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An insider's view of Tuscany

Raymond Lamothe Facebook



Short list of wine notions so you won't be put in a panic by wine-buffs.

I have received a few emails asking me opinions on wines and on which are my favorites and what I look for in a wine. What strikes me is that people generally have two major attitudes when they address wines: either they are curious and want to know more about wines, or they are afraid to express their opinions (and most of these have friends who they consider to be real wine-buffs and experts on all matters wine-related).

I think that we should first of all clear the table from misconceptions: there are very few true wine experts in the world, and these are the products of continuous training and the benefit of natural palates that seem designed for wine tasting. I remember when I worked doing Public Relations for the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, that I met many people who were in the wine business: some were true wine connoisseurs and primarily made a living from wines – I remember several wine book authors, some journalists, some sommeliers, and a few British wine masters, who really knew what they were talking about and it was a fascinating experience to learn from them.

But, you know, all of them did agree on a few basic things: a) you cannot be a world-expert on wines because there are too many of them and each season the new harvests produce new wines that are different from the ones of the years before, so keeping up is practically impossible, b) you can specialize in wines from a country or from a region, but to do this professionally you need to take serious wine-tasting courses, c) if you like wines, then drink what you like – taste as much as you can, and decide for yourself.

I totally agree with these few precepts. I think the true basis of wine drinking is to go with the wines you like. A wine should look good to you when you pour it into your glass: if it is has strange or murky color, then toss it out. It should smell like fruit, vegetables, flowers or other pleasant and positive aromas: if it smells funny or, especially, like cork or wood shavings, again, just toss it out. Taste it and it should be pleasant in your mouth: this is more subjective because we all have personal preferences and what you eat in combination with the wine you are drinking makes a big difference in how that wine will taste. If you taste it and it doesn’t convince you, then drop it from your list. If you like, it, write down the label and vintage so you can reorder it next time you shop for wines.

There are a few things that you should know about wines that are primarily dictated by common sense. The first is that you need to keep wines lying on their sides and not standing up. This is so that the cork remains moist. If the cork dries out, it will let air into the bottle and the wine will oxidize and turn murky. Today a lot of wineries are using silicon corks that may not be as romantic as the true wood corks are, but are totally efficient in preserving your wine in its bottle. Do not keep wines in warm places as this will cause secondary fermentations inside the bottle and the wines will taste bad.

Chill white wines and rosé wines, but do not chill red wines. You normally open a white wine or a rosé just before serving, while red wines can usually benefit from being opened an hour or so prior to serving – and older wines should be either opened a few hours in advance or, if possible, decanted so they can breathe and release their pent-up aromas to give you the full benefit of their bouquets.

Ask for advice when presenting a wine with a certain type of food – some foods go well with fresh young wines, while others need older and more seasoned wines (typical example is the Tuscan T-bone steak – the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina – that is cooked on hot coals and should be served with an aged Chianti Classico Riserva or a full-bodied Nobile di Montepulciano or a brilliant Brunello di Montalcino). You would not serve this grilled wonder with a light white wine.

Many cookbooks can give you advice on what wines go best with what foods and even your local wine shop may be able to give you some pointers. I always advise people to try combinations privately before presenting them to guests. There are also some foods that are practically impossible to combine with wines - artichokes, chocolates (and from my own experience, peanut butter sandwiches) are among them.

As far as my own personal preferences in wines are concerned, to answer those who have written me, I like fresh young wines. I am not a lover of very aged, old wines. To me a fresh young IGT Tuscan wine like the one we produce at Casamonti called “L’Elogio di Casamonti”, or a bottle of nicely chilled white wine (a Trebbiano or a Pinot) or a rosé, with appetizers or a plate of pasta is total bliss.

A Chianti Classico or a Chianti Classico Riserva or even a Nobile di Montepulciano or a Carmignano are fine with second courses. But I do want a Riserva or a Brunello with my Fiorentina steak. I do not like Super Tuscans very much because they tend to have been kept a long time in oak barriques in order to give them the huge amounts of tannins and wood flavor that people like so much. I don’t like to taste a wine and have my mouth pucker up as if I had just bit on a slice of lemon. I am also a fan of beer and coke and mineral water with gas.

In the events section, the blog dedicated to Museums, Music and general events also lists the website addresses of the major wine consortiums in Tuscany so you can go to see what they have to say and their official classification of the last vintages. When visiting any of the wine regions in the world, if you can find a well-organised wine tasting tour being offered, take it as it will do more to teach you about that area's wines than you can ever learn from books or from your own tastings at home.



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