Presenting Wine Sense Table of Contents

I have basically finished Wine Sense and in the next few weeks Wine Sense will be in the hands of approximately ten reviewers to critique it and provide ways to make it better.  I finished the content of the book two months ago, but (1) wanted to let it rest for a while to be able to read it as a typical reader (to the best of the ability of any author to read the material they wrote!), and (2) there is a lot of work in terms of providing proper citation to other references, adding 40 images and inclusion of Top Tips and Fun Facts insets for most chapters.  Then it is onto final layout and publication.

Steve sniffing 2But the content of Wine Sense is close to complete, so I wanted to provide a deeper sense of what the book is about and why Wine Sense may be of interest to you.  Over the next few months, I will be presenting excerpts and helpful tips from the book.  First I wanted to share the Table of Contents (TOC) with you.  Just reading the TOC should provide a good overview and sense of what is in the book.

Table of Contents


Part One: Wine and the Senses

Chapter 1: Wine Enjoyment
Chapter 2: Role of Our Senses for Wine Enjoyment
Chapter 3: Philosophy of Primary and Secondary Senses
Chapter 4: Wine as an Aesthetic Experience
Chapter 5: Role of Language in Wine Appreciation

Part Two: How Wine Interacts with the Senses

Chapter 6: Overview of Wine and Sense Interaction
Chapter 7: Wine and Sight
Chapter 8: Wine and Smell
Chapter 9: Wine and Taste
Chapter 10: Wine and Feel
Chapter 11: Wine and Sound

Part Three: Enhancing Your Wine Drinking Experiences

Chapter 12: Improving Smell and Taste Sensations
Chapter 13: Improving Sight Sensations
Chapter 14: Improving Feel Sensations
Chapter 15: Improving Sound Sensations
Chapter 16: Other Ideas for Improving Your Wine Drinking Experience
Chapter 17: Buying and Storing Wine
Chapter 18: Wine Drinking Practice and Experience

Part Four: Where to Next?

Chapter 19: Tools and Systems for Managing Your Wine Inventory
Chapter 20: Further Wine Education
Chapter 21: Other References
Chapter 22: Final Thoughts


Appendix A: Castro’s Ten Descriptors of Odors
Appendix B: Robinson’s Wine Color Chart
Appendix C: Wine Database Format and Field Listing


I originally was going to write a blog post last year on why our senses were so important in appreciating wine, how they work, and how to improve using our senses to enjoy wine more.  Once the post got to 2,500 words, I decided I was going to make it a multi-part post, but by the time I got to 12,000 words, I knew it had to be a book!  The book is currently 112,000 words so it was probably a good idea to go the book route!  I am very excited to tell you more over the next few months and to get the book into your hands as soon as possible.  More posts to follow.

Please let me know what you think about the content and structure.  Any feedback is appreciated.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley.  All rights reserved.
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Mixing wine and antibiotics – ok or not?

Recently having minor surgery, the doctor gave me a 6-day course of antibiotics as a preventive measure against infection.  We have all been told not to mix antibiotics and alcohol, but is there truth to this or not?  Common guidance to avoid alcohol when taking antibiotics started in the 1950s when antibiotics were being used to treat sexually transmitted diseases (STD).  The guidance was used as an attempt to curb continued sexual activity which was prone to happen more when under the influence of alcohol.  Medical professionals wanted the STDs cured before engaging in more sexual activity and further spreading disease.

Doctor and wine

I (as I expect many of us) was told to restrain from alcohol while taking antibiotics because the alcohol would invalidate the effect of the antibiotics, but this is just not true.  Most antibiotics will work fine while consuming moderate amounts of alcohol.  “There are only three antibiotics that realistically carry a risk of the nasty ‘fainting and vomiting’ reaction (the so-called ‘disulfiram reaction’) when combined with alcohol. They go by the catchy names of metronidazole, tinidizole and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. But they are marketed under many different brand names – the most familiar being Flagyl, Fasigyn and Bactrim respectively” (sourced from ABC Health and Wellbeing Online Forum, 3 December, 2009).  There are numerous other sources that all agree (just Google ‘wine and antibiotics’ or ‘alcohol and antibiotics’ for numerous validations).  As little as half a beer or a glass of wine may cause the disulfiram reaction when combine with the ‘bad three.’  But these antibiotics are used to target limited types of infections and only represent a very small portion of prescribed antibiotics.

I checked my prescribed antibiotic and verified it was not among the ‘bad three.’  Therefore, and with the doctors blessing, I will be sharing a bottle of wine this evening with friends over dinner.  Even more importantly, a business colleague brought over a bottle of 1986 Chateau Lafite, which if given the opportunity, I would not pass on even if it did induce ‘fainting and vomiting!’

Make sure to validate that your antibiotics are not among the ‘bad three’ if you want to consider drinking while taking them.  For most of us, it should not be a problem, but it is always important to verify it won’t be.  Safe and happy drinking!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

A wonderful week with wine

My life does not revolve around wine, but my appreciation and enjoyment of wine is integrated into my lifestyle.  I enjoy drinking it, I enjoy sharing in fellowship over a good glass of wine and I enjoy reading and understanding what makes wine so special.  I sometimes refer to it as ‘living the wine lifestyle!’

As I look back over this week and forward to the weekend, I reflect on how wine has made my life better.  It started last weekend by reading several books on wine and philosophy and making me think about how wine fulfills all five human senses.  I have always been curious about which senses are the most important and how they effect our enjoyment of life in general and wine in particular.  (Separate blog on this to follow.)

Then Monday after work, I met with a work colleague and client at deVine, one of my favorite wine bars and restaurants.  They client had asked a favor and I was glad to help him out which was why I brought my other colleague along.  Then after that meeting, my colleague and I caught up on his project status and a few other things.  And upon leaving, I saw another contact who is a Partner at a Big Four advisory firm, waved and later that evening received an email from him asking to meet to discuss a large project we may consider doing between his firm and mine.  In 90 minutes, that was quite a good amount of business to get accomplished made more enjoyable by a good glass of wine!

I did not drink wine Tuesday or Wednesday as we were going to a Riedel wine glass masterclass Thursday evening which would include tasting, and then out for a big birthday lunch on Friday at our favorite restaurant in The Hunter Valley, Bistro Molines, where we would be drinking some of my wife’s very favorites wines.

Both the Reidel masterclass and lunch were brilliant and among two of the finest events I have ever enjoyed.  Georg Riedel, 10th generation glass maker took us through a brilliant dissertation and tasting on the pleasure of drinking different varieties from different types of glasses and the very noticeable difference in taste and pleasure involved.  I have written on this previously (in total in about seven different posts as I am so impressed with Riedel glassware and their impact on improving the wine drinking experience) and will certainly do so again in the very near future!  Georg also discussed how the shape of the glass effects our smell and taste senses and reinforced what I had been studying over the previous weekend.  It was an amazing two hours spent with a master in like company and was both educational and entertaining.

Birthday wines at Bistro Molines

We then drove this morning to our place in The Hunter Valley and went to Bistro Molines for my wife’s birthday lunch.  A pure delight and treasure!  As usual, the food and service were impeccable and the wines we drank (too much of!) were my wife’s favorites and truly outstanding.  I will be writing a review on the dessert wine, the 2006 Chateau Rieussec very soon.  And while Bistro Molines certainly has fine glassware, including Riedel to serve from, I was insistent on bringing our own Shiraz and Montrachet Riedel glasses to make sure the wine was served as perfectly as it could be.

And now onto the remainder of our four-day weekend in The Hunter Valley.  I will be reading on wine, writing on wine (I have about 15 ideas for posts and I want to build up an inventory for the next month as I will be otherwise quite busy and it is always good to have a number of posts in reserve), studying a wine appreciation and tasting course and of course, drinking wine.

While my life does not revolve around wine, it certainly is enhanced because of it!  Wine helps me with business, friendship, and fuels my thirst for continuous learning.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley
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Twitter:  Steve Shipley @shipleyaust;   InkIT Publishing @inkitpub

Creating, retaining, and reliving wine memories

For me, drinking a great bottle of wine is like being at the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art and seeing an original painting.  It is an exquisite experience and even though I may never be able to experience it again, I want to retain and relive the memory.

That would seem quite easy to do in these times of social media with Instagram and Facebook.  We can take pictures of our drinking and eating experiences and immediately post them into a variety of public clouds to share with others and to retrieve whenever we want to.  But while those pictures provide great memories of the experiences we have had and the great friends and relationships we have, they do not focus on ‘the wine!’

I currently do four things currently to create and relive wine memories, and am about to add a fifth which I learned about from my good friend Dave who also has a place in the Hunter Valley.  The four I already do are:

Every time I look at an empty bottle, or a cork, I remember the experience and relive a bit of the wine drinking that went on that evening.  It also invokes memories of the friends and experiences we shared while drinking that wine.

The new thing I am going to do, is to create a wine map of the Hunter Valley and pin the wineries we have visited and plan to visit.  Dave has made one up, hanging in his hallway and we will be doing similar.  It’s a great idea.  Dave used a laminated map of the Hunter Valley, added some information regarding wineries and numbers to locate them, and pins with the coding for if they had visited them already or they were on the list to visit soon.  The back is cork board and he made the frame out of other wine corks cut in half.  This will provide more opportunity for me to use the good corks I have as my two Corkhaus boards will only hold about 110 corks and I certainly have more than that!

These activities are similar to keeping a photo album, but take a little more real estate, especially for the wine bottles.  However, it is not much of a difficulty and helps to reinforce and relive the great memories we have had. I am glad I do these things and recommend that some of them may enhance your wine drinking experiences and lifestyle.  I love having the constant reminders to prompt pleasant memories!

Impressing or expressing? – a good night out with the guys!

The five of us were all looking forward to a good night out.  One in the group was returning to the US after two years living in Sydney, others reflecting on completing one of the greatest banking IT projects ever run anywhere in the world, which we all touched in one way or another over the last few years, but mostly we just wanted to get together to share some companionship and some great wine.  And what a wine line-up we had!

Owen, David, Mark, Daniel, Steve

We had been planning the evening for about a month, but except for agreeing on the date, no one did any real planning at all!  So we decided to meet at the Small Bar in Crows Nest and take it from there.  Mark and I arrived first, drinking some 2012 David Hook Pinot Grigio from the Hunter Valley.  After a glass each and some nibblies, we got another full bottle as the other guys were arriving.

After some good banter, we all started showing off the wine we had brought along for the evening.  It was suppose to be a ‘big red’ night and it certainly turned out that way!  As I mentioned, we all apparently wanted to impress, but not in that manly competitive way of “You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine!”  It was more about being respectful of each being part of a friendship and wanting to share something special with each other.  The other four in the group had been especially tight over the previous few years and I had only circled in and out a few times, so it was great to be part of the group that evening.  We all knew and enjoyed our wines and made sure we each brought a very good bottle along!

I brought along a 1996 Waverley Estates Semillon to start us off with an iconic Australian white wine which I thought would go with whatever Asian food we decided to eat that evening.  Since the evening was about the friendship and the wine, we weren’t sure where we would eat (so we went to the closest place which was the Vietnamese restaurant Phuong immediately next door to the Small Bar!).  In fairness to my friend’s taste and Phuong, some of the guys had been there before and it was an outstanding choice.

I felt we should start with one bottle of white wine and I wanted to test and share what I knew would be a great Australian white in the 1996 Waverley Estates Semillon.  Once we got the food ordered (Banquet Menu B, showing again how much effort we would be putting into non-wine related topics!), we got into the red wines.  The line-up was a stunner:

  • 2008 Trinity Hill Homage Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend (from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand)
  • 1997 Penfolds 389 Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon blend
  • 1994 Brokenwood Hermintage
  • 2002 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
  • 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz
  • 2003 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
  • 2007 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz
  • 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec
  • Some bottle of Pinot Noir that Mark bought at the bottle shop because for some reason he did not think we had enough wine for five guys!

Except for the 2002 Wolf Blass Black Label which was gifted to Andrew (the guy returning to the US), the 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz (which we deemed too young to drink), and the bottle Pinot Noir that Mark bought, we did drink all the wine with dinner.  You can tell because of how careful we were with our plates and food (and this does not show the broken glass on the floor or the mess I made of Daniel’s shirt!).

Six of the reds we drank were Shiraz or Shiraz blends – that’s heavy lifting for one meal!  We opened with the Trinity Hill Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend and finished with dessert and the Pinot Noir, but everything else in between was Shiraz!  I believe we all agreed that the wine of the evening was the 2002 Penfolds St Henri.  The 1997 Penfolds 389 was absolutely splendid and lasted better than I thought it would.  The 1994 Brokenwood Hermitage was a classic older Hunter Shiraz with great body and finish, but still maintaining  the elegant style of an old world Hermitage.  The 2009 Tyrrell’s Johnno Shiraz would have been a delight, but we passed on it as it will last another decade or more and improve with age.  And the 2003 Penfolds St Henri was another wonderful wine.  Each of these reds would usually be considered the featured wine to finish a meal with, but we had no problem over-indulging with all of them!

We then walked in the rain down to Bravo’s for some gelato and other desserts where we did finish off the bottle of Pinot Noir that Mark bought before finding our individual ways home.

Great friends, great food, great times and great wine all go together.  We were not trying to impress in a competitive way – just expressing gratitude for each others friendship and respect for each others palate!  It was a rare evening where everything worked – at least it seemed so with that much good wine!

Impact of temperature on wine taste is larger than you think! Part 1 – Red Wine

Some simple knowledge of wine storage and drinking can greatly enhance most people’s wine drinking experience.  One such area that is easy to understand and can significantly increase pleasure is the temperature at which to serve various wines.  The general rule is to serve red wine at room temperature and white wine chilled.  And sparkling wine, even more chilled!  But what is chilled?  And in fact, what actually is a suitable room temperature?

This will be a two-part blog on the impact of temperature on wine.  The first and simplest post is for red wine.  This will be followed by the impact of temperature on white wine, which is even more profound and important (but no more complicated to understand).

Hopefully, your red wines have been stored suitably at a consistent temperature that is somewhat cooler than room temperature.  I store my reds long-term at 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit) and in my apartment Vintec wine fridge at 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Fahrenheit).  My room temperature is usually between 20 – 22 degrees Celsius (68 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit).  Therefore, if I am planning ahead, I take my bottles of red wine out of the Vintec at least several hours up to a day before serving them.  This (1) allows the wine to reach room temperature and (2) to by standing it straight up, draw any loose sediment to the bottom of the bottle.

By raising the temperature 4 – 5 degrees (Celsius), you really release the flavor.  The wine goes from being a dormant, tight, flat wine to a more open and interactive one.  The flavors become fuller and more robust.  It is always a good idea to drink red at room temperature if the room temperature is between 18 – 25 degrees Celsius (65 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit).  But what do you do if room temperature is above that or you are outside on a hot day?  If the temperature is only a few degrees higher, then you can still drink the wine well enough.  However, as the temperature starts to approach or go beyond 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), drinking red wine at room temperature becomes less enjoyable.  This is because it becomes a bit stickier and may even taste a bit cooked.  Additionally, at those temperatures, you are probably looking for something cooler and more refreshing to drink, like a cold beer or a chilled white wine.

Reusable ice cubes – store in freezer

Therefore, if you are outside and it is 30 degrees Celsius or higher, you may want to chill your red wine slightly.  To do this, I would not recommend putting ice cubes into your wine!  This will water down and flatten the flavors. You may however want to put in one or two reusable ice cubes which are plastic encased ice cubes.  Therefore, you can reduce the temperature of the red wine a few degrees without watering it down.

I am currently drinking a very nice 2005 Bannockburn Pinot Noir at room temperature of 23.5 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) and this temperature is working well.  However, if it was a few degrees warmer, I may consider putting a reusable ice cube into my wine!

My next blog will focus on the right temperatures to serve white wine.  The temperature setting has a far more important impact on white wine than it does for red, and this is true to get the most out of both bad and good white wine!

Masterchef, with master friends and wine!

We had a great dinner party last evening.  As usual, the most important ingredient was great people full of life, fellowship and great conversation ranging from food to work, charity work, working out, finding a partner and much, much more.  But there were also some other great ingredients including having Masterchef and cook extraordinaire, Jay Huxley, cooking for us and some very nice wines to match.

But let’s start with the people.  We had all worked together before, doing amazing things together and with great respect for each other.  While we all had some overlap with each other, there were also a few new relationships formed last evening which is always nice to see.  I love being around really nice, fun and funny people who are all so charitable.  And while we told everyone not to bring anything, they brought magnificent chocolates, a bottle of Bollinger champagne, and ordered flowers (which I need to check with concierge on as we did not get any today).

Jay cooked up a magnificent meal, starting with a Alaskan king crab and prawn bisque which was to die for, followed by osso bucco for some of us and ‘fish and chips’ (Balina Mulloway with taro chips!) for others with caramelized pineapple with lychee sorbet for dessert.  Simply fantastic.

And why is Jay’s food so good?  Bisque from scratch, lychee sorbet from scratch, 15 kilogram Mulloway caught and cleaned by Jay himself – well, you get the point!  And he is an amazing chef who connects with his audience through his food and his personality.

And the wine line-up to match was something also.  We started with the 2006 Annie’s Hill Riesling upon arrival, followed by the 2008 Little’s Gewürztraminer to go with the bisque, the 2004 Thompson Estate (Margaret River) Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Stags Leap (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon to go with the osso bucco, and then the 2007 De Iuliis Late Harvest Semillon to match off against dessert..

And if that was not enough, we then cracked into some 1980 Lindeman Vintage Port and had great affogados using the Rutherglen Buller Tokay.  For the late stragglers who still had not had enough, we finished off the magnificent 2007 Maurice O’Shea Shiraz from the night before, and then opened yet another bottle, this time the 2006 Coldstream Hills Cabernet Savignon.

But the amazing thing is that I was so relaxed and comfortably just drinking and enjoying the fellowship, food and wine, that I really did not take the time to think about how the wine tasted in any particular detail.  It was all just really great!

I do remember the 2006 Stags Leap being more complex and like a traditional Bordeaux than the 2004 Thompson Estate, which was lighter, and both being very well balanced and with big fruits.  But that was from a tasting of both wines when I decanted them before the guests arrived.

Therefore, there is no detailed analysis of the wine in this post.  Just a remembrance that with the right people, right food and right wines, you too can have a perfect evening even if you cannot remember much of it!

A more than very fine red wine

My wife is making spaghetti tonight for dinner.  It will be tomato-based, with mince and chirizo.  And it will have lots of garlic, onions and other spices.  Therefore, I needed to select a wine with strong spice and pepper flavors, yet something delicate enough to go with pasta.  There are very few wines that accomplish both.  While many Cabernet Sauvignon are delicate enough, it would be missing the spice.  Some Shiraz’ certainly have the spice, but are often so thick with granular tannins that you can chew the wine on its own!  Very few wines are delicate and spicy at the same time.

One great exception to that is the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz.  This is one of the best Australian reds ever made in my opinion.  For my 58th birthday, I served up this wine just before the 2001 Yalumba Octavius following that wine with the 1981 Penfolds Grange (which is a great wine!), and people seemed a bit ‘let down’ with the Octavius and Grange!  While both are tremendous wines in their own right, the finish on the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz lasted ‘almost forever’ and had a more delicate sensuous texture than the heavier and grittier Octavius and Grange.

Some of you may think that such a fine wine is an overkill for spaghetti, but my wife, “DAZ in the Kitchen” makes a truly wonderful spaghetti well deserving of this wine!  And it has been a surreal week at work and when I arrived home, I just wanted to embrace the very best bottle of wine I could.  I knew we were having spaghetti, and wanted a wine to go well with it, but I also wanted a special treat to drink on its own as I write this blog post.  (I am well into my second glass now, so expect my creativity to continue to increase!)

The 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 was the second to last vintage of Vat 9 that Andrew Thomas made while the chief red wine maker at Tyrrell’s and I remember him telling me it was one of his favorite vintages.  This is certainly one of my all-time favorite wines.  I was very fortunate to buy all remaining stock of this vintage from Tyrrell’s several years ago (21 bottles) and have about 9 bottles left for special occasions and sharing with great friends.  But tonight, I needed a special bottle to treat myself and something worthy of matching up well with my wife’s most amazing spaghetti!

And that bottle of very fine red of choice for tonight was the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz.  Always feel free to treat yourself when you need it!  I did.

Can we really describe how wine tastes – Part 2?

Several weeks ago, I starting writing on our ability to really be able to describe how wine tastes.  I mentioned almost all of us would struggle doing that.  First of all, wine comes from grapes and has different levels of sweetness and associated alcohol.  Frankly, most wines tastes like ‘grapes’ to me!

It is pretty easy to determine if a wine tastes sweet versus dry. It is also relatively easy to determine if a wine is acidic versus softened or mellow.  But a wine that tastes of “cherry, plum, lemon, grass” or even “cat’s pee!”  How is that even possible as those types of ingredients are not really in the wine?  Yet, some of those flavors may be coming through or influenced by the type of soil (with lots of limestone that the water is filtering through, for example), or other conditions in which the grapes are grown.

What we are really doing is transferring memories of our current tasting sensation to situations where we obviously did pick up on those flavors such as eating a cherry, drinking lemonade or chewing on grass.  (I have never had anyone admit to me though that they have ever swirled cat’s pee in their mouth, but expect some people who have cats have smelled it and remember the sensation.)

Therefore, these tastes can become very real to many people.  Others of us cannot distinguish any difference in flavor.  (Which is why Gallo wine at $5 per bottle sells well enough!)  However, since each of us has different tasting mechanisms and different abilities to remember and be able to accurately describe taste, it is still difficult to compare notes and agree on what wine tastes like.  I have been enjoying wine greatly for a lifetime and can only occasionally do this well with regard to flavor.  I can much better ascertain if a wine is dry, sweet or even sticky, and if a wine has well integrated tannins or not.  But picking out flavors is more difficult for me.

So how do these flavors become apparent or real to us?

I use a simple lexicon when attempting to describe wines: one for white wines and one for reds.  They are as follows:

White Wines:

  • Non-Citrus Fruit
    • Melon
      • Honeydew
      • Rockmelon
    • Kiwi
    • Apple
    • Passionfruit
    • Persimmon
  • Citrus
    • Lemon
    • Lime
    • Orange or Mandarin
    • Grapefruit
  • Sugar
    • Honey
    • Marlmarlade or Jammy (usually with Orange)
  • Buttery (often in very mature, softened Chardonnays)
  • Metallic (often in Riesling and in younger more acidic wines)
    • Metal
    • Kerosene or Battery Acid

Red Wines:

  • Berry
    • Blackberry
    • Boysenberry
    • Strawberry (usually sweeter and jammy)
  • Non-berry Fruit
    • Plum
    • Cherry
  • Cigar or Tobacco (smoky)
  • Leathery

And that’s pretty much it.  The other characteristic I pick up in wine flavors is if it is ‘damp’ or earthy soil, and this is more often with red wine than white wine.

One may ask how is it that a wine could be considered enjoyable when it tastes metallic, smoky or leathery?  Yet, many of us had had great memories and sensations with such flavors.  A metallic taste (if not over-done) provides a crisp or sharp edge and smoky or leathery (remember that new car or briefcase!) on top of the other flavors you have in a red wine provides for a ‘multiple sensation’ experience.

I expect there are several well-founded and well-studied programs that help describe how wine tastes, but the above structure is about as good a job as I can do.  Hopefully, it will help you get started and start to differentiate some of the nuances and different characteristics of the wines you drink.

Don’t be afraid to ask and ye’ shall receive!

Never assume that what is on the wine list is all the wine that is on offer at a restaurant.  It pays to ask and minimally you may be surprised to find some alternatives wines not listed (wine received, but wine list not updated yet), or even be offered a wine from the owners private collection!

Today we had a most fabulous lunch at Bistro Molines in the Hunter Valley.  The place is one of the very few Hatted restaurants in rural NSW.  Robert and Sally Molines have been together for 40 years, and always in the food business.  They are true food icons in the Hunter Valley.  It is one of our very favorite restaurants, and every visit is a special occasion.  For some really special occasions like our anniversary, we might bring along an exceptional bottle of wine from our cellar, but today, having a normal great lunch with great friends, I ordered wine off the wine list.

Bistro Molines has a nice selection of wines, including Australian and imported wines at very reasonable prices for a Hatted restaurant.  After looking over the menu and the specials for the day, it became apparent that the four of us would all be having different starters and different mains.  Therefore, I would have a bit of a challenge selecting wines that went well with every dish.  We agreed as a table to venture forth with a Riesling over a Chardonnay for the white and selected a very nice Kabbinett Riesling from Mosel. The Riesling was sweet, but not too sweet, with a beautiful smooth texture.  (Embarrassingly, I do not remember nor did I take a picture of the wine, so I do not remember the wine maker.)

For the red wine, I really wanted something with some age on it, but many of the really good choices were from 2010 or 2011.  The wine list had a 2010 Cape Mentelle Zinfandel which is an outstanding wine.  I have had the 2007 and 2008 vintages, including the 2007 vintage at Bistro Molines a year ago.  While the 2010 vintage is considered a superior wine to the 2007, it should ideally be drunk from 2015 – 2030 and I felt it was far too young to drink this wine today.  I asked if they still had any of the 2007 vintage around and after checking, the waitress told me they had one bottle left, but since they had a new order of the 2010 in, the wine list had been updated to show that.

While the 2010 vintage would be a better choice to drink in five years, it was not th best choice for today.  The 2007 vintage would be far more mature and better drinking today so we selected that.  While the 2007 vintage was not on the wine list, it was ours for the asking!  Restaurants often have a number of wines which are single bottles left, or other special wines that do not appear on the wine list.  Therefore, it is worthwhile asking if there is something in particular you are interested in.

Zinfandel is not widely grown in Australia, but if you are going to buy a Zindandel, make sure it is from Margaret River.  Zinfandel grows best in Napa Valley and Margaret River is as close in climate and soil conditions as you are going to find in Australia.  It is a lighter style of grape with texture similar to a Pinot Noir, but sweeter in general.  The 2007 Cape Mentelle has flavors of blackberry and ripe raisins. It went well with the duck, the veal and the kidneys we had for mains (my wife continued to dring the Riesling to go with her mussels.)

Remember, even if you like what you see on the wine list, do not assume it is all that is on offer.  By asking, you establish an intimacy with the sommelier or owner that will serve you well in getting some even better choices of wines not available to those who don’t ask!