Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Myth of ‘Legs’ and the Taste of Tannins…


One of the terms that always had me baffled was the one about wine having ‘legs’. I had no idea what was meant by that or what it indicated if I indeed found that my delightful glass of Pinot Noir had them. (Not that I even know how to check for them but I digress…) So I set out to find out what this term meant.

First of all there are several terms that mean the same thing as ‘legs’ depending on where you’re from. The French refer to it not as ‘legs’ but as ‘tears’. Some other terms are ‘curtains’, ‘fingers’, or even ‘church windows’ but they all refer to the same thing.

What all these terms refer to are the streaks of wine that you see on the side of your glass after you swirl it around a bit. It is said that the more ‘legs/fingers/tears/etc.’ you see on the side of the glass the higher the quality of  the wine you are drinking. There are groups of people that live by this ruling and buy wine according to that belief and if you’re one of those people that believe this then you might want to stop reading here because I don’t want to be the one to shatter your beliefs.

In actuality those ‘legs’ only indicate one thing and that’s the alcohol content in the wine and it has no real bearing or significance when evaluating a wine. The ‘legs’ are a result of physics really and was proven in what is now called The Marangoni Effect.

In plain English what it means is the higher the alcohol content of a wine the more legs on the side the glass because alcohol creates evaporation in the glass when hit with oxygen. As that alcohol evaporates the rest of the liquid on the side of the glass loses it’s battle with gravity and gets pulled down and back into the glass. To prove this all you have to do is the next time you witness a bunch of ‘legs’ crawling up the side of your glass put your hand over the top of the glass to seal it off and you will instantly see no more ‘legs’. No evaporation equals no legs.

What does this mean to the wine and the quality of it? Well, absolutely nothing! It’s a great word to throw around at wine tastings and parties but it really is no indication of the quality of a wine at all. So there! Enjoy your wine whether it has ‘legs’ or not. If you like the wine that’s all that counts!


Another term that had me curious is when people refer to wine as being ‘tannic’ or ‘full of tannins’ so, of course, I had to investigate.

Tannins are a group of natural organic compounds that are found in the grape skins. The are excellent antioxidants and are a natural preservative. In concentrated quantities it can cause that pucker sensation in the mouth or the back of the throat. Sometimes there is also a bitter aftertaste and that is what people are referring to when they say a wine is ‘tannic’. This might also be what a person is indicating when they say a wine is ‘dry’ particularly if they are referring to the wine’s finish.

To place this in more common perspective, tannins are that bitter taste that you get when you drink black tea (especially if it’s been over steeped) or that taste you get when you accidentally bite into a grape pip (a.k.a. seed).

White wines are fairly low in tannins but red wines tend to have higher concentrations of tannins because red grape skins naturally have more tannins in them.

I also found in my research that red wines that are low in tannins typically should be drunk at a very young age (the wine’s young age not yours 🙂 ) and red wines with lots of tannins can age and improve three or more years before being opened and enjoyed. A wine that is high in tannins will mellow out and be less noticeable after aging a bit and won’t give you such a pucker factor any more.

So that’s our education for this lovely Wednesday! I hope you learned something like I did. Stay tuned for Sunday’s wine review where I will be reviewing a Conte Priola Pinot Noir 2009.

Candoni Pinot Grigio 2009 – Northeastern Italy

I am not going to pretend to even know the slightest thing about picking wines to match specific foods. Currently I go with an innate knowledge and trust that it’s going to guide me to the right wine/food pairing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This time however it worked wonderfully well if I do say so myself.

This Pinot Grigio from the Veneto region of Italy was the perfect pairing for the recipes I choose for Christmas dinner. Last week my good friend, Camille, of ‘Camille Cooks’ posted a recipe called Chicken with Cornbread Stuffing and Sherry Pan Sauce and she paired it with another recipe called Broccoli-Cauliflower Casserole with Rye Crumb Topping and I was drooling with anticipation to try it. So I printed out the recipe and made my shopping list and headed off to the grocery store with only a vague idea regarding the wine I would serve with it. I was determined to pair it with a white wine which is very rare for me. (Hello, remember me? Red wine girl?)

After gathering all the ingredients need to make my fabulous dinner (I changed the original recipe a smidgen because I am a vegetarian so the chicken was replaced with a vegetarian version of chicken and I dropped the caraway seeds because I’ve never been fond of them. 🙂 ) I set off to the wine section to see if I could find not only a decent white wine to go with it all but I also wanted an organic wine. Yes, I am challenging myself now but that’s what it’s all about right?

You see my other half tends to get a really bad headache from wines and I was set on finding out if it could possibly be due to the sulfites in regular wines. Organic wines have little to no added sulfites. All that are in organic wines are the naturally occurring sulfites. We’ll get back to my other half and my experiment on him in a bit.

So in the wine section I found this bottle of Candoni Pinot Grigio 2009 from Italy. I know that in the past I’ve like Pinot Grigios better than any other white wine so I went with that. I figured for $12.95 what did I have to lose, right?

Well, I was really pleasantly surprised with this wine. I can only describe it as very crisp, clean, and citrusy which is exactly what our meal was asking for. It was a nice light wine that completely complimented our meal but it could absolutely stand on it’s own as well. (I had a glass on it’s own after the meal….you know….to test it…yes, that’s what I was doing….testing whether the wine could stand on its own. 🙂 )

Now the bottle says that the wine is ‘made with organic grapes’ which means that it might not be 100% without added sulfites but it’s pretty close. I was pleasantly surprised that this organic wine could be so good.

As for my other half, he did really well with the wine. He drank two glasses of it, which for him is a lot, and didn’t really get a headache. He started to get a slight headache many hours latter but I am not convinced it was because of the wine due to two things. One, he’s had a slight headache due to a stiff neck and two, it happened so much after the fact that I am not sure there’s a true connection. So I’ll just have to experiment on him again. I’ve already got a biodynamic red wine with his name on it in the good old wine rack so stay tuned for that.

Anyway my overall impression of this wine is that it’s really crisp, clean, and citrusy. It would compliment any meal with chicken, fish, or even a tofu or pasta dish with a lemon-butter sauce. It would also be a nice wine to serve with a cheese platter in my amateur opinion. I will definitely buy this wine again and for now I have to rate it as my favorite white wine. There I’ve said it! I really like this white wine!

Buzz factor: 5, it’s a nice light wine with a bit of a buzz to it but not overwhelmingly so.

Overall impression: A very nice white wine that I would be happy to have share space in my wine rack with my beloved reds.

Pardon The Language But What The Hell Are They Talking About?

What's in your glass?

Okay, we’ve all been there (and some of us still are). You’re in a restaurant or at a party and you’re enjoying a really good wine and blissing out because of it and then someone starts talking all about the nuance of the wine using terms that you can only guess what the hell they’re talking about. Suddenly without any warning you’re pulled out of your wine induced bliss by a feeling of guilt because you don’t know the terminology associated with drinking wine. Should you even be allowed to enjoy that glass of vino? How embarrassing!

Well fear no more. We are going to learn this terminology together and furthermore I would just like to say that you can talk about wine without using this terminology. What’s really needed to talk about wine intelligently is an understanding of the qualities of a wine and then just be able to communicate those qualities in regular, good old English (or the language of your choice 🙂 ).

So here, and in the next few Wednesday posts, I will attempt to put this terminology into a language we all can understand and share.

Okay, first off when someone talks about the ‘bouquet’ of a wine they are simply talking about what the wine smells like.

When they describe the ‘bouquet’ or ‘nose’ of the wine they will use several different characteristic ‘aromas’ to describe it. Among those aromas are: Caramel, earthy, floral, fruity, herbaceous or vegetative, nutty, spicy, or woody.

Now it does get more complicated than that because each of those aromas I noted above have other more precise characteristics that help you describe exactly what you’re smelling.

So I am not going to quote Total Wine and More’s ‘Guide to Wine’ 2011 edition on these.

CARAMEL: Butterscotch, Honey, Molasses, Chocolate, Soy Sauce (For example, all of the above could be smelled independently in a glass of wine, but you could generally describe a wine as having a ‘caramel’ aroma if you detect caramel, molasses or honey in the nose). Some examples are Sauternes, California Chardonnay, and French Puligny-Montrachet.

EARTHY: Moldy, Mushroom, Dusty, Chalky, Mineral (Frequently used in describing Red Burgundy, Zinfandel or some fine examples of California Pinot Noir). Fortunately it tastes far better than the description allows. 🙂

FLORAL: Violet, Rose, Orange Blossom. Some examples are Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, and Sancerre.

FRUITY: Tree fruit, Tropical fruit, Citrus fruit, Red fruit, Dark fruits. Basically with this one when something smells fruity just simply ask yourself ‘what kind of fruit am I smelling?’ Some of the red wines that commonly display these fruity tastes are Beaujolais, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.

HERBACEOUS OR VEGETATIVE: Does it smell or taste like cut grass, bell peppers, or mint? How about olives or asparagus? Tea or tobacco? Just ask yourself ‘what does this remind me of?’ you’re probably not far off. Wines that might display these aroma characteristics are Sauvignon Blanc, Gerwurztraminer and Rieslings.

NUTTY: Walnut, Hazelnut, Almond. These aromas are often used to describe Sherries, Meursault, and Madeiras.

SPICY: Licorice, Anise, Black Pepper, and Cloves. Wines that might display these aromas are Australian Shiraz, Rhone wines, and California Zinfandels.

WOODY: Burnt (Smoky, Coffee), Resinous (Oak, Cedar, Vanilla). Good examples of this are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

As you can see when it comes to the ‘bouquet’ and ‘aroma’ of a wine you just have to ask yourself ‘What do I smell? What am I tasting? What does this remind me of?’ If you answer those questions you’ll not only get to know the wine a little better you’ll also start to see what bouquets and aromas you’re more attracted to. Having this knowledge will help you to know what wines you like the best and why.

Also, you don’t have to be a snob when describing wines. All you have to know is what qualities you like in a wine and then communicate that to the people at the wine store or the sommelier at the restaurant. I don’t think anyone would fault you if you told the sommelier that you tend to like a wine that smells and tastes like cherries or chocolate or with a hint of almonds. If he’s a good sommelier he’ll know exactly what to get you

So that’s our education for this week folks. Join me again next Wednesday for another installment of ‘Pardon the language but what the hell are they talking about?’ Until then I’ll have another wine review on Sunday!

Fratelli D’Italia Chianti 2009 – Tuscany

Description from Total Wine and More:

‘A delicious Chianti with ripe plum and raspberry aromas. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a long, fruity aftertaste. Montalbano, one of the seven Chianti subzones, is an ancient hill near Florence that was the hunting park of the Medici. {Fresh, Cherry, Plum, Medium-bodied}’

Price: $7.99

Type of Grape Used: Sangiovese

Region: Tuscany

This is my first taste of a Chianti. I am totally unfamiliar with what it’s supposed to be like so I can only rate it according to my first impressions. Maybe as I progress in my wine knowledge I’ll realize I missed something so if you’re a more accomplished wine connoisseur who can share some insight on this wine (or any other wine I sample) please feel free to educate me. That’s what I am here for!

I picked this 2009 Fratelli D’Italia (translated as: ‘Brothers of Italy) Chiani because I was making an Italian recipe that my brother sent me called ‘Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Basil’ and it called to be paired with a nice Chianti. Now my brother recommended a specific Chianti that he felt would match really well but alas my local Total Wine and More did not have that brand. So I was left alone to fend for myself in the unfamiliar world of Chianti.

Knowing absolutely nothing about Chianti’s and not having really made a connection with anyone at my Total Wine store yet, I quietly perused the Chianti aisle reading the recommendations and looking at all the pretty labels (I’ve told you before that this is how I generally pick wines…thus the reason for needing this education).

After trying to look like I knew what I was doing I quickly grabbed this bottle of Fratelli D’Italia Chianti because one, it was inexpensive (I’ll buy a more expensive wine if I know that I’ll like it or it was recommended. Otherwise this is usually my price range) and two, the label was…well…so Italian. With a label like that how could it NOT be good?

Upon opening the bottle at home my first impression was that it had a very fruity nose to it and it was very light bodied. My first taste was not what I expected. Again it could be just because I’ve never had a Chianti and I am usually a Merlot kind of gal so I expect red wines to be very complex and deep in flavor. This one was really light, not very bold, and bordering on bland.

After I let it breathe a bit it lost it’s fruity nose and I was left with nothing really remarkable to comment on.

Now before you think ‘Hell, she hated this wine’ I have to say that this wine is suggested for bold meals like red meats, roasts, and spicy Italian dishes. Knowing that and after a little thought I realized that maybe it’s the lightness of this wine that MAKES it great for those pairings. This wine was suggested to me to go with a spicy Italian meal and had it been any bolder or deeper of a wine I don’t know that it would have gone as well with the dish as it did.

The bottom line is that I feel it was a really drinkable wine yet slightly unremarkable. It didn’t make me go ‘Wow!’ or ‘Oh my God! This is great!’ It did it’s job by complimenting my delicious meal and left me satisfied. Again I have nothing to compare it with but I promise in the future I will try other Chiantis and then I’ll know better where this one stands.

Buzz Factor: 3, a very light bodied wine.

Overall Likability: 5, it didn’t leave a big impression on me. It just kind of fell in the ‘It’s okay’ category for now.

Biodynamic Wine Versus Organic Wine! What’s the difference?

Okay, so I’ve been noticing a lot of wines being labeled ‘biodynamic’ lately and finally my curiosity was piqued. I found myself wondering ‘What’s the difference between a biodynamic wine and an organic wine. To me the names are interchangeable but I decided to search to find the answer and, of course, share my findings with you all.

First let’s start out with the definitions for both organic and biodynamic wine.

An organic wine is one that is ‘produced without using conventional pesticides, petroleum or sewage-based fertilizers, bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. The farmers also emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water for future generations’ (USDA definition).

There are also three types of organic apparently so make sure you really read the label when purchasing to make sure you’re getting what you’re looking for.

Types of Organic*

100% Organic – Refers to wines that are produced with grapes that are certified 100% organically grown and do not have any added sulfites.

Organic – Refers to wines that have at least 95% of their ingredients from certified organic sources. These wines may have an additional 100 ppm of sulfur dioxide added to them.

Made with Organic Grapes – Refers to wines that have at least 70% of their grapes from organic sources. These wines may have sulfur dioxide

A biodynamic wine is a wine that’s 100% organic and doesn’t have any added sulfites as well. However there is a kind of ‘woo woo’ side to this type of farming. Farmers who make biodynamic wines follow the principles put forth by a man named Rudolf Steiner. Mr. Steiner was a 20th Century Austrian philosopher who created these principles in an attempt to balance farming with nature. Biodynamic farmers do things like make their own compost, watch the stars and planets to time what they do, and have chickens roaming the vineyards to eat the bugs rather than use pesticides.

Biodynamic is a great principle that is meant to work with nature rather than against it. It takes clues from nature to decide what the best things for the vineyard are at that particular time.

My take on it is this. If you want to drink an organic wine then make sure it is labeled ‘100% organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ because those two are basically the same wine. The only differences are some of the things that the farmers do to make sure that the farm is organic. Both have to follow strict organic standards in order to be certified as organic or biodynamic.

Do they taste different? Well, I don’t know. There! That’s my honest answer but I will be reviewing some organic and biodynamic wines in the future and I’ll let you know my humble opinion on it. Until then if you happen to try some please leave comments and let us know what it was, how it was, and all the fun little details.

Stay tuned for my next post on Sunday where I’ll be reviewing the next mystery wine. It’s a mystery because I haven’t decided which one to pick yet. Oh the suspense!



Ropiteau Pinot Noir 2009 – Southern France

Ropiteau Pinot Noir 2009 – Southern France/Burgundy

Description from Total Wine & More

“This super value is proof positive. Bright cherry and berry fruit is complemented by earth tones and a smooth soft finish. Enjoy with salmon, chicken, or pork.”

Okay, it’s time for another confession from me….I am a known Merlot addict! You see I tend to love red wines and in particular Merlot but this addiction stems more from inexperience rather than some finely tuned ‘knowledge’. Some time ago I stumbled upon a bottle of Merlot that was nice and ever since then I’ve identified myself as a ‘Merlot person’.

So in an attempt to ‘break out’ of my Merlot addiction I’ve been blindly trying different red wines. This week’s pick was a French wine from the Burgundy region. Why did I pick it? Because it was inexpensive ($8.99) and in the Total Wine & More ‘best sellers’ section.

So now without further ado I will attempt to give you my review of this wine. When I first opened and poured a glass of this Pinot Noir and took a sip I almost poured it down the drain. Why? Because at first taste it was, for lack of a better words, ROUGH and HARSH.

However after letting the wine breathe for a few minutes the character totally changed. It became a quite drinkable wine. It’s a very earthy wine with oaky overtones.

So here’s my overall rating of this wine:

Buzz factor: 9, after two glasses you’ll have a buzz on.

Overall likability: 6, after it was left to breathe a bit it was enjoyable but a little too rough for me. I prefer my wine a little smoother than this.

Welcome to Wine and Food Musings

This is the place where I’ll ramble on about my adventures of learning about different wines and trying different recipes. Come back often and I’ll do my best to have some amusing scribblings on the subject.