Chicago Gourmet: Tips From ‘Tasting the Masters’ Way’

Chicago puts itself on the front burner this weekend with the inaugural Chicago Gourmet, a weekend-long festival of food and wine attended by chefs and sommeliers near and far. Special MenuPages correspondents Bridget Houlihan and Tammy Green, of the dining podcast Chicago Bites, are on the scene. Today: How to taste wine.

Lined up and ready to pour.

Pairing wine with food is what makes wine great. And Master Sommelier Fred Dame says there’s a scientific reason for that.

“Food is full of fat, and wine is acidic,” he explained Saturday during a wine seminar at Chicago Gourmet. “Think about eating steak. You’re essentially coating your palate with fat. As you sip wine, it cleans your palate so you can taste the next bite.”

The first bite is always the best, he continued, and when you pair food with wine you get 30 first bites.

That’s a good reason to become a wine lover, and once you start tasting a variety of wine it’s a whole new world.

In the seminar “Tasting the Masters’ Way,” Dame walked us through that world a bit with a blind tasting. He detailed techniques sommeliers use to identify and appreciate wine and discussed what it takes to become a sommelier. Some of his best tips: Identify the scents in the wine you’re about to taste. What fruits do you smell?Look at the color of the wine. Is it bright? Clear? Keep in mind that white wines grow darker with age and red wines grow lighter.Swish your wine around. Look at the legs. Wines with a lot of tannins are fuller-bodied wines.Taste a variety of wine. It will surprise you.Take notes whenever practical. Enhance your skill with taste tests — especially blind ones. Becoming a sommelier is not easy, and it takes additional years of study to become a master. But what I learned from Dame will surely enhance my wine experience — not to mention come in handy the next time I’m trying to select a bottle to go with dinner.—BRIDGET HOULIHAN[All photos by Tammy Green. All rights reserved.]

Chicago Gourmet: Tips From ‘Tasting the Masters’ Way’