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WINE

How to taste wine like a professional

With the Fête des Vignerons around the corner, here's a look at how to sip wine like a sommelier – according to a selection of French experts.

How to taste wine like a professional
File photo: Depositphotos
So, how exactly should you go about tasting wine?
 
Tasting wine like a professional is subject to some strict rules. 
 
Paris sommelier Pierre-Jules Peyrat begins by sticking his expert nose into a glass of chilled rosé: it is important to get a good whiff before tasting the wine. 
 
Once in the mouth, the wine is swirled around – or chewed – for a few seconds. The taster may then make a “duck face” to allow a bit of air in to detect further characteristics, a step called “grumage”.
   
Next, the mouthful of liquid is spewed back out in an unapologetic burst into a spittoon.
 
“It's by spitting out the wine that you will be even more distinguished in society,” says Peyrat.
 
 
What are you looking for?
   
For professionals – winegrowers, oenologists, sommeliers, wine merchants – tasting wine means assessing its appearance, or robe, its interaction with air, its aromas and finally its taste, as well as its “structure” in the mouth.
   
The first step is to identify the wine's basic quality: is it bitter, sweet, salty, acid or umami (that elusive taste between acid and sweet that is prized in Asia)?
 
The appraisal then turns to the tactile sensation the vintage creates: coarse, astringent, effervescent?
 
Why taste, instead of drink?
   
Spitting the wine out isn't just a matter of practising restraint, it is intrinsic to a tasting.
   
“People think swallowing the wine will give you more aromas, but that's false,” says Olivier Thienot, who founded the Ecole du Vin de France in 2003.
   
“The aromas often come after the spitting,” agrees Christophe Marchais, an oenologist from western France near the city of Nantes, acknowledging that the act may seem “a bit bizarre” to the uninitiated.
   
Some object to the sight of good wine seemingly going to waste; others fear looking boorish or foolish, or staining their clothes.
 
 
Spitting, when the wine mixes with air coming from the nose, can bring out “other prevalent aromatic notes”, Peyrat says, calling the phenomenon “retro-olfaction”.
 
It “is a much more intense pleasure than being drunk,” he adds.
   
For France's some 7,000 oenologists, “spitting is an ordinary act”, says Thienot, noting that a professional taster can assess as many as 100 wines on a given day.
   
France, the world's leading wine exporter in terms of value, welcomes around 10 million oenotourists each year – and their sophistication is growing.
 
About 12 percent of the students taking wine-tasting short courses at Thienot's Paris school are foreigners.
 
Switzerland's Lavaux vineyards. The Fête des Vigerons will be held in the nearby town of Vevey. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
 
How to describe the wine you're tasting?
   
The world of wine has a rich, often poetic vocabulary, much of it borrowed from the perfume industry, to describe myriad sensations.
   
A wine may evoke honeysuckle or berries, or have spicy or woody notes, or be redolent of burnt bread.
   
For all that, consumer groups are demanding that more down-to-earth information be included on a wine's label.
   
A draft rule has been prepared by the International Wine Organisation (OIV) that would require labels to provide data on calories and ingredients such as sugar or cellulose gum, according to Joel Forgeau, a winemaker in Mouzillon near Nantes and president of a wine lobby.
 
But no label can reflect a wine's taste, “because the wine is a creation,” says Thienot.
   
“Its taste comes from the soil, the weather, the winemaking, the know-how and so many other things.”
 

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FOOD & DRINK

What is Swiss rösti and how do you make it?

If you thought Swiss food is just about cheese and chocolate, think again: rösti is no small potatoes.

What is Swiss rösti and how do you make it?

You can’t live in Switzerland for more than five minutes without realising what an important role rösti potatoes play not only in the country’s culinary traditions, but also in its culture in general.

It is such an integral part of local customs that the Swiss Farmers’ Association has set a new world record when its members prepared a giant rösti in front of the parliament building in Bern on Monday.

The approximately 1,300 kg of potatoes were used for the event, where potatoes were fried in a 13.7-square metre pan shaped like a Swiss cross.

This year’s record beat the previous one from 1994 by three square metres.

And it was no small feat, given the logistics involved in the project. “The potatoes needed for this had grown over the summer in all the cantons before being brought to Bern for this culinary event”, the Association said in a press release. “In a solemn ceremony opened by bell ringers from the region and alphorn players, 27 delegations from all the cantons as well as the Principality of Liechtenstein handed over the potatoes in wicker baskets”.

This event was held to celebrate the association’s 125th anniversary, which is very fitting since in centuries past the stir-fried potatoes served as inexpensive, simple dish for farmers working in the fields.

Recipe:

The main appeal of rösti in those days was that potatoes were plentiful in rural areas and the dish itself required only a very basic mastery:

  • Peel and grate the raw potatoes using a standard grater. You can grate them lengthwise if you like long strands.
  • Add salt and pepper into the mixture — season lightly or a lot, depending on your taste.
  • Melt butter (rather than oil or margarine) in a frying pot.
  • When hot, pour the potato mixture and stir-fry for around 10 to 12 minutes on each side. The end product should be crispy and golden-brown, never soggy.

With time, the dish has evolved somewhat, but not too much; as many foreign residents have observed, the Swiss like their food plain and made from locally sourced ingredients.

While various ingredients like ham, bacon, and cheese can be added to the mixture, and a fried egg sometimes tops it, the recipe is still true to its origins.

READ MORE: You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Cultural impact

Whether in its original or ‘modernised’ form, rösti can hardly be called trendy.

Yet, for such a simple dish, rösti has made quite a cultural impact in Switzerland.

While it is more associated with the German-speaking part, where it originated, it is sometimes served in other regions as well, mostly as accompaniment to meat or sausages.

But beyond the mere food, this potato dish came to represent the cultural (rather than geographical) divide between the German and French-speaking regions, called the Röstigraben

In German, “Graben” means border, gap or rift – and therefore Röstigraben symbolises the cultural rift between the two largest linguistic groups in Switzerland. 

Whether such a rift actually exists in reality or just in people’s imagination is another matter. Much of this idea has to do with stereotypes of each linguistic group, but beyond the language and local customs, they are all…Swiss.

And it is not excluded that they sometimes cross the invisible Graben to share a meal of rösti together.

READ MORE: Röstigraben: The invisible barrier separating Switzerland

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