By Richard H. Miller/Washington State University
Uncle Patrick gargles his wine. “I taste blackberries and cherry and oak,” he says, “and a lot of tannins.”
The only thing you know about wine is that it comes in different colors. But, with holiday meals approaching, here’s how to puncture wine windbags, thanks to Washington State University Professor Kathleen Williams:
Precipitate saliva. When Patrick says he tastes tannins, you say: “Tannins don’t have a taste. They create a sensation as they precipitate the proteins out of your saliva.” Tip: Stroke your chin sagely as you pronounce “precipitate.”
Throw in a German word. Patrick swirls the glass. “Good legs,” he observes. You say, “The French call them tears. The Germans call them Kirchenfenster or church windows, because they form an arch.” Want more? Try this: “Water has more surface tension than alcohol. The evaporating alcohol pulls the water up with it. When the alcohol breaks through, the water runs down.”
Hit him with Brix. Patrick looks at the label. “Oh my,” he says, “14.9 percent alcohol.” You’re ready for him. “Did you know that wines from hot areas tend to have more alcohol? That’s because the grapes have more sugar. As a rule of thumb, every two percent of sugar will produce about one percent alcohol. So this wine was originally almost a third sugar. Of course, wine makers don’t call them sugars. They call them Brix.” Tip: Refill his glass. Keep refilling his glass. This becomes important later.
Diamonds are your best friend. He holds the glass up to the light. Tiny crystals stick to the sides. “It’s going bad,” he says. “Not really,” you say. “Those are potassium tartrate crystals, same thing as cream of tartar. They’re a naturally occurring acid in grapes.” Smile tolerantly, and add, “In Canada, they call them wine diamonds.”
Herbal harmony. Patrick says, “A red wine would overwhelm the turkey.” You say, “It’s not really about the turkey. It’s about the herbs with the turkey, such as onion, celery and sage. What works well is to contrast the herbs with a fruity wine, such as a Beaujolais Nouveau or a Gewürztraminer.”
Make something up. By now, Uncle Patrick should be a bit toasted, so hit him with something ludicrous, but difficult to disprove: “Gewürztraminer has an umlaut,” you say. “The word umlaut is derived from the word omelet and Gewürztraminer pairs well with omelets. As a matter of fact, most umlaut wines go well with egg-based dishes, such as quiche. It’s called a bio-linguistic reaction.”
Fancy footwork. As he sputters to object, quickly change the subject: “Do you know what the best pairing is? Scientists in England proved that it is milk and chocolate chip cookies. Speaking of dessert, how about some pie?”
WSU’s viticulture and enology program offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and certificates. For more information go to http://wine.wsu.edu/education.