A Very Ancient Craft
Just as in gardening, the long year of digging, manuring, sowing, hoeing, spraying, pruning and so on is followed by the harvest, so in winemaking, after all the work and trouble of preparation, fermentation and maturation, comes the day of consumption. The wine is at last ready to be brought into the dining room, to show off its brilliance, its bouquet and above all its favour. Wine so carefully prepared and tended is not meant to be drunk hastily and without attention. It must not pass by unnoticed. Rather must it be admired and remembered. Clearly, then, before a wine that means so much to one can be drunk, certain manners must be observed. These may be briefly summarised with one-word captions as follows:
Each subject will be considered in turn and when all has been prepared according to plan, the wine will be served to perfection.
1 MATURITY The last chapter was devoted to this subject and it is only mentioned again to remind you of its immense importance. The great connoisseurs of wine constantly refer to the fact that the majority of commercial wine is drunk before it is fully mature and experience over the last twenty years has taught the author that his last bottle of every vintage was the best. One winemaker, anxious to keep some promising wine for his son's twenty-first birthday some years ahead, went to the extreme of bricking the wine up in an outhouse and then forgot it when he sold the house! On another occasion the author met a winemaker who boasted that he could keep his wines for ten or fifteen years without difficulty. When asked what prompted him finally to drink a wine he replied that he had to make himself! Without going to these extremes do try your utmost to ensure that the wine you are about to serve is fully mature.
2 SUITABILITY Wines vary so much in type and character that clearly it would not be desirable to serve a port-type wine of rich dessert qualities with, say, salmon salad, and conversely a light white table wine would be lost with fruit cake.
It is clearly important, then, to make sure that the wine you are about to serve is eminently suitable for the purpose. Indeed, it is well worth deciding, when you are preparing your must, exactly what type of wine you intend to make so that when you come to the stage of serving you know exactly which bottle to open. At this stage it is perhaps desirable to try to give some definitions to the various types of wine as a guide to suitability.
Aperitif This is a wine usually served alone and before a meal. It is meant to prepare the taste buds for what is to follow and to stimulate the appetite. The most popular wine aperitif in England is undoubtedly a dry sherry. This is a fortified wine, with an attractive though delicate bouquet, somewhat thin in texture, dry and clean to the palate, and carefully balanced between acid and tannin so that neither is noticeable. Pineapple, grapefruit, orange and apricot can often be made into excellent aperitifs, but they need much maturation till all trace of bitterness is gone and only the fruitiness remains.
Table Wine This can be made from red fruits or white, but not too much fruit should be used. The wine should invariably be dry or at least nearly so, certainly not sweet. A slightly higher acid content can be: tolerated but the alcohol content is best kept to between 9% and 12% by volume and a good figure to aim at is 10%. White table wines to accompany fish should be lighter in body and texture than red table wines to accompany for example lamb or beef.
A Dessert Wine Usually meant to follow a meal rather than to be drunk with dessert, this wine should possess richness above all else. It should be fairly sweet, strong in alcohol and full flavoured. It must: be well balanced though it can be either red or white. Its bouquet should be winey and aromatic and its farewell, should be smooth and warm.
Social Wine This is a wine peculiar to amateur winemakers and with no real commercial equal. It is usually drunk whilst chatting with friends during an evening visit or whilst looking in at TV. It is similar in some respects to a dessert wine but is lighter in character, less strong in alcohol, less pronounced in flavour and not so sweet. It is often accompanied by biscuits and cheese.
Rose Wine This wine is not necessarily made from rose petals, but should nevertheless be a pleasant pink colour; it should possess a fragrant bouquet with an equally fresh flavour. This wine should never be quite dry and is best served cold. It can be served by itself or with almost anything.
Sparkling Wine Through a process of a secondary fermentation in the bottle this wine should contain enough carbon dioxide to send up plumes of bubbles when poured into a glass. It is best served cool and care must be taken with any sediment that the bottle may contain.
There are a few other points concerning the suitability of wine for a purpose that are worth noting. Flower wines fragrant and sweet-smelling should preferably be medium sweet to the taste. If they are quite dry the flavour contrasts unpleasantly with the bouquet. If they are too sweet they tend to be cloying to the palate.
Fruits that contain an excess of tannin, such as elderberry, either have to be kept for a long time till the tannin precipitates or else should he served at least medium sweet. A dry young elderberry tastes very harsh and bitter, for example. Indeed, a dry wine that does not taste too pleasant to the palate is often improved when slightly sweetened. Wines that have been fermented on and contain a large quantity of alcohol--15% or more, for example-should almost invariably be served medium sweet or sweet and the alcohol and sugar should be balanced by a strong favour and adequate acid and tannin.
The importance of serving the right wine with the right food and the right company can hardly be exaggerated. Harmony and balance should always be in your thoughts.
3 TEMPERATURE This is the key to serving your wine at its best. This is not a connoisseur's foible. It is not a gimmick to serve light wines cooI and heavier wines free from chill. It is of the absolute importance for your wine's sake to serve it correct temperature.
Many years ago a friend of the author telephoned to ask whether he and his wife could call to spend the evening with him and his wife. They were welcomed some fifteen minutes later with Christmas cake and a rich elderberry wine brought straight up from the cellar. When opened the wine tasted so cold, bitter and unpleasant that it had hurriedly to be replaced by coffee. The unhappy wine was left in a decanter in the dining room to rid itself of shame. This it did most handsomely, for the next day, free from chill and expansive in the decanter, it tasted as fine a wine as could be desired. Clearly this was a wine that had to be served 'chambre'. All rich strong dessert wines are best served free from chill and so too are table wines that contain much acid or tannin, as do most red wines.
Lighter wines such as apple, rhubarb, gooseberry, apricot, elderflower and the like are always improved by cooling them beforehand. An hour in the refrigerator, next to the milk, sharpens the favour and improves the freshness of this type of wine. Cooling them has much the same effect as adding salt to an egg or a potato. It brings out the flavour quite remarkably.
Wines that are to he served free from chill should never be warmed suddenly. You will damage rather than improve a wine by standing the bottle in warm water or on the kitchen stove. It is best to bring the bottle into a warm place in the kitchen and leave it there for six or more hours gradually to acquire the warmth of the roam right through.
4 DECANTER In the Victorian era it was standard custom always to serve wines and spirits from decanters. Civilisation and good manners would tolerate nothing less. How right they were. Reaction, alas, threw away the decanter and the bottle was placed on the table so that all could see the name and vintage of the wine; which is, in a way, just another form of snobbery. Happily the decanter is now back in its proper place again, nor only showing off the wine's charm but indeed helping it to achieve yet greater charm by enabling it to breathe and rid itself of any noxious bottle odour whilst at the same time developing delightful esters through the oxidation of some of its alcohol, acids and aldehydes.
This aspect of the advantages of a decanter should not be ignored. It is true that a fine glass decanter enhances the appearance of a wine, but it also enables the wine to breathe. For well-matured wines this is most important and they should be left in the decanter for two hours or so as needs be, depending on the vigour and character of each wine. But even young fresh wines improve after a short period of half an hour or so.
Decanters should always be thoroughly washed and drained after use, since they tend to stain if left with a few dregs in them. if you have one that is stained it: should be cleaned with sand or shot in warm water or with a few drops of a proprietary bleach in cold water. After cleaning it should be rinsed several times in clean cold water and turned upside down to drain. When dried and put away the stopper should be left out.
To decant a wine from a bottle that has been long laid down, and in which the wine has thrown a deposit, first carefully stand the bottle upright and leave for up to twenty-four hours for the sediment to settle in the bottom. Then, wiping the bottle clean as may be necessary, carefully remove the cork; if possible, avoiding the dropping of cork granules into the wine. This can be achieved by not allowing the point of the corkscrew to pierce the bottom of the cork and, when nearly there, pulling steadily and firmly rather than forcefully. The neck of the bottle often wants wiping at this stage. The bottle should be grasped near the bottom and held against the light, whilst slowly tilting the neck towards the mouth of the decanter, which should be held in your other hand and so tilted that the wine is gently poured down the inside of the decanter and not splashed into the centre. Care taken in decanting is always rewarded. When the sediment in the bottle reaches the neck, pouring should stop, for no dregs may be allowed to enter the decanter. The stopper of the decanter should be put in its place so that no dust or bacteria can enter. A final wipe with a clean cloth to remove fingerprints and the decanter of wine is ready to be set upon the sideboard or table.
5 GLASSES The best kind of a glass to use for wine is one entirely plain and slightly incurved at the rim. There are some pleasantly designed tulip-shaped glasses on a short stem, available in different: sizes, and these, have much to commend them.
The actual glass should be neither too thick nor too thin. If thick it looks cheap and nasty, if thin it is fragile and unserviceable. Whilst a small amount of engraving is not detracting, it goes almost without saying that the glass should carry no paintings of card symbols, vintage motor cars, hunting scenes, nor, worst of all, bikini-clad beauties. These distract the eye from the wine and lower its dignity. Coloured glasses should never be used either, for this ruins the colour of the wine altogether.
A wine glass needs a stem and a base so that it can be held without touching the bowl. When the glass of wine is held to the light so that its clarity and colour can be observed and admired it is clearly undesirable that the view should be marred by a greasy fingerprint in which only Sherlock Holmes would be interested. The glass should in fact be held with the thumb on the upper face of the base and the fingers beneath it. This enables the glass to be held firmly especially when standing and by moving the hand in a circular motion swirls the wine sufficiently to induce fresh bouquet.
Experience shows that the best all-purpose-size glass is one that will hold 5 fl. oz. of wine. The glass should never on ally account be filled. In such a glass it is permissible to serve a small quantity of aperitif or of a dessert wine as well as 3 oz. of table wine, Never should the glass be more than two-thirds full. There are three very good reason for this.
1 The glass can be moved safely without spilling the precious wine, staining fresh table linen or ruining a party dress.
2 The space in the glass above the wine enables the various esters to form into the bouquet which is held back from escaping too quickly by the incurving glass.
3 The wine actually looks much better with a space above and below. It is rather like a picture surrounded by a mount. Nothing can come too close and so spoil it.
When you serve wine other than at table you will find that your glasses of wine are greatly enhanced by being served on a silver salver. Nothing so reflects the colours and lights more attractively, nor forms a more perfect background, than silver. if possible you should try to get one with a mirror finish, in spite of their tendency to scratch unless great care is taken of them. If a silver salver is out. of the question, a simple, plate-glass tray in a gilt frame is attractive. If this, too, is not obtainable, then cover your tray with a spotless starched and ironed linen tray cloth or table napkin. Coloured trays with mountain scenes, or even still-life paintings of fruit and wine, detract from the pleasure of seeing the wine at its best.
Glasses should always be rinsed in clean cold water after washing and upturned to drain dry. Only the outside and the rims should be dried with a cloth. Before using they should always be polished with a soft and clean linen cloth. They should not be stored in a cupboard redolent of polish or any other strong smell, since this clings to the glass and spoils the wine.
6 FOOD Functionally wine is a drink to accompany food. Man needs both food and drink for survival and good food and good wine have an ennobling and civilising effect. Most wines accompany specific foods better than others and it is beneficial to both to find the right partners whenever possible. When serving wine at home it is best first to decide on which wines are available and then to select the food which will accompany them to the best advantage.
You can, of course, serve what wine you like with what food you like. Experience shows, however, that in general light wines are best with fish, salads, steamed chicken and the like whilst red and/or heavier-bodied wines are best with roast or braised meats, roasted poultry and game and the like. These wines should, of course, be dry. Sweeter wines, though light in body, should be served with dessert or sweet and red wines of a port type, possessing both substance and character, accompany the wonderful variety of cheeses superbly. Dry red wines accompany cheese quite well too.
Very few wines can be drunk advantageously alone. They nearly all need a background of food of one kind or another to bring out the best in them. A mouthful or two of food should always be eaten first to prepare the taste buds for the wine never the other way round. Wine tasted before food rarely tastes as good as with food. This is a point that is very well worth remembering when you are having dinner in a hotel taste your food before the wine.
In preparing the food, too, wine should be used to enhance the flavour of the food. Here are a few simple and everyday examples.
1 A glass of red wine may be poured over the joint a few minutes before taking it from the oven. After the fat is poured off the gravy should be made with the liquor.
2 A glass of white wine may be poured over poultry in the same way.
3 Fish may be baked or poached in white wine.
4 Apples may be stewed in white wine.
5 Strawberries should be marinaded in sweet red wine.
6 A glass of sweet white wine poured over a fresh fruit salad brings out the flavour superbly.
7 Filleted kippers when marinaded in dry red wine for twenty-four hours may be skinned and served on crisp buttered toast as an alternative to smoked salmon.
8 Dry red wine added to goulash heightens the flavour delightfully.
And so on. If you have plenty of wine that you have made yourself there is no end to the use you can put it to in cooking.
7 COMPANY Maurice Healey, one of the greatest amateur connoisseurs of all time, once said that you should serve your great wines to your best friends on festive occasions and drink your ordinary wines with your family every day. When inviting guests to a meal it is courtesy to study their palate in the wines you offer them. If: you know that Mary only enjoys sweet wine then you will offend her if you offer her a very dry one. If John prefers beer anyway there's not much point in giving him your best wine. He certainly won't appreciate it even if he says thank you! In the main only experienced wine drinkers enjoy dry wine.
There is no doubt that company can make or mar a wine. That certain wine that was enjoyed immensely when Judith and Charles celebrated their wedding anniversary with you can seem quire different when the atmosphere and company are less enjoyable.
If you are offering your wines to a guest whose palate is unsophisticated, serve at first only a small glass of a sweet wine, How much happier it can make the evening to hear spontaneous murmurs of appreciation and to receive requests for more, even of a wine that you know to be inferior to your best. And, conversely, what a dampener on an evening's pleasure can be the long face of a guest who has a large glass full of a wine that he doesn't like and doesn't know how to get rid of without hurting your feelings, even if you know the wine is superb!
It is so much better merely to offer a taste at first, being prepared for 'No more, thank you'. The request for more, if it comes, can be music in your ears and a sincere compliment: to you.
When you have ordinary guests for an evening be careful then not to waste your best wines on them. A really good wine needs no one's approbation but your own. Either drink with your family or share it as a precious gift with someone you love and who loves wine.
On occasions more wine can be drunk in an evening than you have prepared beforehand. Do try to avoid the temptation of going to your cellar for more--serve coffee instead. If you allow yourself to be tempted the wine will not be at the correct temperature, it will have no chance to breathe and clearly will taste inferior to the splendid wines already consumed. Adjourn the session till another evening!
8 DRINKING When the time eventually comes actually to taste the wine you have so carefully made, so patiently matured and so lovingly prepared, hold the glass of wine to a good light so that you can behold it in all its glory. Marvel at the star-bright brilliance and admire the robe of colour.
Swirl the glass and observe the folds of glycerine as they follow the wine down the side of the glass. Swirl again and bring the glass up to your nose, not too close at first, as you sniff silently for the vinosity and then closer so that your nostrils can absorb all the perfume of the fragrant bouquet of myriad eaters. Compare comments with those about you. Try to detect the ingredients with which it was made. Is it sweet or dry on the nose! Can you smell the acid! Or is it fresh and clean Full of promise of the flavour yet to come.
Wine is made to be admired by the eye, savoured by the nose and enjoyed by the tongue. Extract as much pleasure as possible from the first two before embarking on the third, and when 'tis gone, 'tis gone for ever, except to linger in the memory.
Now take a fair mouthful, let it come in slowly over the tongue, any sweetness alerting the taste buds on the top of the tongue, any excess acid the front sides of the tongue, any excess tannin the rear sides of the tongue. Chew the wine thoughtfully and push your tongue out between your lips so that the wine can reach the more distant taste buds that record the flavour. Have you enjoyed this greetings, then slowly swallow the wine, feel the warmth of the alcohol on the elbow of your tongue as the wine leaves the mouth. Now swallow several times and taste the farewell. Any imperfections, however small, will now show up, but perfect balance and excellent flavour will only recurrently remind you that all your endeavours were so well worth while. That all your efforts were geared together for this very moment. Quietly contemplate your handiwork and thank God for this gift.
Wine is meant to be enjoyed and when it cannot be enjoyed it should not be drunk. Never drink to excess, then, and never drink when you have catarrh and cannot taste the wine. It is safe to give wine in moderation to all persons both young and very old except in acute illness such as pneumonia, or unless your doctor prohibits for other reasons. Frequently beer or spirits is prohibited when wine is prescribed. It has a tonic effect, it aids digestion, it soothes and relaxes the nerves. To the young it gives vigour, to the old, peace. Treat wine with respect and it will respect you. You will not suffer hangovers and upsets after wine, but eat well with wine and you may enjoy it to your full.