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Wine Misspoken (June 9, 2011)

When was the last time you tried to order a Weingut Spreizter Oestricher Lenchen Riesling Spätlese Halbtrocken 2008 from the Rheingau in a restaurant with a supercilious wine steward hovering over you waiting to giggle into his tastevin?

Easier just to point at the wine list and say with authority, "We'll have a bottle of the Riesling."

But you're not out of the woods yet. If you pronounced it "Rise-ling" your sommelier will respond, "A very good choice, sir," and turning away he'll roll his eyes.

The mispronunciation of Riesling is, perhaps, the No. 1 wine mistake made by neophyte wine lovers.

To keep you on the vinous strait and narrow, here are other common faux pas that will alert the wine snob at the table that you don't know your barrel from your butt.

  • Confusing Pouilly-Fuissé with Pouilly-Fumé. The first is a white wine from the Burgundy region made from Chardonnay grapes. The second is a white wine from the Loire Valley made from Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Thinking that red wine is more fattening than white. The number of calories in wine relate directly to the alcohol content or the alcohol plus any residual sugar. A Beaujolais, at 11 percent alcohol by volume, is less fattening than a Chardonnay at 13 percent. (On average a 4 oz glass of wine will contain roughly 100 calories – so don't worry.)
  • Opening champagne by levering the cork out with your thumbs. Any sparkling wine should be opened by holding the cork firmly and twisting the bottle away from it. The cork does not move. That way, you avoid the pop and the ensuing fountain of wine. Nor will you cause damage with a wayward cork which leaves the bottle at 65 kilometres an hour under the same pressure as a bus tire.
  • Calling all sparkling wines champagne. Only sparkling wine from the delimited region of Champagne in north-eastern France, made by the traditional method, is legally entitled to the name.
  • Branding all rosés as sweet. The best are dry. Try Tavel or Lirac rosé from the Rhône or Ontario rosé from such producers as Malivoire, Southbrook or Tawse.
  • Assuming that the vintage date tells you when the wine was bottled. The year on the label denotes the year the grapes were harvested and fermented. The exception is that when Icewine grapes are picked in January or February – if in 2010, say, the vintage date will read 2009.
  • Supposing that Burgundy is a style of wine. Burgundy is not a style but a region that produces red, white, rosé and even some sparkling wines. Wines from other countries that call themselves Burgundies are invariably blends that have never seen a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grape.
  • Considering Alsace to be a German wine region. Alsace wines come in tall green bottles that look like Mosel wines, but they are distinctively and defiantly French. The region borders on Germany west of the Rhine.
  • Holding a wine glass by the bowl. The heat of the fingers will warm up white wines and cover up the beautiful colour of reds. Hold your glass by the stem or the base.
  • Filling the glass to the brim. This may be a sign of generous hospitality, but it does not allow the wine lover to swirl and sniff the wine's bouquet. Fill to a maximum of two-thirds of the glass.
  • Placing glasses for sparkling wine in the freezer or in the ice bucket. An iced glass or a wet one will turn a sparkling wine flat in no time. Chilling the wine twenty minutes in an ice bucket filled with water and ice cubes is sufficient to bring it down to the proper serving temperature.
  • Supposing that dry wines are completely dry. There is no such thing as a totally dry wine — there is always a measure of unfermented grape sugar, although it may be as low as three grams per litre. Most so-called dry wines have up to five grams per litre, but high acidity enhances the perception of dryness. Dryness denotes absence of sugar, not the tactile sensation from the tannin in red wines that can leave the mouth feeling dry.
  • Leaving unopened champagne or wine for weeks in the fridge. Sparkling wine will lose its bubbles and still wines will oxidize if left too long in the fridge. The agitation of the compressor can shake them into old age very quickly.
  • Trying to find a wine without sulphites. Even organic wines that are made without recourse to sulphur products will contain some sulphites, because anything that ferments will creates sulphites. So those warnings on the back labels should read, "Guaranteed to Contain Sulphites."

So now you can venture forth confident in the knowledge that the sommelier will not cast his eyes heavenwards when you order your wine.




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