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The Wine Schmooze

How to test that bottle of wine

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Ah, the ever solemn, oft confusing restaurant ceremony of "tasting" a bottle of wine. I call it the "Wine Schmooze" since it's a dance between you and the server. We all know there's not exactly a training class that teaches you the machinations of the ritual, so it can be intimidating. But knowing the reasoning behind the apparent madness helps understand the necessity.Wine schmoozing involves a series of steps and a couple of loose rules. The first rule says the person who ordered the bottle should test it. After ordering, the server will bring the bottle to your table and present the label. This is to make sure you have the wine you ordered. Next, the cork is put in front of you, not to sniff but so you but so you can inspect it for mold, cracks, and wetness. A good cork should be moist 1/4 to 1/2 of the way down and be free of mold -- although in very old bottles this is bound to happen and isn't really a flaw unless the wine tastes like mold. If the cork is cracked or crumbly, then the bottle has probably been badly stocked and perhaps has been contaminated with oxygen, but that doesn't mean the wine is ruined.

Since wine is an organic product, it is susceptible to degradation. You detect damage when the server pours one ounce into your glass. Give the wine a swirl to release the aromas, sniff and taste the wine. If it's at all funky smelling or tasting, ask someone else at the table to taste it and assess whether the off-taste is the wine or the aftertaste from that funky cheese you just munched.

If it smells like mold, rotten eggs or vinegar, then ask your server to taste it as well. Etiquette has it that if the customer thinks the wine is bad, then the restaurant should take it back, but some restaurants have a sommelier who will also chime in.

Keep in mind you can't send it back if the wine just doesn't suit your taste. Most restaurants have send-back policies with wines by the glass, but the cost of a bottle is too high to justify taking a bottle back on a taste whim. Be certain the wine is spoiled before you go down that road.

If everything's a go, tell the server you're pleased and he or she will begin pouring for the table. The traditional order of pouring is ladies first, then men, then the person who ordered the wine. If the server fills your glass more than half full, speak up since wine should be swirled before each sip and it'll runneth over if the glass is too full.

At upscale restaurants, it's the server's job to keep the glasses filled, but if your server is slow, it's perfectly acceptable to jump in and do the duty.

The final step is my favorite, the toast: Prost, Sante, Salud, Salut, Cheers!

Recommended Wines

Kenwood 2001 Sauvignon Blanc Refreshing grapefruit flavors, even flowing acidity and an aftertaste that will make you hope for deja vu. $14 1/2
Lake Sonoma 2000 Dry Creek Zinfandel Plenty of raspberry, tobacco and black pepper bite back in this yummy Zin. Comes on strong but mellows out. $15


The Wine ListARTHUR'S RESTAURANTS AND WINE SHOPS 4400 Sharon Rd. Feb. 26-Oregon Wines; March 4-Chilean Wines. Classes are held from 6:30-8pm. Light snacks and bread will be served. $20 per person. 704-366-8610.

BARONE'S WINE ROOM offers wine tastings every Wednesday night from 6-8pm. The cost is $10. Barone's is located in Birkdale Village, Huntersville. Call 704-987-0011.

CAROLINA WINE CLUB Winter classes will be held at the Mint Museum of Craft + Design from 6:30-8pm. Four Series: Series II: Session IV, March 4-How to Taste Wine. Individual sessions $30; each series of classes $100. Call 704-344-8027.

LA DOLCE VITA! A winter evening of food and wine. Pasta & Provisions and Bonterra Restaurant have planned a wine dinner on Feb. 27 at 7:30pm at Bonterra, 1829 Cleveland Ave. Cost: $85 per person ($10 credited toward wine purchases). Call 704-364-2622 for reservations.

MANGIONE'S 1524 East Blvd. A dinner on Mar. 6, 7pm, featuring wines by Marco Laico of Vino Vino! Each course is paired with a different wine. $65 per person. Call for reservations: 704-334-4417.

NECTAR 1730 E. Woodlawn Rd. Wine tastings are offered the last Tuesday of every month from 5:30-7:30pm. There will be six wines tasted, which will follow a monthly theme. $15 per person includes light hors d'oeuvres. 704-519-4174.

REID'S 7TH ST. WINE SHOP Wednesday Night Flights-5:30-7:30pm. Three wines will be tasted each week, $10. Four For Friday-Festivities begin at 4pm. Four premium wines are featured in four ways: 2 oz. sample, 5 oz. glass, by the bottle or in a flight, $20. Call 704-513-7014.

SOMETHING CLASSIC AT THE VILLA 715 Providence Road. Wine & food tastings are held from 5:30-8pm on the last Wednesday of the month. Call 704-347-3666.

SOUTHERN SPIRITS Winter Wine Classes: Mar. 6 & 13, The French Connection. $40. Light snacks will be served with each class. All classes are held from 7-8:30pm. Located on Hwy 521, 3 miles south of Ballantyne. Call 803-548-8888 to register.

THE WINE SHOP 2442 Park Rd. The Wines of European Cellars, Eric Solomon Selections. A selection of wines from Spain, France and Italy. Feb. 27, 7pm. $12 per person. Call 704-377-5373 for reservations.

Wine tastings, classes, or other wine-related events will be listed at the discretion of the editors. Send information to Creative Loafing one of three ways: Fax to 704-944-3605; email to lindsey.herman@cln.com; or by regular mail at 6112 Old Pineville Rd. Charlotte, NC 28217.

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