Wine 101: Lawyers get schooled on basics of a good wine

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Photos by Frank Weir

By Frank Weir
Legal News

You may not know the difference between sherry and a hole in the wall, but you can learn a thing or two about wine and have fun while you're doing it.

That seems to be the philosophy of John Jonna, owner of Vinology in Ann Arbor who last week hosted a large contingent of members of the WCBA's New Lawyers section and the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan Washtenaw Region for a wine and food pairing and tasting event at the popular restaurant on Main Street.

About 25 eager would-be aficionados went the distance and mastered such esoteric wine terms as "swirl, chew and slurp," "meniscus color," "volatiles," "terroir," and "trichloroanisole," not to mention wet socks.

Happily, no one got "corked" during the evening.

Perhaps an immediate explanation of THAT term is in order. According to Jonna, a wine is said to be "corked" when, upon opening, there is an off aroma and flavor to the wine. It is caused by the presence of tricholoranisole (TCA) and appears to come from the cork. The aroma has been described as being reminiscent of wet socks, vegetables, nail polish, vinegar, sulphur, and the like.

In other words, "bad."

By the end of the evening, Jonna had imparted such "wine lessons" as: wine is food; wine is varietal (made from a particular grape variety with specific characteristics of taste and aroma); and, of course, wine is romance.

First things first, and that was Jonna's explanation of how to evaluate a wine so you don't embarrass yourself in front of friends or the sommelier serving you.

"Once poured, you look for clarity and color," Jonna said. "You don't want the wine to appear cloudy. Tilt the glass and look at the edge of the wine against the side of the glass, the meniscus. If there is a brown tinge with a white wine, something is wrong."

Jonna next advised his students to hold the base of the glass against the table and swirl the wine to aerate it, then quickly lifting it under the chin to smell aromas as they arise from the glass. Next, the nose goes into the glass sniffing the side of the glass, then aim toward the bottom. Look for those wet socks.

"If the wine smells good, it is good," Jonna intoned.

A lesson in chewing and slurping was next. Taking a small sip, work the wine thoroughly around the mouth, back and forth, side to side, up and down. With chin slightly up, open your lips a bit and draw in air as if sucking from a straw.

Other wine terms explained included a wine being "dumb" or "closed" and therefore losing its "voice." "This can happen to the very best of wines," Jonna noted, "and some closed wines can come back. And a wine can be "short" or "long." A short wine has no lasting flavor, no length.

The length of a truly great wine?

"The memory of the flavor is forever," he said.

Jonna touched on one of the most important concepts in the wine world, which is "terroir." An imposing term to be sure, but boils down to the influence that natural characteristics of an agricultural area has on the grapes grown there. This includes soil, altitude, sunlight, temperature, geography, geology, rain and moisture.

"It's why a wine tastes like a place. Given Michigan's cold temperatures and less sun, grapes grown here are best for white wines. Red wines require grapes with thick skin, where there is lots of sun, and little rain. The warmer the weather, the darker the wine."

The evening concluded with a sherry.

"Sherry and madeira were the main wines during the Revolutionary War," Jonna explained. "The colonists loved the flavor of sherry."

In summation, Jonna suggested occasionally springing for a "great" bottle of wine, which will cost around $100.

The wines of the evening included Laxas Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain, with the local greens salad; Tres Ojos Garnacha, from Calatayud, Spain, with the pozole with chilies, hominy, and chicken; Lorca Manastrell, from Bullas, Spain, with baked pasta and lamb meatballs; and Delgado Zuleta Moscatel, from Jerez, Spain, with the caramel and sea salt Spanish bread pudding.

And the verdict of the newly educated about the evening's wines?

All were amusing and not a bit pretentious.

Published: Thu, Apr 02, 2015

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