FHM Article January 2000 : The Lush Learns his Wine

Whilst dining in the West End the other week, the unthinkable happened. My partner asked for wine. "Surely you want a cold pint," I insisted with an element of menace in my voice, and she remembered that she did. But it did remind me that when it comes to wine, I'm a rank amateur, and so the next day I called upon my old chum, wine connoisseur and owner of the Wine And Food Academy, Kenneth Harry Putt, to learn the basics.

The difference between cheap and expensive wine.
Buy the bottle with the lowest price and the highest alcohol content is perhaps the best piece of advice that anyone has ever offered me, but, insists Putt, there are guidelines to be followed. "You have to consider that the import duty and VAT on any bottle amounts to approximately £1.50, so if a wine's being sold in a supermarket at £2.99, you are paying for a mere glass full. Don't however spend more than £7, even for a posh label such as Nuits St George, and consume anything you buy off the shelf within six months."
Deciding that practice makes perfect, I tuck into my second bottle of liquidised grapes, only to be immediately complimented by my pal. "Expensive wines have subtle, complex flavours and even the novice can spot the differences after having six different glasses of wine" he chuckles. "Provided that they represent the six main grapes; Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir."

What wine goes with what food?
Egon Ronay is one of the many experts who believes that wine cannot be tasted without food. "Tosh," I laugh merrily, but Kenneth shakes his head sadly. "Food dramatically affects the taste of wine," he explains patiently, "and you should experiment with different wines for different meals. Most people drink lager with a curry, but a bold red wine works well with Indian food, whilst the best grape to compliment a Chinese meal is the Riesling.

Table etiquette
Finding a half drunk bottle on the floor, I'm reminded of a time in a restaurant when the waiter bought me a bottle that had already been opened. "Regard any wine presented in this way with extreme caution," says Putt sternly. "When tasting, you are looking for bouquet and clarity of colour - send it back if it's cloudy, and if it's off, it will smell of vinegar. The tragic mistake that waiters make is to place a good bottle of white wine into an ice bucket which destroys the taste. If your glass frosts up when you pour, it's over chilled and you might as well drink iced water. The golden rule is to over chill inexpensive wine to deaden the acidic taste, and lightly chill anything over £75."

At last it's time to hail a cab, but Putt insists on collecting all the dregs and emptying them into a bottle. "What are you doing man?" I slur, fearing a final and furious drinking session. "Always save left over wines for cooking," he tells me sensibly. "They make a great marinade for beef and chicken." Sound advice maybe, but I drink it on the journey home anyway.

The Quiz
You probably think that wine tasting sessions are full of pompous old men who cover up poor social skills with meaningless descriptions of wines that they haven't even got the good sense to swallow. And you'd be right. Nevertheless, we've waded through two top guides - Food And Wine Magazine's Official Wine Guide 1998 by Stephen Tanzer, and Wine Magazine's Pocket Wine Buyer's Guide 1998, published by Dorling Kindersley - and picked out their choice musings on four different wines. Then for each bottle we've added a fabricated description of our own. Can you spot which are made up?

1. Penfold's Cabernet sauvignon (Australia)
a) "Minty, mulberry nose. Hints of chocolate with a concentrated palate of well structured fruit and dense tannins."
b) "Well-balanced nose with a tinge of old clover. Tart, but flabby on exit."
c) "Lush on entry, then rather closed in the middle. Multi-faceted nose combines blackberry, roasted coffee, smoked meat and lead pencil."

2. Charles Heidsieck Brut Champagne 1985 (France)
a) "Very pale. Big, rich and creamy in the mouth. Caramel and toast open nicely on the finish."
b) "A rich, generous nose leads on to a palate of biscuit flavours and a ripe finish."
c) "Veiny purple sheen. A fine, fat nose with yeasty undertones. Hot, robust finish."

3. Clos Malverne Cabernet Sauvignon (SA)
a) "A flinty, earthy nose; round and complex with a light and flowery aftertaste. Nicely satisfying, but effeminate."
b) "Thick and truffley in the mouth; harmonious and silky. Really loaded with fruit, and complicated by a vegetal nuance."
c) "A good nose showing brambles and white pepper, following through to a spicy palate."

4. Ramos-Pinto Duas Quintas Vinho Tinto (Portugal)
a) "Silky yet bright in the mouth, with good stuffing and firm framing acidity. Finishes fresh and persistent, with a note of white pepper."
b) "Refreshing, big and baked. Cocksure after-taste goes on and on and on. A little retarded."
c) "Rich and powerfully built with its melange of dark berry and cherry fruits. Spicy backbone."

1a) Genuine (DK) b) Fake c) Genuine (ST)
2a) Genuine (ST) b) Genuine (DK) c) Fake
3a) Fake b) Genuine (ST) c) Genuine (DK)
4a) Genuine (ST) b) Fake c) Genuine (DK)

Adapted from FHM's Bachelor Guide - copyright FHM 2000

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