Monday, May 18, 2015


Writers need to be wine nerds for accurate detail

Have you ever listened to a bunch of grape gripers? If you’ve spent any time at wine tastings, you might have come across those for whom there is no “after taste” only a good Finish, such as a small but pleasant wine that lingers on the pallet. The pallet is found toward the back of one’s tongue, near the uvula, known to be helpful in pronouncing French words and a Dutch cheese. (Can anyone here say Gouda? “Hauda”...ahh.)

Wine is big business. Remember the 2004 movie Sideways, a word that has come to mean all is not well and has gone askew or awry? (Perfect fodder for our fiction) The wine tasting business has grown into a snobby hobby. Artists need not apply, unless their art is blending, or they are sommeliers. In real life, the restaurant in which merlot is pronounced undrinkable is a commercial looking place that could pass for a Steak and Shake. It’s quite loud for a venue where wine is a religion. We’ve been there, and WE ORDERED THE MERLOT!

If you're using a wine scene in your fiction, wine tasters or elite folk with their fingers rather than their fists around their stems will notice your details. You'll need to do a little research.

So get your Nose in the game, plunge right in nose-first before tasting. Does the wine have Character? Is it Crisp? For instance, Merlot is not crisp. The word Crisp describing some wines is more often used for a white wine. A crisp wine is most likely simple but goes really well on a porch swing at the end of a hot day. (Unless a good beer will do it for you.) Bright wines are higher in acidity and make your mouth water. Give a hurrah to acidity.
A wine with Buttery characteristics has been aged in oak and generally is rich and flat with less acidity. A buttery wine has a creamy texture that hits the middle of your tongue almost like oil (or butter) and adds a smooth finish. Viognier, a recently discovered white, is buttery but less oaky.

An austere wine is a very unfriendly wine. It hits your mouth, and then turns it inside out. It usually means the wine has very high acidity and very few fruit flavors. I like to assume my plaque has been permanently removed from teeth to heart when "eating" an austere wine.

A Big wine with massive flavor takes up all surfaces of your mouth including your tongue. It usually has big tannins. If it’s tannic, don’t panic. But don’t follow it with a Round wine, a lighter red. At a wine tasting you or your characters should work toward more intense flavors until you can spell flavor the English way, flavours.

In my cozy mystery, Kill Fee, I have the following wine tasting scene:

The wine steward held the bottle forth, resting it in his hand on a small towel, label side up. Cole (our hero) nodded for him to open it. 

            He took an Ah-So out of his uniform pocket and expertly removing the waxed foil eased the Ah-So slowly into the bottle's neck surrounding the cork. Carefully he lifted the cork from the bottle and handed it to Cole to sniff. 
            Cole placed it near his nose, glanced at the winery name inked into it and nodded his approval.  “You may pour the wine.”
            The steward poured a half-inch of wine into Cole's glass and stepped back, waiting.
            Cole swished the wine in the glass slowly and plunged his nose into it; then tasted it, rolling it around in his mouth. “Very good, you may serve the lady.”
            The wine steward stepped forward, taking (our heroine) Penny's glass and filling it one-third full. He picked up Cole's glass and refilled it to the same level. “Anything else, sir?”
            “That will be all for now, thank you.” He winked at Penny.
            The wine steward evaporated, and Penny looked at Cole. “My goodness, what a lot of effort over a little booze,” she giggled.
            “I agree, but they love to do that. Did I mention that I brought your uncle Connie here one night. We'd been working all day, and I thought he could use a little meat on his bones. His comment after the ceremony was not as polite as yours.”
            “He suggested that he didn't know whether I was going to drink it or spit in it.”
            Penny howled with delight, “Oh, that sounds like Uncle Connie, no pretenses.”    
An aside: Years ago one of my friends became addicted to the convenience of canned dinners. Her children loved Spaghettios. Knowing our household was embracing wine cooking and wine with meals, she asked, “What kind of wine do you serve with Spaghettios?”

Not to be left in the dust by my new expertise, I replied, “An interesting little red.” That became our euphemism for “the house red.”  

The Finish
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