Several months ago I won a dinner at Habitat restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pa and because Alex would be leaving soon I decided to take her out to dinner there. Habitat is a fairly upscale restaurant that serves local, (mostly) organic dishes, and being upstairs from a small jazz bar where the music drifts up into the restaurant, it was a rather lovely experience. Alex and my’s waiter at Habitat turned out to be a former bar owner and when we ordered a bottle of wine he uncorked it for us and had me smell the cork and taste the wine before pouring a glass. I asked what the purpose of smelling the cork was (I wasn’t as wine savvy as I thought). His answer was very educational and because this was new news to Alex and me I thought it might be helpful for the rest of you as well. Hopefully you can use this to show off your wine savvy knowledge at your next holiday dinner party.
After ordering a bottle of wine, the waiter should show you the label on the bottle. This is for you to make sure that it is the wine you ordered and that the year is what you expect it to be.
The waiter should then uncork the bottle at the table you that you can watch and be sure that no part of the cork flakes off into the bottle. After the cork is pulled, the cork should be offered to you in order to sniff. As odd as this may feel or look the purpose of this is probably the most important part of the wine tasting process. When you look at the end of the cork that was touching the wine, it should appear wet, or damp. This tells you that the wine has been stored properly and the cork remained expanded and no air was let into the bottle. While smelling the cork you should be looking to make sure there is no hint of mildew or anything out of the ordinary. If anything does not smell quite right about the wine mention it to the waiter and either try another bottle of the same wine or move on to option two.
If everything smells and looks ok with the cork the next step is to taste test the wine. The waiter should pour a small amount of wine into your glass, which you will swirl gently, smell, and sip. Swirling the wine helps to aerate the wine, bringing out more of the flavors. Smelling the wine (especially while you sip) brings in more of your senses to allow you to experience more of the flavors of the wine as well. If all looks and tastes good: Enjoy!
If you’re hosting a wine party at home, I always like to have a bunch of wine glass charms that people can choose from to add a little something special and fun to the party and let’s everyone remember which glass is who’s.
I hope everyone has a wonderful and festive holiday season and enjoy being classy with you wine!