FAQ with Bretton Lammi, Eddie Merlot's Corporate Beverage Director and Sommelier:
Why does wine give me headaches; sulfites, right?
Probably not. All wines contain sulfites, as it is a natural byproduct of yeast metabolism in fermentation. By using the term sulfite when speaking about wine, most people are usually referring to Sulphur dioxide (SO2). Sulphur dioxide is used in winemaking to prevent wine spoilage from bacteria and oxidation. By law, any wine containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) must be labeled as ‘contains sulfites’. Wineries that do not use SO2 during production may label their wines as ‘no sulfites added’. The FDA states that less than 1% of the US population are “sulfite-sensitive”, so it is a rather rare occurrence. Additionally, many of the other foods that we eat contain sulfites- flour tortillas, olives, pickles, canned vegetables, maple syrup, cornstarch- dried fruits contain concentrations of up to 1000 ppm. Lastly, many people seem to think that red wines contain higher levels of sulfites than white wines- reds usually have lower concentrations! The tannins in red wines help act as a stabilizing agent, reducing the need for added sulfites.
One of the most probable reasons for the “wine headache” is over-indulgence. Many people do not think about the alcohol level in wines (usually in the 13-15% range, by volume). Without getting into too much detail (vasodilators, dehydration, and such), it is widely known that too much alcohol will make you feel not so hot the next day. The other probably reason is a sensitivity to histamine and/or tyramine which are naturally present in wine. Feel free to do your own research on these chemical substances…
The important point- it is probably not sulfites!
What is the correct temperature/ conditions to store my wine at home?
The ideal conditions: store the bottle on its side, in cool conditions, preferably away from bright natural light. You may have noticed our “wine wall” at any of our Eddie Merlot’s locations. We take great care to store the wine for our guests in the optimal conditions to protect the integrity of the wines (our wine walls are kept at 60° F). At home, you can do some of the same without building a large cellar or spending a lot of money. While your basement or storage room of choice might not be kept as cool as our cellar, it is important that the temperature remains relatively consistent- temperature swings will harm wine faster than storing wine at a higher than ideal temperature. Store the bottles on their side in an insulated part of your basement and you can enjoy the wines for years to come.
Which wine should I pair with _______ dish?
The easy answer- drink what you like with whatever you are eating! The next easy answer- Champagne (or sparkling wine, in general) goes with everything! But if you insist, there are a few rules of thumb to make sure your wine and food do not clash:
Match the body of the wine with the hardiness of the dish- think Cabernet Sauvignon (a relatively “heavy” wine) with venison stew, or Pinot Grigio (a lighter wine) with calamari.
Match the flavors of the wine with the flavors of the dish- a Pinot Noir will match well with turkey and cranberry sauce; a buttery chardonnay will pair well with sautéed fish with a buerre blanc sauce.
Match the acidity of the wine to the spiciness of the dish- high acidity in wine help tone down your perception of spice in the food. For Example, a high acid white (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, etc) pairs perfectly with spicy Thai food.
Match the tannin level of the wine with the fattiness of the food. I would like to expand on this more so than the other “rules”. Tannins are a natural component in grape skins, stems, and seeds. Because of the differences in production between red and white wines, red wines have higher tannin levels (tannins are the compounds that “dry out” your mouth with a sip of red wine). Tannins help lessen your perception of “fattiness” in foods.
Eddie Merlot’s serves prime beef- known for its high level of marbling. Marbling is just a polite way of saying “fat”. The higher fat content in a food, the higher the tannin level should be in the wine. Many people will simply say drink red wine with red meat- as a general tenet, this is true. By using the tannin/ fat matching principle, this scan be further expanded to help you enjoy your meal more. A filet mignon (little marbling) will pair better with a Pinot Noir (lighter tannin) than with a Cabernet Sauvignon (higher tannin). Conversely, a ribeye (high marbling) will pair perfectly with a Cabernet Sauvignon, but might overwhelm a Pinot Noir. Right in the middle of the marbling spectrum is a New York strip. This pairs well with a medium tannin wine, such as a Merlot or Sangiovese.
You can combine any of these rules to further refine a wine pairing, but just remember- drink what you like with whatever you are eating!
My coworker pointed out the “legs” of the wine while swirling his glass. What do these “legs” mean?
Another simple answer- they mean nothing. Well, they mean something, but not what your coworker was thinking. There is a big misperception that the wider/ slower the “legs” move down the glass, the higher the quality of the wine. This is simply not true. It will, however, give you an indication of the relative alcohol or sugar content of the wine; the wider/ slower the legs move, the higher alcohol or sweetness of the wine. Neither of these indicators can alert you to the quality of wine on their own, but it sure is fun to swirl the glass!
(Nerd Alert- the formation of legs is due to a scientific principal called the Gibbs-Marangoni effect- a phenomenon caused by the fluid surface tension of evaporating alcohol. Cover the glass of wine with cling film and swirl the wine- the legs will be non-existent because no alcohol is evaporating- ask your coworker to describe the quality now…).
What should I do with the cork when it is presented to me at the table?
Third simple answer in a row- you don’t have to do anything with it (these days). People squeeze, smell, flip, and read the cork. Squeezing the wet end of the cork should give you an indication if the wine was stored on its side- if it gets wetter than when presented to you, that is an indication that it was stored properly- cork is porous and will have absorbed a bit of wine during storage. Smelling the cork will tell you nothing about the wine in the bottle. Many people are smelling the cork to see if they smell a “moldy” smell. While it is true that there is a chemical compound (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, if you must know) that can exist in corks that will lead to a musty smell, this compound is not always transferred to the wine. The cork may smell musty, and the wine can be just delightful. If the wine does smell like mildew (or a wet dog, as others describe), the wine was tainted by the cork and should be refused. Reading the cork used to be very important, as counterfeit wines were more prevalent in the past. The label may have said 1961 Château Mouton Rothschild and the cork might have 1962 on it- in this case, a bottle of 1962 (a relatively boring vintage) was relabeled with the label from 1961 (a stunning vintage).
With newer technology in cork production and testing- cork taint, fraud, and storage issues are relatively rare- so play with the cork all you want, but make sure you taste the wine first before deciding if it is flawed.
How do I order a wine in a restaurant if I don’t know anything about wine or feel overwhelmed?
If you are nervous about ordering wine in a restaurant, simply ask for a recommendation from the restaurant team. Eddie Merlot’s servers and managers have undergone extensive training to help guide you along your dining experience. Many have completed sommelier training to specifically help you choose a wine to complement your meal. Simply tell them what you normally enjoy (a brand you are familiar with or a style that you have had in the past). It is perfectly ok to state a price range that you are comfortable with while asking for a recommendation. If you are uncomfortable discussing the price range with your server, I have a little trick for you- ask for the recommendation with the wine list open, point to a price on the wine list that is in your range and simply say “I am looking for a recommendation similar to this” (while pointing at a dollar amount and showing the server). They should understand and help select a wine in your budget.
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