Wine on Starchefs

Wine Tips from Featured Sommelier Caitlin Stansbury
By Jim Clarke

On glassware:
At The Lodge we use a mix of Spiegelau and Riedel glasses. We actually use an “all-purpose red” glass for our whites; it’s got more height and drama than the glasses designed for whites, which looks good in the restaurant setting. Then we have the bowl-shaped Pinot Noir/Nebbiolo glasses, and the Speigelau Bordeaux. We use the Riedel Extremes for wines that are really massive and extracted; they open up the wine a bit faster and are more dramatic.

Speigelaus have slightly less lead in them, so the glass is a tiny bit thicker. Most guests don’t notice the difference, and the thicker glass is more durable; we have half as much breakage with them versus the Riedels. In restaurants durability is important.

On decanting:
Most young reds and even whites benefit from vigorous decanting for air. The wine needs a chance to air out, and in some cases it lets the bad – sulfur or reductive notes – make way for the good. There’s something to be said for good service like this. It helps the wine express itself, it highlights the efforts of the winemaker, and it’s respectful of the work and thought that went into the wine.

Decanting is mandatory for young reds at Gaucho Grill. They thought I was crazy; the servers would never do it, and it’s not appropriate for a café. But good service is always appropriate, and the reaction from guests has been over-the-top.

On temperature:
We had a guest bring in a massive wine – massive alcohol, body, tannins, extraction. We decanted it and he tasted it. Even though it wasn’t one of ours, he asked me to taste the wine and see if it was off; it had a cooked, stewy taste. The wine was room temperature, which here in L.A. means about 72 degrees. I stuck his decanter in the ice bucket and said, “Give it five minutes.” They thought I was crazy.

I came back with fresh glasses so they could taste the cooler and warmer wine next to each other, and they were amazed at the difference it made. Warm, the wine’s alcohol was evaporating too quickly; now, its flavor came into focus, the alcohol and body became more a matter of mouthfeel, making room for the esters and polyphenols that the wine was really about. It put the wine into the context where it could be enjoyed.

At home, I recommend taking your whites out of the fridge fifteen minutes before you plan to serve them; Contrariwise, put your reds in the fridge for the same quarter hour before serving.


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    Published: June 2006