Interview with a Master Sommelier, Part 3
ME: I would actually have to agree with that. Lastly, let me ask you this because I find this interesting. I went to Italy at the end of September. I tell you I’m just really into wine these days I kinda felt smarter after I left. When we’re talking about tasting terms or tasting terminology, what would you say are some tired tasting terms?
EMILY: I don’t know if they’re tired per se but sometimes I hear people using terminology with their wines and I never really know what they mean. “I want a wine that doesn’t have a bite”. I’m like, what do you mean doesn’t have a bite, are you talking about acid, are you talking about tannin are you talking about alcohol?
There are different things that you could be more specific about. I feel like if people have better language for talking about wines they can more quickly distinguish, this is what I mean by a bite. It’s too full body and it’s too intense or if it’s too tart and acidic or if it’s too tannic or it’s too harsh in my mouth. That’s where people can be helped a lot.
ME: That’s interesting I never thought about it that way. I said, “lastly” but I have one more question. What is a tannin? I hear that a lot in the tasting room and I don’t really understand it.
EMILY: Tannin is something…have you ever soaked a tea bag like black tea for too long and you go to drink it and it’s like “whew”? That’s tannin. Tannin is also found in spinach, so it’s that kind of a drying feeling that you get and you only find tannin in red wines.
The reason for that is in order to make the wine red they actually soak the skins with the juice in order to extract the color but they’re also extracting the tannin. If you’ve ever bitten into a plum, your chewing on the fruit and its really luscious and sweet, and then you start chewing on the skin and it has all that really intense flavor. It’s also got this really drying feeling which are the tannins and those are found in grape skins too.
Red wines, red grapes that have very thick skins like cabernet sauvignon or syrah will give you more tannins. However, some grapes like pinot noir have a very thin skin so you won’t have as much tannins in the wine. What the tannins do is they give it a lot more body and texture. The tannins can be texturally anything like velvet to sandpaper but definitely there’s a texture to the tannins.
ME: And what do you mean by acidic? Because when you just descibed tannins I was thinking that’s how I would describe something that’s very acidic.
EMILY: Tannins are more drying. When you’re drinking wines you can feel them around your lips and your gums and also like the roof of your mouth. Rub your tongue against the roof of your mouth after you taste a red wine, you can feel that texture. It’s this drying thing.
Acid makes your mouth water so think about biting into a lemon. You might have a wine that makes your mouth water a lot. Like in a red wine it would taste more like sour cherry as opposed to sweet cherry or in a white wine more like lemon as opposed to apple or more like green apple instead of yellow apple so it’s just more tart.
Acid is really important in a wine because it’s what keeps it tasting fresh and it’s also what makes it go well with food. Because you’ve got a wine that’s got that acidity which means as you’re eating food it keeps it refreshing, keeps you salivating, keeps your palette ready for another bite. So acid is a good thing.
But some people are sensitive to it and don’t necessarily want that much acid in their wines and other people love it. They want that real bracing(?) tart flavor.
ME: OK, really last question. How do you know what goes with what? For example, how does Cooper’s Hawk know that the barbera that I picked up not too long ago will go well with the Giordano’s pizza that I plan to put back in the oven and eat tonight? How do you know that’s the right one?
EMILY: There’s a couple of things. There are basic rules, rules of thumb for wine pairing. You match a wine of similar body to the food. If you pair something that’s very light and fresh with a big heavy wine, the wine will overpower the food and it works the other way around as well. So barbera and pizza are pretty much right on line with each other, that works well.
And then another great rule of thumb is that I always like to look at this “rule of regionalism”. If you look at traditional foods from a place look at what wines they drink in those areas because sometimes these traditional foods have been made side-by-side with those regional wines for a long time. They have a natural affinity for one another so Italian food with Italian wine you can’t go wrong or even an Italian grape varietal.
There are all kinds of tips out there for making better food and wine matches. Ultimately though it’s also a matter of taste. If you’re somebody who likes steak and you hate red wine, I’m not gonna tell you-you can’t have white wine with your steak. If you think it’s delicious then it is.
ME: That goes back to something you said earlier about what makes a good wine versus a bad wine. You are your own expert.
EMILY: Yeah, you’re the one who knows whether something tastes good or not.
ME: What pairs well with a dessert?
EMILY: So the rule of thumb there, the wine needs to be just as sweet or sweeter than the dessert. If you have a very sweet dessert and the wine is not as sweet, it’ll end up tasting really tart. The reason is, the sugar in the food will cancel out all the sugar in the wine and it’ll just taste sour.
ME: Emily, thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it.
EMILY: Absolutely, absolutely. Oh it’s my pleasure.
This interview was an educational experience. Not only did I get a better understanding of wine in general but I was also schooled by a woman. A woman in yet another male-dominated field. Emily Wines is making history and as she mentioned in the interview, “there should be more, there will be more” women Master Sommeliers.