only way he/she will know how to successfully build a wine cellar.

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