Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Press of Atlantic City Promotes Local Wineries

Enjoying wine doesn't need to be a daunting task, say local experts
By COURTNEY McCANN Staff Writer, 609-272-7219
Published: Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's easy for diners to be confident when ordering their favorite domestic beer, or a common cocktail that every bartender knows how to prepare.
Hand them a wine list, though, and all confidence goes out the window. The average diner tends to be less than well-educated when it comes to pairing wine with their meals, or knowing how to serve it.

According to Marco Bucchi, winery-operations manager at the Renault Winery in Galloway Township, there are an average of 10,000 new wines released each year, adding to what's already out there. More choices only mean more confusion.

"Many end up picking (one) because the label looks good, which is, of course, totally random and nothing to do with the nose or taste of the wine," Bucchi says. "Your restaurant sommelier can help, but they could lean towards the steeper-priced vintages."

To avoid turning ordering a glass of wine into a major ordeal, it's important to educate yourself about the wines that are available to you and the things you should or should not be doing to enjoy them.

Go local
The first thing Bucchi says you should know when learning about wine is that a vintage doesn't need to hail from California or France to be good.

Southern New Jersey vineyards are holding their own and offering some excellent options for wine drinkers, he says.

According to Bucchi, the climate in central and southern New Jersey is very conducive to growing several types of grapes.

Area farmers have taken it upon themselves to expand their knowledge of grape growing over the past several decades.

"South Jersey wines are keeping pace with the new wines from many areas of the world," Bucchi claims. "Australia has its Shiraz (grape), and southern New Jersey has its Cynthiana or Norton."

So when scanning the wine list, keep your eye out for wines from local vineyards like the Renault Winery, the Cape May Winery, [Turdo Vineyards], and Tomasello's Winery in Hammonton, just to name a few.

Ordering out

Few things are more embarrassing than stumbling over the wine list at a fancy restaurant.

Try following these tips you find yourself on the spot.

No red and white rules: The old adage is "red wine with red meat and white wine with poultry or fish." But feel free to give yourself some wiggle room when it comes to that. A salmon dish can be paired with a red wine just as easily as a steak.

"With a broadened variety of wines and blends, the wines have become more complex," says Bucchi. "They have expanded their capabilities of what they can be successfully paired with."

Weight: Keep the weight your entree and wine balanced so one doesn't overpower the other.

A thick steak with onions and mushrooms would go best with a heavy red wine, while white fish would be best paired with a light white wine.

Glass half full: Don't allow your server to fill your wine glass to the top, advises John Mahoney, a wine educator and a Buena Vista Township native.

Instruct the server to fill the glass halfway so you can swirl the wine and oxygenate it to make the drink more refreshing.

No hard alcohol: You've heard of no swimming for 30 minutes after eating. Well, don't try a new wine immediately after downing a martini. The hard alcohol numbs your palate, making wine tasting impossible. Bucchi recommends waiting 20 minutes between cocktails and wine.

Don't go cheap: In light of today's economy, it's tempting to go with the cheapest wine on the menu. But according to Mahoney, these wines have the highest markup. A $21 glass of wine may only be worth about $5.99.

"Pick a wine right in mid-range," Mahoney advises. "That way, you're getting your money's worth."

Wine at home

Serving wine at home can be almost as nerve-wracking as ordering wine at a restaurant, especially if you have guests. As the host, the success of the meal depends on you making good wine choices.

Start with bubbles: No matter what wine you are serving with dinner, give your guests a glass of champagne to help cleanse their palate.

"When people come in you don't know what they had for lunch, what they snacked on or if they're chewing gum," Mahoney says.

Don't worry about dropping $50 on a bottle of French champagne. A $10 bottle of Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, is just as good.

Choices, choices: Offer a red and a white wine with dinner. Each guest's palate is different, and it may change over the course of the meal, depending on the main course.

Pour early: Pour the wine before your guests sit down to dinner. It gives the wine time to breathe, and plus you won't be leaning over people trying to pour while they start their meal.

Get smart: Even if you think you have a good grasp on wine, keep educating yourself. Mahoney recommends trying a different wine every time you go out to eat. Also, keep an eye out for wine tastings and classes. The Renault, for example, offers wine education classes that address the different type of wines available and how they are made.