Students learn about wine service

The wine service class for my Cordon Bleu wine course is among my favorites, mostly because the students are always so amazed at the skills involved,

Last week’s was no exception. Barbara Werley of Pappas Bros. was calm, cool, confident and professional and they loved it. It’s impressive to see someone use a waiter’s corkscrew to open a bottle of wine in so few motions — and, as Werley pointed out, without making any noise.

Also of note:

? Werley runs a 33,000-bottle wine cellar, which elicited more than a few stares of disbelief.

? Pappas’ most expensive wine is an 1847 Ch teau d’Yquem, the French dessert wine. It runs about $70,000 for a half bottle. Students love to hear about wine prices, since they can’t believe anyone would really pay that much. Note to anyone with the cash: Yes, the d’Yquem is probably ready to drink.

? Music to my ears: Werley talked about food and wine pairings, and her most important piece of advice was to do just that — advise. If your customers don’t like a wine, she said, it doesn’t matter how good you think it is. The best wine is wine they like. If they want to drink riesling with steak, help them find the best riesling they can afford.

Tales of wine service woe

image Barbara Werley, one of the world’s best sommeliers, is going to speak to my Cordon Bleu wine class today. Each class does a session on wine service, and I usually bring in a guest speaker (being a screw top guy myself).

I’ll write something about her visit on Monday. Today, though, I thought I ‘d ask the visitors here to share their worst restaurant wine service experience. Tell it in the comments, and the one that seems the goofiest (as chosen by me) gets a prize — a copy of a new cookbook called Small Plates, Perfect Wines.

And I’ll get things started with this, which happened at a well-known neighborhood Italian restaurant in Dallas:

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Wine of the week: Torreoria 2006

People often ask how I can tell whether a wine is good, especially inexpensive wines. And the best answer I can give is to paraphrase Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, who was discussing obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

And, literally, that’s what happens. I take a sip, and I know. The quality of the wine does all the work. That was the case with this $8 red, a tempranillo from the Utiel-Requena region of Valencia, which is hardly Spain’s best known wine area. But this is one of the best cheap wines I’ve had in a long time. It’s not as sophisticated as a Rioja, even an inexpensive one. And the cherry fruit was a bit muted and it was a little too vanilla-y. But this is nitpicking. I paired it with grilled Cornish hen, and it worked like a charm. This wine is a terrific value, and is almost certain to enter the $10 Hall of Fame in 2009.

New Mexico’s sparkling wine

image Drive north on I-25, past downtown, and it’s on the right, a fairly non-descript beige building stuck among the usual sorts of things scattered along an interstate on the outskirts of town — in this case, Albuquerque, N.M. But don ?t be deceived by looks. The building houses the headquarters of Gruet Winery, which is one of the best sparkling wine producers in the United States.

That Gruet is one of the best, and that the company does it with grapes grown in New Mexico, speaks volumes about how far regional wine making has come in the U.S. Gruet sells more than 80,000 cases in 48 states, and it graces the wine lists of high-class bistros around the country. And, it ?s an example that other regional winemakers can study to see how to match grapes with climate and turn out a critically acclaimed product at a more than fair price.

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Tuesday tidbits

? If you can have wine jelly. …: I have no idea what to make of this, so I’ll just report it. An Arizona company is selling something called  wine fragrances and body rubs, made from grape seeds. And, yes, the prose is just as convoluted as some wine writing: “… the complex scent of oranges and tangerines,  with hints of rose. …”

? Big prices for Aussie wine: Barossa Valley Ares Shiraz, Aphrodite Cabernet Sauvignon and Aerope Grenache — all produced by Two Hands Wines —  fetched $130,000 at the Naples Winter Wine Festival last weekend. Those are impressive prices for Australian wine, which tends to lag behind Bordeaux and Napa at these sorts of events.

? Costco and the three-tier system: More news, not necessarily welcome for consumers, from Costco’s long-running attempt to overturn Washington state liquor laws that regulate the prices the chain can charge for beer and wine. A federal appeals court upheld state laws that allow the Washington State Liquor Control Board to prohibit discounts, require wholesale distributors to charge uniform prices to all retailers and require a 10 percent markup. The wine industry has been following the Costco case, since its ramification could affect how wine is sold in the rest of the country.

Texas wine festivals

The most important — the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival — attracts national attention. But there are half dozen others this spring.

This is not surprising, given wine’s increasing popularity. There are 155 wineries in the state, including some three dozen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

?It has been an amazing experience, ? says Caris Turpin at Lightcatcher Winery in Fort Worth. ?We never thought we would have done so well so quickly. We had no idea we ?d get this kind of response. ?

Hence, seven big-deal wine festivals in the state through the end of the spring:

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What about $6 wine?

image One of the things that I always tell my students (or anyone else, for that matter) is never to judge wine before you’ve tasted it. There might be many reasons to be skeptical — price, alcohol content, the grapes it’s made with, producer — but none of that matters until you take the first sip.

So what did I do when I received samples of BV’s Century Cellars line? Stuck it in the back of the wine closet, figuring it couldn’t be any good because it only cost $6 a bottle.

Shows how much I know.

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