Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine
Excerpts from the Book
On Southern Rhone wine:
In my living room, I have a fluffy sheepskin rug that draws my guests like moths to a flame. Friends take me aside and ask if they can visit with it. They kick off their shoes and rub their feet through it. They roll around on it like catnipping cats. They curl up and fall asleep on it.
This comforting cloud of a rug reminds me of wine from the Southern Rhone: it's generally not fancy or expensive, but it is immensely satisfying, especially in the bone chilling days of winter…
I couldn't take it anymore. Whenever I had Gewürztraminer with wine-wise friends, someone would invariably say: "Smells like lychees".
"What's lychees?", I was afraid to ask, with no clue except vague childhood memories of a New Jersey dive of the same name, catering to gringos with chop suey, duck sauce, and a life-sized fiberglass Buddha. So I set out my own mission and trundled down to New York's Chinatown, where I secured one bag of Honda Intl. dried lychees and one can Wu Chung lychees in syrup….
On extending the life of wine:
I admit it: I own a pump that few people know about. (No, it not a "girth-grower" hawked in the back of gentlemen's magazines, although if I did, I'd probably keep that a secret too.) The pump I have is the Vacuvin, an inexpensive plastic pump that fits atop a specially made rubber stopper that you insert into an opened wine bottle. Pump the lever several times, and it creates a partial vacuum in the bottle.
Does this rigmarole really extend the life of opened wine? The answer is: yes…but….
On red Burgundy:
"Backwash at $200 a bottle?
There I was, finishing my first barrel sample in the dark, chilly cellar of one of Burgundy's most celebrated domains. As I went to pour the remnants of my glass into a nearby spittoon, my host, a renowned winemaker, reacted as if I were about to leap off a cliff.
"Non!" he barked, grabbing my arm. He then poured the remains of his glass back into the barrel, and motioned for me to do this same. I did so reluctantly, wondering if this winery was in the business of hawking backwash at $200 a bottle.
So it was at every domain I visited in Burgundy's Cote D'Or, or "Golden Slope," where wine is so scarce they won't even waste your last, saliva-saturated drops……
The great unanswered questioned, when Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter references his pairing of "liver with some fava beans, and a nice Chianti" in that famous scene of Silence of the Lambs, is whether Lecter proves himself a connoisseur or a rube.
The verdict is that Lecter is spot-on in his match, as the juicy, tart cherry quality of a good Italian Chianti brings out the best in a gamy slice of liver and earthy fava beans….
On White Zinfandel:
"You might call White Zinfandel the Bee Gees of wine: castigated by the cognoscenti, yet loved by legions."
On wine from Alsace:
"Want to sound wine savvy in one word? When asked your favorite wine region, raise a randy brow, affect an air of breezy nonchalance, and say "ahl-ZASS."
On the complexity of Burgundy:
"If they didn't know about my interest in wine, visitors to my kitchen might think I had a strange obsession with tracking crime scenes. On my kitchen wall I have two long maps, with flags marking off locations, straight out of a Kojak rerun. Instead of marking homicides, however, I track the locations of the Burgundies I've had, as the maps give a microscopic, vineyard-by-vineyard account of this region…"
"Imagine the life of a truffle hound. Under his master's watch, he roams the foggy, autumnal hills of Italy's Piedmont region, snuffling for a scent of white truffle, the rare, uncultivable delicacy Italians call tartufo bianco. Patrolling forests of willow and oak, trotting past poplar and linden trees, he sniffs the undergrowth, panting, backtracking -- stalking any trace of this buried fungus gourmet shops sell for more than $200 an ounce. Then - pay dirt! - the hound begins barking and paws the grounds, nudging his master to one knobby ball of earthy, pungent, gastronomic gold.
Somewhere along the way our hound may catch a whiff of the fermenting grapes of two other Piedmontese treasures, the mythic Barolo and Barbaresco…"
On high-end Champagne:
When the rapper Jay-Z sings about "six bottles of Cris" in his hit "I Just Wanna Love U," is he celebrating for the yeasty richness and palate-cleansing acidity of Roederer Cristal?
Doubtful. What, then, explains the enormous popularity of so-called prestige cuveé Champagne - as coveted by hip-hop stars and clubbers as it is by wine snobs and even James Bond, who requests a bottle of 1961 Bollinger upon his release from a North Korean prison in Die Another Day. Or, as one of my students recently asked: "Is Dom Perignon really $100 tastier than Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label?"
On artichokes and wine:
My enthusiasm for wine is only matched by my love for artichokes, which are so dear to me that every year I ship to my New York apartment a crate of giant green beauties from a farm in Castroville, California. But combining these two gustatory passions in the same meal has long terrified wine enthusiasts. This is because artichokes can make a dry wine taste sweeter.
….The final case for decanting is more about enhancing your experience than it is improving the wine. When times call for "turning the knob to 11,"in the parlance of This Is Spinal Tap, your decanter might just do the trick. In this age which spurns handwritten notes and homemade cuisine, there's nothing like a bit of old-world ritual to make a celebration or seduction even more special. You fetch the decanter. Maybe you also light a candle. You pour the wine ever so slowly, admiring its glimmering greatness. Your guests look on with appreciation and awe, impressed with your old-fashioned savoir faire. You pour the wine, and it tastes even better because you built the anticipation with what can be called, if you will, a kind of gastronomic foreplay.
On opening Champagne:
What is it about opening a bottle of bubbly that invites the Savage Beast? Some see a mini-Howitzer in every Champagne bottle, forever aiming its cork at the nearest chandelier. Others want to shake and spray their bottles as if they have a weepy George Steinbrenner in their mist. Still others like to play Sunday Samurai and behead their Champagne bottles with a large knife, an ancient custom the French call sabrer la bouteille. And what of all those boat christeners - Ted Knight's wife in Caddyshack being the most memorable - who beat their bottles across a boat's bow, "I cristen thee…"
It's time to mute the mayhem, and open bubbly with the safety and style that this magic beverage deserves…