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WITH BRETTON LAMMI, EDDIE MERLOT’S CORPORATE BEVERAGE DIRECTOR AND SOMMELIER TO GET SOME ANSWERS TO OFTEN ASKED WINE QUESTIONS.
Why does wine give me headaches; sulfites, right?
Probably not. All wines contain sulfites, as it is a natural byproduct of yeast metabolism in fermentation. Sulphur dioxide is used in winemaking to prevent wine spoilage from bacteria and oxidation and are often referred to as “sulfites.” By law, any wine containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) must be labeled as “contains sulfites.” The FDA states that less than 1% of the US population are “sulfite-sensitive,” so it is a rather rare occurrence. Additionally, many of the other foods that we eat contain sulfites: flour tortillas, olives, pickles, canned vegetables, etc. In fact, dried fruits contain concentrations of up to 1000 ppm. Lastly, many people seem to think that red wines contain higher levels of sulfites than white wines, however, reds usually have lower concentrations! The tannins in red wines help act as a stabilizing agent, reducing the need for added sulfites.
One of the most probable reasons for the “wine headache” is overindulgence. Many people do not think about the alcohol level in wines (usually in the 13-15% range, by volume), leading to rough mornings. The other possible reason is a sensitivity to histamine and/or tyramine, which are naturally present in wine.
The important point here is, it is probably not sulfites!
What is the correct temperature/ conditions to store my wine at home?
The ideal conditions: store the bottle on its side, in cool conditions, preferably away from bright natural light. At Eddie Merlot’s locations, our “wine walls” store the wine for our guests in the optimal conditions to protect the integrity of the wines (our wine walls are kept at 60° F). At home, you can do some of the same without building a large cellar or spending a lot of money. While your basement or storage room of choice might not be kept as cool as our cellar, it is important that the temperature remains relatively consistent. Temperature swings will harm wine faster than storing wine at a higher than ideal temperature. Store the bottles on their side in an insulated part of your basement, and you can enjoy the wines for years to come.
Which wine should I pair with _____ dish?
The easy answer is drink what you like with whatever you are eating! The next easy answer…Champagne (or sparkling wine, in general) goes with everything! But if you insist, there are a few rules of thumb to make sure your wine and food do not clash:
Match the body of the wine with the hardiness of the dish. Cabernet Sauvignon (a relatively “heavy” wine) pairs well with venison stew, or Pinot Grigio (a lighter wine) with calamari. Matching flavors of the wine with the flavors of the dish is also a good idea. For example, a Pinot Noir will match well with turkey and cranberry sauce; a buttery chardonnay will pair well with sautéed fish with a buerre blanc sauce.
Matching the acidity of the wine to the spiciness of the dish is a winning combination. High acidity in wine helps tone down your perception of spice in the food. For example, a high acid white (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, etc) pairs perfectly with spicy Thai food.
Some prefer to match the tannin level of the wine with the fattiness of the food. Tannins are a natural component in grape skins, stems, and seeds. The differences in production between red and white wines leave red wines with higher tannin levels. Tannins help lessen your perception of “fattiness” in foods. The higher fat content in a food, the higher the tannin level should be in the wine. Many people will simply say drink red wine with red meat–as a general tenet. This is true. However, by using the tannin/fat matching principle, you may enjoy your meal more. A filet mignon (little marbling or fat) will pair better with a Pinot Noir (lighter tannin), than a ribeye (high marbling) – which will pair perfectly with a Cabernet Sauvignon (higher tannin). Right in the middle of the marbling spectrum is a New York strip, which pairs well with a medium tannin wine, such as a Merlot or Sangiovese.
You can combine any of these rules to further refine a wine pairing, but just remember–drink what you like with whatever you are eating!
We have heard to watch the “legs” of the wine while swirling your glass. What do these “legs” mean?
Simple put, they mean nothing in regards to the quality of the wine. There is a big misperception that the wider/slower the “legs” move down the glass, the higher the quality of the wine. This is simply not true. It will, however, give you an indication of the relative alcohol or sugar content of the wine; the wider/slower the legs move, the higher alcohol or sweetness of the wine. Neither of these indicators can alert you to the quality of wine on their own, but it sure is fun to swirl the glass!
How do I order a wine in a restaurant if I don’t know anything about wine or feel overwhelmed?
If you are nervous about ordering wine in a restaurant, simply ask for a recommendation from the restaurant team. Simply tell them what you normally enjoy (a brand you are familiar with or a style that you have had in the past). It is perfectly okay to state a price range that you are comfortable with while asking for a recommendation. If you are uncomfortable discussing the price range with your server, I have a little trick for you…ask for the recommendation with the wine list open, point to a price on the wine list that is in your range and simply say “I am looking for a recommendation similar to this” (while pointing at a dollar amount and showing the server). They should understand and help select a wine in your budget.
WE WOULD LIKE TO THANK BRETTON LAMMI AND EDDIE MERLOT’S FOR THEIR EXPERTISE.