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The wine mystique: a guide to ordering and appreciating fine wine.

As you dine in Sarasota's most distinguished restaurants, you will be presented with some of the finest, and most comprehensive, wine lists in Florida. With just a few tips, great wines can add a whole new dimension to your dining experience.

But first a warning. Learning about wine can be exasperating, confusing and even frustrating. So what is all the fuss about? Why all the swirling, spitting and sniffing?

It used to be simple - we drank reds with beef and whites with fish. Today, however, individual taste is the rule. While certain wines pair well with certain foods, there are no right and wrong answers. Indeed, the key to finding a good wine is to try many wines. Don't assume that just because a wine is expensive, it will necessarily be your favorite. In fact, many great wines are available for $10 - $15 per bottle, or even less!

Never be afraid to try something new. Many people find a wine they like and, feeling safe and comfortable, order it every time. Would those same people order the same entree every time they ate out? Of course not! The key to enjoying wine and food is to challenge your palate by trying new things.

How will you know when you have found a great wine? It's easy. If you like it, if it suits your palate, then it's a great wine for you.

Here is some basic information about the language of wine and food and wine pairings to get you started on your exploration. In addition, ask your waiter or the restaurant's sommelier for assistance in choosing. Then, sit back, relax and enjoy your selection.

Let's begin our wine excursion by looking at some of the major types of grapes, or varietals, from which wine is made. Remember, wine stripped of all the hoopla is basically just a bunch of grapes. How this fruit is manipulated, where it is grown, which type of grape it is, the skill of the winemaker, and weather conditions - all these factors contribute to how good a wine will finally be.

White Wines

CHARDONNAY - The finest of all white wine grapes. In France these grapes produce all the great white Burgundies, including Montrachet, Chablis, Meursault and Champagne. In California, the Chardonnay grape is responsible for some of the state's most remarkable wines. Because of its low yield, it tends to be expensive. Usually full-bodied with a complex fruitiness from its nose to its long finish, it's balanced by oak and buttery overtones. Chardonnay complements most stronger flavored fish and shellfish dishes when baked or poached with a sauce. Try also with veal in cream sauce, pates, and some cheeses, such as soft, ripened double or triple cream, brie and firm cheddars.

SAUVIGNON BLANC - This varietal is extremely versatile. In Bordeaux, it produces the dry wines of Graves and is blended (mixed) with Semillon (another varietal) to produce the great dessert wines of Sauternes. In the Loire Valley it produces such charming and fruity wines as Pouilly Fume and Sancerre. In California, it's somewhat more full-bodied and fruitier, but still has the same distinct bouquet and flavor.

Great with moderate flavored fish such as salmon and all types of shellfish such as oysters, prawns, mussels, scallops and shrimp. Pairs well with fowl served in a white sauce.

RIESLING - Grown in virtually all the great vineyards of Germany, it produces the best wines from Alsace, France. Riesling is one of the most adaptable white grapes and is successfully grown in every major wine-producing region of the world. It's generally called Johannisberg Riesling in California and produces a light, crisp and fruity wine of great elegance.

In the dry style it goes well with prosciutto and melon, grilled bass or trout and pork roast.

CHENIN BLANC - The predominant grape of the Loire Valley, where it is responsible for the wonderful Vouvray. In California, it produces an early maturing wine of great finesse. It can be somewhat confusing, as it's made in different styles ranging from dry to semi-sweet.

Serve with lean, delicate fish such as sole or with scallops. Also goes well with chicken and veal.

CHAMPAGNE - Strictly speaking, Champagne means French Champagne: a specific wine produced through a specific process from only certain varieties of grapes in a legally designated part of France. Not to be confused with the sparkling wines produced in America.

Red Wines

CABERNET SAUVIGNON - This varietal produces the great reds of California and Bordeaux. In Bordeaux it is almost always blended with other red varietals, while in California less blending occurs. When well made, Cabernet creates a complex wine with mouthfilling fruit and a long, lasting finish.

Simply prepared foods such as grilled, roasted or smoked meats really complement this varietal. Also dark, rich meats such as beef, lamb, duck or game and firm cheeses such as cheddar and Stilton.

PINOT NOIR - Responsible for the great red Burgundies of France from Beaune, Pommard and Corton Romanee and Chambertin, Pinot Noir grapes also produce more than 60 percent of French Champagnes. In California, the wines are generally lighter in style and color than Cabernet. Generally less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir is an elegant wine with an earthy nose and flavor.

Good with terrines, salmon, duck, goose and certain game. It also pairs well with blue cheese such as Gorgonzola.

ZINFANDEL - One of the most widely grown varietals in California, it's easily recognizable in character, bouquet and flavor. Fine, bright ruby color loaded with bramble fruit flavors such as wild blackberries with hints of pepper and spice. Wines can range from big, rich, intensely flavored types with substantial tannin to very light, fruity wines.

The spiciness suits Mexican and Italian cuisine as well as barbecued foods. Good with beef and pork entrees, wild game, sausage and roast lamb.

MERLOT - In Bordeaux, almost as important to the winemaking process as Cabernet. Some would argue that it is more important, and in certain regions they would be correct. Merlot adds softness, fruit and charm to wines that would be lacking without it. Earlier ripening produces wines that are softer and more accessible than Cabernets, with a great deal of bouquet and fruit.

Try with the same foods as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine Terms

Part of the mystique surrounding wine stems from its peculiar terminology. Indeed, wine descriptions can be entertaining, confusing and sometimes just plain silly. Consider the following:

About Chassagne-Montrachet: "It is so great a wine that one should drink it...kneeling."

On Champagne: "Drinking it is like pouring diamonds into a tulip."

On a Beaujolais: "a texture like the sinful strokes of a feather boa."

One wine writer got so carried away he wrote of his favorite wine, "A lithe powerful body insulated by soft, tender curves."

No wonder novices can be intimidated when faced with such evocative images. The truth is that for wine connoisseurs, a fine wine is not a beverage; it is an experience. Wines are one of the great joys of life, and thus merit descriptions of mythic proportion.

Here's a glossary of wine descriptions that will help you hold your own in any wine-related conversation.

Aftertaste: The lingering impression after the wine is swallowed. Usually described as the "finish" of a wine.

Aggressive: Refers to the strong, assertive character of a young and powerful wine. These wines usually lack charm and grace.

Astringent: A puckering sensation imparted to the wine by its tannins. Tannins are essential to red wines, allowing them to improve with age.

Austere: The opposite of fruitiness.

Balance: Refers to the proportion of the elements of a wine: acid against sweetness; fruit flavors against wood and tannin; alcohol against acid and flavor.

Big: To describe a wine powerful in flavor, extract, body or alcohol.

Body: The impression of fullness on the palate caused by the alcohol, glycerin and residual sugar.

Bouquet: The smell of a wine after it has lost its grapey fragrances.

Breed: A term used to describe the loveliest, most harmonious and refined wines that achieve what is termed classical proportion.

Complex: A wine offering many aromas and flavors that deliver a pleasing harmony.

Corky: The smell and taste which results from corks infected with mold.

Earthy: Describes a wine that smells like freshly turned soil.

Elegant: Refers to a wine which provides a sense of grace, harmony, delicate balance and beauty. Found only in the finest wines.

Finesse: A quality of elegance which separates a good wine from a fine wine.

Flinty: A flavor associated with certain dry white wines. Chablis and Pouilly-Fume are common examples. The flavor resembles the smell of gunflint after it has been struck.

Fruity: Describes the fragrance or flavor of certain young wines. It is a rich "winey" flavor not to be confused with the smell of fresh grape juice.

Hard: A young tannic red before it mellows and develops full flavor with bottle age.

Hearty: Usually describes a full-bodied, high-alcohol red wine of bulk quality.

Musty: Refers to the dank, mildew-like smell of a wine which comes from being stored in poorly cleaned tanks or casks.

Supple: A wine with a softness of fruit and flavor and a firmness in structure with sufficient acids, tannins and alcohol to age.

Tannin: Refers to an astringent acid, derived from the skins, seeds and wooden casks, which causes a puckering sensation in the mouth.

Velvety: Refers to the feel of a wine which is rich in extract and smooth in its acids and tannins.
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Section
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Previous Article:Sarasota cuisine: a guide to fine dining in Sarasota.
Next Article:Where to go: a map of your favorite restaurants.

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