WHEN TO ORDER WINE IN A RESTAURANT

Don’t order your wine before you look at the food menu first. That way you know what you are going to order and what the options are. Sometimes an inexperienced server will pressure you to order your drinks before you even look at the menu. Tell them you’ll just start with water, to let
them know you are going to take your time.

Look at the menu items first. What strikes you as tasty? There is no right or wrong choice here. We all like different things. Some people love filet. Some people love tuna. Whatever you enjoy eating, that is fine, Relish it. Write it down. Once you know what you want to eat, it’s time to figure out what you want to drink to go with it.

Every taste bud is different. Each of us likes different flavour combinations. Some of us like chocolate with peanut butter. Some like chocolate with marshmallow. It’s not “right” or “wrong”. It is unique and that is what makes all of us special.

So certainly determine for yourself what you enjoy. If you like tuna with Cabernet, order it and enjoy it. If you’re just trying veal for the very first time, certainly ask the waiter for a suggestion about which wines he would suggest. But if he suggests Cabernet and you hate Cabernet, go with something you enjoy.

It’s far more likely that if you love a particular wine that you’ll enjoy a pairing of such wine and veal far more than you’d enjoy veal with a wine you hate.

The real key is to order wines by the glass and you can try tastes of the glasses of other people around the table too. Sample for yourself what you like and dislike, be open to experimentation, and keep trying new things. Soon you’ll have a list of what your favourites are and not only be well prepared for any new excursion but looking forward to discovering more!

WINE AND FOOD PAIRING

Wine and Food pairing is an extremely personal pastime, drawing from the background, culture, and habits of each person. In the end, it comes down to what an individual enjoys, and what combination works best for that person.

The sensation wine gives you – flavor and aroma – does not come chiefly from your tongue. Your tongue has “zones” for each type of flavour it can taste, so you want the wine to be able to go over each section. The tip senses sweet, the front sides salt, the back sides acid, and the
very back bitter. Even in each section, there are buds of different “intensities”.

In comparison with this well-organized but generalizing tongue, your nose is incredibly sensitive at picking out minute differences in aroma. Practice often with both senses, paying attention to the flavors you are detecting in the wine, learning what combinations you enjoy and do not enjoy. The more flavors you try in your day to day activities, the greater the “background of taste knowledge” you will have when you try to figure out what a particular wine tastes like.

You don’t want the food to completely overpower the wine, so you cannot taste it at all. Conversely, you don’t want the wine to be so strong that you can’t taste the meal. Some sort of balance lies in the middle.

Do you match like with like? Or do you add some contrast, so the spiciness in the meat stew balances against the slightly sweet wine? Either method works, as do countless others. Part of the fun is to experiment with different combinations, to see which strike your own palate as truly delicious. Then, share those with others to see which tastes they also appreciate, and which are uniquely yours.

THE SIMPLE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT WINE

Wine comes from a fruit tree planted in the ground and producing grapes. So, here are all the clues we are going to need to identify a wine. It can taste fruity, earthy, flowery (presumably by having planted beside a flower bed) or vegetal (if planted next to a asparagus or bell pepper patches)!

I mean to say: Consider the ABC: Wine comes from a grape which contains 80% water. So there are very few other elements to play with. So, there is really not much need for endlessly duplicative content on the acidity of a wine, its fermentation temperature, or its upbringing. Wine should simply be enjoyed otherwise I would have studied winemaking at university.

I have heard someone say: ‘What I don’t understand is why we can’t have ratings that are like, but slightly more complex, than those for coffee. You learn where the bean (or grape) was grown and some info on the land; then you know something about the roast and the acidic level, the strength and so forth. Why want to know more?

No, you won’t discover an apricot or whatever you are looking for in a bottle of wine. Leave it to others to do. Maybe you only need to visit an orchard house or have a look at a farmer’s almanac to sharpen up your knowledge of flowers and veggies again.

The secret is simply to enjoy the journey with wine.

WINE I ENJOY

Someone told me once that wine is made in heaven and today I still believe this. Where else would the reference to ‘Angels’ tears’ come from? While not acquainted with first hand knowledge of it all, my fondest memories take me back to the hilltops of Pietmond, St Emillion, Tuscany, Provence and even those along the Rhine. Naturally, there is also the Bordeax escarpment, Australia’s Margaret River and other flat lying areas that produce stunning wines, but for me it shall never distract from a good Barolo or Montepulciano (and quiet understandably as red wines dislike heights – well that is what I thought before discovering the Barolo and Montepulciano Sangiovese examples).

Maybe I should qualify my statement by adding that there are wines produced at considerable heights and completely destroyed by terroir elements (normally the cold). Just think of all the countries producing wines closer to the 50° Northern Latitude.

So, what about South Africa? In this regard, my thoughts are very much the same, with my own favourites derived from Mulderbosch, Uva Mira, Iona, Grootte Post (Darling), with others from Elgin and Constantia, or the Durbanville Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay and Chenin (make sure you ad those from the hills of Durbanville, Paarl, Perdeberg and Saronsberg, in the Tulbach Pocket, to your basket). I almost forgot the Agulhas pocket as well as excellent examples from “Anderkant die Berg”. But then, these areas don’t have mountains per say.

When it comes to red wines, let me add that a Pinotage from Morkel, in the rather lower Bottelary Pocket, comes extremely close to destroying my philosophy. In such areas, other terroir elements dictate and requires fine designation for dry wines. Another Pinotage favourate is that of Rijks in Tulbach (the very best of the best).

Apart from Pinotage, what else is out there? One secret derives from George – Herold Wines, on the Montague Pass. This is the best local Pinot Noir I have tasted, and available at affordable prices to boot.

Good examples of Shiraz include those of Boschrivier, Raka (Kleine River Pocket), Annandale, Graceland, Stellenzicht (Stellenbosch), Domaine Brahms and Ridgeback (Paarl), and the new kid on the block, Creation (Walker Bay).

For a good Cabernet Franc, don’t miss out on the Swartskaap of Hermanus-Pietersfontein. While there are still Merlots and various other blends to discover, let’s draw the line for now. These suggestions are entirely personal – I am sure you can name a number of your own favourites too.

This time round, I am on my way to “Oporto” country where, I hope, they do have hills!

Remember, little compares with opening a good wine on special occasions. With life being such a celebration in itself, this should be every day!

Keep on lifting your glasses high.