Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Complete Idiot's Guide To Wine Tasting

Brisket and wine were on the menu for the Posse at Pecan Lodge. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/fotobia.com)

By Bruce Tomaso/Texas BBQ Posse

On Tuesday, the BBQ Posse was invited to join the Dallas Morning News Wine Panel for a tasting at Pecan Lodge. The mission: Find the red wines that pair best with Texas barbecue. (Look for the story in the July 30 Arts & Life section of The News.)

Diane and Justin Fourton served up platters of Justin’s other-worldly smoked brisket. Cathy Barber, the paper’s food editor, and Tina Danze, a Dallas freelance writer, served up 26 bottles of wine. The wines came from around the world: Argentina and Australia, France, Spain, and Portugal, California and Washington State.

The brisket was pure Texas.

The members of the Wine Panel sniffed and sipped and swirled.

The members of the Posse tried not to scarf down all the brisket.

Truly, this was a meeting of the connoisseurs and the goobers. The people on the Wine Panel are master sommeliers, well-known Dallas chefs and restaurateurs, people of rigorous training and refined palates. They’ve spent decades studying wines.

The BBQ Posse is a less exclusive society. To get in, you have to ask.

I know a great smoked brisket when I taste it, but if you put a revolver to my head, I couldn’t tell a Malbec from a Merlot, a Shiraz from a Petite Sirah. I don’t pretend otherwise.

Sometimes, the less you know, the easier it is to learn. If the gaps in your knowledge are the size of moon craters, it’s not hard for one or two small nuggets of insight to carom in there and settle.

Here, then, are six lessons that I learned from my first wine-tasting. (Once Cathy and Tina read this, I’m pretty sure it will also be my last wine-tasting.)

Pecan Lodge pitmaster/co-owner Justin Fourton delivers out first of two briskets. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

1. Use the spit cup

It seems counter-intuitive to put wine in your mouth and not swallow it, especially when it’s good wine and you’re getting it for free. But there’s a reason that experienced tasters spit out each sample.

If you’re tasting 26 wines in two or three hours and you take one small sip of each, you will be inebriated by the time you stand up to leave.

And if you drain your glass 26 times, you’ll be picking fights afterward with bikers coming out of tattoo parlors.

2. Don’t use your fingers

When the platter of beautifully smoked, expertly carved brisket arrives at the table, you should resist the temptation to reach in, grab a blackened, juicy bit with your hand and stuff it into your mouth.

This is perfectly acceptable, even customary, on a barbecue tour. Among people who know where the butter plate goes, you will be regarded as a cretin.

3. When you sip, stick your nose in the glass

This is to experience the wine’s aroma as well as its flavor. I was surprised to discover that wine smells just like wine.

4. Assume the authoritative voice

After tasting each wine, listen to the experts before you fill out your evaluation sheet. They will use phrases like “subtle spice notes,” “dense, peppery palate,” “hints of courant,” “dense tannins,” and “elongated finish.” Write these down.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what they mean. At any given moment, half the people on Earth who are speaking have no idea what they’re talking about. Bill O’Reilly knows no more about immigration policy than I do about Côtes du Rhône. That hasn’t shut him up. My three nephews know more about sports than Skip Bayless, and ESPN pays him $500,000 a year. If you write that the Merlot “displayed aromas of dark stone fruits,” who’s going to argue with you?

Four Seasons master sommelier James Tidwell pours wine at the tasting. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/fotobia.com)

5. After a while, you’re faking (and you’re not the only one)

The BBQ Posse once hit eight Central Texas joints in just over 24 hours. (We were young and foolish back then.) By the time we got to our last stop, the mere sight of ribs and brisket – the mere sight of a guy in a greasy white apron with a carving knife in his hand – was enough to make us queasy. I’d have rather eaten a small box of paper clips than that eighth barbecue meal.

The gross overload not only killed our appetites; it blunted our ability to distinguish one brisket, rib, or sausage from the next. The same was true with the wines. Twenty-six was too many.

Halfway through the tasting, I found myself thumbing ahead through my stack of evaluation sheets to see how many more samples were yet to come – and softly groaning that the number wasn’t smaller. The people sitting across the table from me – not BBQ Posse goobers – were doing the same.

And even though I was dutifully using my spit cup and drinking water between samples, after 15 or 20 wines I was fooling myself that I could tell how the cabernet from Beckman Vineyards stacked up against the one we’d tried an hour earlier from Becker Vineyards.

6. Barbecue and wine might just be a bad idea

The consensus of our table – oenophiles and mooks alike – was that most of the wines paired poorly with Justin’s brisket.

Many of these vintages were good. A few were really good. They would have gone well with a medium-rare New York strip, or a thick slice of prime rib in au jus, or even a baguette and a wedge of aged Gruyère.

But thickly smoked, crusted, peppery brisket has an immense, forceful personality. It just steamrolled most of the wines we tried. Their subtle, supple, silky, luscious, sexy, opulent, complex, layered, textured, fresh, intense, pure, suave, ripe, rich, refined florals and truffles and mocha and herbs and spices and chocolate-coated dark cherries and velvet plums and black raspberry perfumes and hints of boysenberry liqueur didn’t stand a chance.

The wines were like Nanci Griffith trying to sing a duet with Janis Joplin. After Janis had drained about six bottles of wine. After swishing and spitting our way through 26 bottles, we did find a few that more or less held their own alongside the brisket. (I believe that I may have described one of them as having “balls.”)

But all things considered, a robust amber ale – or a big plastic glass of sweet tea – would have been better.

Members of the Texas BBQ Posse & the Dallas Morning News wine panel at Pecan Lodge. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)

1 comment:

  1. OMG! Come on Posse! Wine tasting? This is a BARBECUE BLOG folks. Don't get swishy on us. And I agree, 26 wines to sample is stupid.

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