A MATTER OF TASTE How to Enjoy your Wine More



“Drink moderately….just one glass, for instance” See below


I am often astonished when dining out to note that so many people show very little interest in food (unless there’s not enough of it), and show similar disinterest for the wine on offer. This despite the great number of newspaper and magazine articles, live tastings, TV wine-demonstrations etc. Knowing just a little about wine appreciation genuinely helps anyone enjoy their glass. So, now and then I am going to answer questions I get, starting with……

Q. If you are tasting wine seriously, should you look, smell, sip, swirl around your tongue and mouth and eject?

A. At an organised wine tasting the answer must be "yes", (especially if you are going to drive a car afterwards) But even when you spit out, remember you are still absorbing alcohol. A wine importer of my acquaintance was breathalysed driving home after a wine tasting at which he had not swallowed a drop and was shown to be "over the limit". The sample taken a little later by the Police doctor, however, showed that the alcohol level in his blood was well below the danger level. The alcohol had lingered in his mouth but had gone no further.

The other point is that if you are tasting a lot of wines and you swallow, your senses will become dulled by the alcohol. And tasting is a serious business, on which millions of pounds may rest. I once observed some of the greatest experts at work tasting 1200 Sauvignon Blancs from all over the world, during a two-day period. That number was too many for all but three of the very top professionals, one of whom actually made notes on all of them.

You can learn a lot about tasting and improve your perceptions, but you need a reasonable sense of smell and good taste buds and if you haven’t got them you can never be a great taster. But almost everyone can enhance their enjoyment by taking an interest in tasting.

Ater you’ve had a look at what’s in the glass, swirl the wine around a bit, put your nose right down to the wine and take a long, steady sniff. Practise this and soon you will sense the wine’s aroma and its alcohol. Now sip a little wine and run it over your tongue, swish it around your mouth, suck it and little by little it will tell you about itself.


Your tongue can detect four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salt and bitter and you will not find the four sensations coming simultaneously, from different parts of the tongue. The tip is the most sensitive part for sweetness; the edges perceive the salt; sour flavours concern the side and the underneath and bitterness the back part. With the wine in your mouth, about eight to ten seconds elapse for the various sectors to report to your brain and you gain an overall impression.

As a first step take on some contrasting wines, a white with a bit of sweetness, such as a Riesling, a dry red and a dessert wine. You will soon find that a little time spent on getting to know what you are drinking will richly reward you.


Remember, wine is to be enjoyed – but don’t just take my word for it……

I have enjoyed great health at a great age because everyday since I can remember I have consumed a bottle of wine except when I have not felt well. Then I have consumed two bottles.   ~A Bishop of Seville

Wine improves with age.  The older I get, the better I like it. Anonymous

Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.   Ernest Hemingway

I cook with wine.  Sometimes I even add it to the food.   W.C. Fields

Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.  Benjamin Franklin

The best kind of wine is that which is most pleasant to him who drinks it.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History

If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?    Cardinal Richelieu



Q: If I add wine when cooking a stew, sauce or sautéed dish, does the alcohol “disappear”?


When wine is used in cooking, the alcohol vaporises at a relatively low temperature, leaving only the flavour of the wine to enhance and blend the other food flavours. For instance, if wine is added to a sauce or some other mixture to be cooked over direct heat, the alcohol will be vaporized at 78ºC (172.4ºF), con­siderably before the boiling point of water 100ºC (212ºF) is reached.

In fact, it is cooked out in just the simmering stage. If wine is added to a casserole dish or used as a baste for roasting meat, the heat of the oven will have the same effect. As an example, a cup of wine in a large shallow pan put in a 150ºC (300ºF) oven for 10 minutes would lose all of its alcohol.

This loss in alcohol has an effect upon the calorie count, too. A dinner wine such as Burgundy or dry Sauternes will lose 85 per cent, of its original calories when subjected to a sufficient amount of heat to cause it to lose all its alcohol. The remaining 15 per cent, of the calories are from non-alcohol substances in the wine, such as sugar.

Dessert wines such as port and sherry contain more alcohol and sugar than the dinner wines, and hence are higher in caloric value. Used in cooking, they will evaporate and lose calories just as the dinner wines do. If they are cooked for a longer period—more than an hour in a 150ºC (300ºF) oven (as in the case where ham or roast meat is being cooked in the oven), most of the sugars become caramelis




For the next month or two I am going to run my wine course, which covers how to enjoy wine unpretentiously. It is based on newspaper and magazine articles I have published over the years, suitably updated for 2014.  I hope you will enjoy it and, hopefully, find it of some value.  Comment, please!  Part 1 is my personal introduction –  In Part 2 I start the “Plain Man’s Guide to Wine Tasting”, which covers the storing and serving wine at home.  Successive articles will cover: “Appearance”(What to look for in bottler and glass), “Smell”, “Taste”, “Buying”, “Matching Wine with Food”, “Grapes”, “Wine Regions”, “Fine Wines”.


Patrick Signature line blue


PART 1 – – How Wine Captured Me

For the fact that I have enjoyed more than sixty years of wine drinking I have to thank a French film called Clochemerle. It was made in 1948 in black and white and adapted from a wonderful book of the same name by French writer Gabriel Chevallier, published in 1923. It is still in print and worth getting. Set in a fictitious village in the Beaujolais, actually a place called Vaux en Beaujolais, it was a riotous account of life among wine-makers and wine-imbibers and reflected very much the happier sides of the then life of the Beaujolais. French films were seldom seen in England in those days and it took until 1953 before a cinema in Piccadilly Circus put it on. Packed audiences wept with joyous laughter at the saucy romp. It had an “X” Certificate, to be seen by 18-year olds and older and I was enraptured and enchanted by what one beverage seemed (apparently) able to do, especially in matters of love. It was a brilliant film, alas no longer available, although there was quite a good BBC TV series based Chevallier’s story in 1972 – the cast of which is pictured below, left. 

                     Clochemerle            Clochemerle book cover

Working in the centre of London, near the wonderful food and wine district of Soho, the day after seeing the film I found a French grocery shop and in the window were some bottles of Beaujolais. I went in and bought one, took it home and drank it that evening. I was captured, totally and absolutely. The vintage was 1948 and it was superb. Whenever I could afford it I went to the same store and bought another bottle. It was my Christmas party drink. The following year I went again and bought what I thought was the same bottle. It was from the same producer but the wine was not very good at all. I looked on the label and saw that it was the 1952 vintage (a bad year). I had learned my first lesson about wine: that in many instances it varies from year to year, from vintage to vintage. I am glad I found out about wine by drinking it, and not through one of the many ‘learned’ books, which elevate wine-tasting to that of ‘art’ and/or ‘science’.

An older contemporary of my early years of imbibing was a man whose name will be known to every middle-aged or elderly lover of cricket, John Arlott (born 1914, died 1991)  As well as a cricket broadcaster he was also a poet, an author, and a wine lover.

His discovery of wine was accidental. In 1949 he was returning from reporting a cricket tour in South Africa, and broke his journey in Sicily “for a few days’ holiday”. A beer drinker, he had vowed to abstain during his stay, but on the third day’s lunch time at the Auberge in which he was staying, he tried a drop of the wine from the flask that was always put on to the table. Bingo! He was hooked. So began decades of wine writing, mostly for the Guardian newspaper, in which in a very human and personal way he told us about wines of all kinds and about the men and women who make them and sell them. Such was his style that his words not only entertained but they enlightened. They made wine welcoming, loving, loveable.

In 1986 John Arlott’s wine writing was gathered into a book called “Arlott on Wine”. It is a wonderful 200 pages and most of its contents are relevant today – and even those that are not are good reading because they tell of the wine personalities of a previous generation, who, take my word for it, were worth knowing. The book will reward your finding it, which is not too difficult. I see Amazon have fifteen copies of it on offer, all at very low prices. As a taster, this is an extract from Arlott’s opening piece. I think it offers sound advice.

Back to the Vine Roots – by John Arlott


It is healthy as well as salutary for the habitual wine drinkers and

certainly for the wine writer – sometimes to go back to the beginning of the alphabet. While the percentage of wine drinkers has increased more in Britain than in any other European country in the past decade, we are still not a nation of wine drinkers; and many who do drink it are sceptical about it.

Few of us grew up in households where wine was generally taken with

meals; and there is lingering mistrust of a habit which was only lately the prerogative of the well-to-do minority. There is doubt about the dogma as to which wine goes with what food. The suspicion that wine snobs create a mumbo jumbo about particular vineyards and vintages is reflected in the inverted snobbery of ‘plonk is good enough for me’.

Recognition of a few elementary facts should break down these barriers.

Wine – simply fermented grape juice – is a natural beverage. For many

unsophisticated people, like the peasants of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Rumania, Algeria, Morocco, it is a staple diet. Indeed, in Italy, the law grants convicts a daily ration of wine.

These are theoretical arguments. On the other hand, anyone may try the practical experiments which prove that wine makes the simplest meal – sausage and mash, or bread and cheese – vastly more satisfying. It can, too, be demonstrated that at a blind tasting the most unambitious drinker can generally rank three or four wines in order of merit – and find the most expensive with murderous accuracy.

Wine may be an acquired taste, but many an eventual pint-swigger first drinks beer as a pleasureless ‘manly’ pose. St Paul’s ‘take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake’ is not a recommendation for dyspepsia but a piece of human wisdom. The justification for drinking wine is pleasure. This factor refutes the ‘which with what’ theories. Anyone who enjoys drinking a sweet wine – a Sauternes or one of the more sugary hocks – with a steak should do so. Palates change: the young and the old tend to sugar-hunger: in between, their taste is generally for savoury food and dry drink

‘White with fish, red with meat’ is a counsel of safety, not a rule. Although fish can make red wine taste metallic, some deeply versed wine drinkers would advocate claret with salmon, an Alsace Riesling with pork, or a Moselle with veal; a big white burgundy will stand up with most meat dishes. The division is as non-existent as that; and virtually any wine is shown off to advantage by cheese.

From “The Guardian”, July 1973

What’s New? NOT Beaujolais Nouveau! Our editors proffer their views.


  For half a century the practical and business like Beaujolaisians have been dashing into their vineyards in September (regardless of how hot or not the summer has been), picking every Gamay grape in sight, rushing them to the crushers and fermenters in their wineries, tweaking the bubbling brew and when (just about) fermented bottling […]

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  Arising from my article about tasting and serving wine, I received an Email from Allan in Limassol, who asks: “When you have people in for a meal, is it polite to talk about the wine? And, if someone asks where you bought the wine they are drinking, should you tell them the price?” Well, […]

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