This is a test. Your instructions are to turn off all electronic devices/children/distractions and immerse yourself completely in this situation, because it could mean the difference between your status as a wine snob or a wannabe poseur.
You and your date (it can be anyone, have fun) have just ordered a criminally expensive bottle of wine at the swankiest joint in town. There’s soft candlelight and a little Burt Bacharach setting the mood…the place just drips with class, and Lord Almighty, you look good. Ah, finally, the waiter has returned and is holding that magnificent bottle that’s older than Miley Cyrus, slightly dusty from the years it’s waited for you to order it. You examine the label – yes, yes, that’s the one – and he uncorks your prize with a satisfying “pop!” and places the cork vertically on the tablecloth in front of you.
Here’s the question: what do you do with that cork?
Consider your options carefully, because I forgot to mention that at this restaurant, all the wine snobs of the world are sitting and staring at you, waiting for you to make a critical error so they can scoff at you until the end of time. The pressure’s on, ain’t it, Slick?
This was my favorite interactive lesson I’d conduct at wine tastings during my consulting days. I’ve heard all kinds of answers, and only rarely did someone give the right one with the correct reasoning behind it. While I’d tell clients and fellow wine lovers that there’s no wrong way to enjoy wine, there are little breaches of etiquette that can make you look foolish to anyone really educated in wine. Today, I’ll reveal the three most common “wine-a-be” (wine snob wannabe) errors in wine decorum, and why they should be banished from your tasting practices.
The first dead giveaway of a wine beginner is simply how he or she holds the glass. Despite there being literally hundreds of different types of wine glasses (virtually one shape per grape), there is still just one way to properly hold the glass: by the stem, not by the bowl. (A note on stemless wine glasses: while trendy, they haven’t passed the test of time quite yet. Let’s wait and see where this fad goes.) Why by the stem? Mostly to prevent the transfer of heat from your hands to the wine, which can add an unpleasant sharpness to the taste. Hands also transfer fingerprints, which, unless you’re a cop or a private investigator, are bad news since they hinder the ability to examine the wine’s color and clarity. Also, it’s quite difficult (and much riskier) swirling wine when holding the glass by the bowl. So it’s no question why wine snobs gasp in horror at this practice: it practically cuts the tasting process in half. In fact, some really intense wine lovers will hold and swirl the glass by the foot (base) of the glass to ensure that the most aerodynamic swirl is achieved and that no heat is transferred to the wine at all. It may take some practice, but if you begin training yourself by swirling the glass on the table, you’ll never again be accused of wine-a-beism from the way you hold the glass.
The next great error is very common among intermediate wine explorers: the legs test. Did someone ever swirl a glass of wine and mention that it has great legs? Many people falsely believe the myth that the legs (droplets that make their way down the glass after a swirl) are an indicator of quality in a wine. Well, it isn’t the case with women, and it certainly isn’t the case with wine, either! The only thing the “legs test” really proves is the alcohol content of the wine: wines with more alcohol have faster moving legs, while less alcoholic, typically sweeter wines will have legs that travel slowly down the glass like honey. The legs themselves are a result of the fact that wine evaporates faster than water. So, the “legs test” is really more of a physics lesson in surface tension and alcohol content than quality. While the truth may not be as compelling as the myth, the next time somebody says that a wine has great legs, you might as well mention it’s got a nice a…..ftertaste, too.
Now, don’t forget, you’re still in that fancy pants restaurant with a vinic dilemma of epic proportions in front of you: what the heck do you do with that cork? Do you stare at it, sniff it, squeeze it, taste it, throw it? If your guess is to pick it up and take a little whiff, well, you’re wrong, unless you really like the smell of cork or something. The correct answer is to squeeze it – you want to be sure that there’s a little bit of give in the cork to ensure that the wine was stored properly. Proper storage means that it was stored on its side in a fairly humid environment between 55º-60º Fahrenheit, essentially a setting where oxygen cannot harm the wine. A dry cork (not to be confused with a firm one) could mean that the bottle wasn’t stored on its side, allowing air inside to oxidize and degrade the wine. The ultimate test, however, is in the taste, and every wine snob knows this to be true as well. So, the next time you see a helpless wine-a-be butcher a tasting ritual, try not to judge. Remember to take a sip of humility and even offer some valuable advice; after all, no one is born a wine snob.