Wine on Starchefs
Sandy Block of Legal Sea Foods on
Sandy Block
Legal Sea Foods
26 Park Place
Boston, MA 02116
(617) 426-4444

TIP #1: Order by the “flight”
If you want to learn about wine and how to enjoy it more your best strategy is to compare glasses of various wines that have some similarities (made from the same grape variety, for example) but also crucial differences (produced in different regions, with different climates).

When I was learning to blind taste I found comparisons of this type essential to fine- tuning my palate and helping me build my understanding of classic wine types. But even if you have no interest in blind tasting and just want to define your own preferences more clearly, so that the next time you order a wine you’re able to zero in on what you like more effectively, comparing one wine to another is fun and informative.

That’s why restaurants that offer “flights” of wines grouped by categories provide great opportunities for even the average diner with an interest in wine. A flight is a small sample of several different wines (we use three at Legal Sea Foods) that will offer you a sometimes subtle contrast. For example, you might get three 2-ounce pours of Pinot Noirs from different countries, or three 1.5-ounce pours of Ports aged or produced differently. I’d encourage you, no matter how far along you are on your path of wine knowledge, to take advantage of tasting flights wherever they’re offered.

Tip #2: Temperature matters
The best serving temperature for any wine is the one that will help you enjoy its characteristics most. Having said that many of the white wines we drink are chilled too severely to show much flavor and many red wines are so warm that they are thrown out of balance.

White wines that are too cold will taste dull because most of the flavors (ultimately the aromas) are trapped. They need to turn into vapors, or become volatile, for you to be able to perceive them. This is what happens on your palate, but if the wine starts out too cold you still won’t taste much of it even if you warm it up in your mouth for a while. This is not a problem with wines that don’t have much flavor to begin with, but those that have subtle nuances will not be as enjoyable if they’re too cold (below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Unless, of course, your primary reason for drinking is to quench your thirst.

Red wines that warm up beyond the low 70s Fahrenheit become quite volatile so you can smell and taste a great deal of different flavor elements in them. The problem is, the warmer they get the more volatile the alcohol becomes, so that above 70 degrees many wines give off a harsh aroma and flavor that appears to throw them off balance. Light chilling is fine for most red wines that are low in tannin (such as those made with Gamay, or many Pinot Noirs). Wines with pronounced tannins, on the other hand, will taste raw and astringent when served too cool. So Cabernet Sauvignons, for example, should probably be closer to 70 degrees. If the wine tastes too cool for your palate you can always warm the glass in your hand. On the other hand, it’s harder to chill down a glass that you’ve been poured without diluting its flavor.

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   Published: August 2005