Editor’s Note: While Carl is out recovering from a surgery to repair an aortic dissection we’ve asked some of his good friends to fill in with their wise words on wine in his absence. Today’s blog is another from guest blogger Tom Welsh, general manager and partner at Tapastrie restaurant in downtown South Bend, Indiana.
Smelling the Cork
There is really nothing to be learned about the wine in the bottle from smelling the cork. It will smell like cork. But there are other good reasons, one very important many years ago and one still valid today, for the cork to be presented to and examined by the consumer.
In the 19th century, when glass bottles came into common use, the storage cellars were cold and humid and the labels were easily damaged and often illegible. Counterfeiting wine was also common, especially after the 1875 Bordeaux classification conferred special status on certain producers. Because of these situations, producers branded their name on the side of the cork so the consumer would know that the wine they had opened was what it was supposed to be.
These days it still pays to examine the cork’s condition. A dry or brittle cork and/or a cork with wine stains along the full length will indicate that the seal has been compromised and the wine could be oxidized and therefore spoiled.
Why We Clink Glasses in a Toast
Here I must humbly confess to propagating a common myth myself for several years. I can only say that I believed this when it was told to me and I retold it in the genuine belief that it was t
rue. I was not happy with myself when I finally read up on it and learned otherwise.
The story goes that the clinking of glasses is a social custom that evolved from a practice in medieval times when wine and ale was drunk in stone mugs and metal cups. At this time also poisoning one’s enemies was a common practice (I hope at least that part is true)! As a sign of friendship and trust, friends and associates would strike their mugs/cups together to exchange liquids, assuring each other of the purity of their drink. It’s a great story and therefore, I suppose, easy to believe. If I ever told this story to anyone reading this, I apologize and promise to be a better fact checker before telling future stories.
In fact, back in those days it was more common for friends and family to drink from the same cup, passing it to one another. It is thought that once the practice of drinking from separate cups/glasses began, people would touch their glasses together to express the community that the shared cup embodied. Also, the clinking for noise custom probably is a way of celebrating the good wishes being expressed in the toast.
While I am a bit embarrassed at believing and sharing for so long something which was not true, I am still proud to be happy to belong to the “learn something new every day” club!
It is thought by many that the droplets slowly falling down the side of the glass after swirling are an indicator of the quality and/or the body of the wine. But they aren’t.
We swirl the wine in the glass primarily to release aroma compounds and aerate the wine. Exposure to the air helps the wine open and the aroma created helps us taste the wine more completely. So what are the legs/tears? They can tell us two things which frankly are more easily discerned in other ways. The legs/tears are really no more than a chemical process wherein alcohol evaporates from the liquid leaving behind surface tension for the liquid (mostly water of course) to cling to.
So the first thing they indicate is alcohol level. The greater the quantities of falling streams, the higher the alcohol content. This is useful in blind tasting exercises but otherwise you will probably taste it. And if not, it’s printed on the label!
The legs/tears are also an indication of sugar content. The legs/tears on wines with more residual sugar (sugar that was not converted to alcohol during fermentation) will move more slowly down the side of the glass. But again, you will definitely learn more about the wine’s sweetness when you taste it.
So in short, while they are fun to look at, unless you are in an intensive blind evaluation, watching the droplets fall is not a lot different than watching paint dry!
Thanks again for reading and thanks to Carl for the opportunity to contribute to his blog. He’s on the mend and will hopefully be back in this space again soon.
Calendar of Events
- April 17th – International Malbec Day
- May 4th – International Sauvignon Blanc Day
- May 9th – National Moscato Day
- May 21st – National Chardonnay Day
- May 25th – National Wine Day
- June 11th – National Rosé Wine Day