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This sponsored column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road in Arlington). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Experience Arrowine’s Tastings & Events. Have a question? Email thenose@arrowine.com.

Hello again! So, many of you participated in our cleaning the glass experiment? Shocking, isn’t it?

Now you are on your way to better-tasting, terrior-driven wine. And what do I mean by that?

Well, it’s a little complicated, but I do my best. The only reason to drink wine is for pleasure, period! And that means more than just “it tastes good.” A well-made wine is a companion, a friend, sometimes an antagonist, but always a good conversationalist. So it must speak eloquently of its birthplace. When tasting it, I need to recognize the lineage, that exact spot on the globe.

Unlike our ancestors, drinking wine today is an option, not a necessity. We don’t need wine anymore to survive. Fresh water is abundant, so wine is now optional. We don’t drink wine to live. Instead, we drink fermented beverages because they enhance our culinary experiences and please us.

What gets to me is no one talks about wines’ dirty little secrets. Sometimes, I feel like Frank Serpico; I just dated myself, but I love classic movies, so who cares? It’s a good analogy. When did speaking the truth become a liability? We are talking about wine, not national security. I don’t tolerate lazy, sloppy, or greedy winemakers. If you care, you are vigilant and proactive. We deserve a clean wine that speaks to us.

Today’s wines are cleaner and fresher than we drank forty years ago. And they should be. When you embrace science, you preserve terroir, which means uniqueness. Modern science allows a bottle of wine to reflect the exact spot it came from. So a well-made wine speaks to and talks to you like you have been there.

If a wine doesn’t smell and taste like fermented pure grape juice, meaning “grapey,” you have a problem! Wine is NOT supposed to smell like leather, mushrooms, wet-basement, barnyard, burnt tire, green pepper, bandaid, cloves, nail polish, green peppers, or dirt! But, if it does run, I will expand on the causes of faults in a future column.

There are tricks of the trade that remain “trade secrets,” and that’s a problem. For example, did you know your California Cabernet, Chardonnay, or Zinfandel can be technically sweet? The question I’m most frequently asked is, is it “dry?” Well, that depends, and it’s not as simple a question as you think.

Table wine should be dry unless the cuisine has a note of sweetness, which I’m sad to say is far too prevalent today. A winemaker can leave unfermented sugar in the wine to make it easier to drink — think Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, it was deliberately bottled with a slight but perceptible amount of residual sugar to make it appealing to the masses.

Classic European cooking has little, if any, sweetness. Therefore a dry wine is needed. A New World wine is in order if there is any hint of sweetness. Wines from the New World tend to be higher in alcohol from all the sun. Thus energy the vines receive. In the New World, we plant for “commercial” reasons and ensure success, so we grow grapes where we know they will ripen. If not, over-ripen.

Our ancestors weren’t so lucky. So they planted where they stood and had to figure the rest out. Unless you had well water, you couldn’t be sure the water floating downhill was pure enough to drink. Fermented beverages were necessary for survival, lucky us.

Cheers,
Doug

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The Nose That Knows: Rules of wine

This sponsored column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road in Arlington). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Experience Arrowine’s Tastings & Events. Have a question? Email thenose@arrowine.com.

Hello again, it’s your favorite neighborhood wine merchant, Doug Rosen.

In my previous article, I stated there was one simple thing you can do that is guaranteed to heighten your enjoyment of drinking wine (or anything else)! And it’s easy.

Rule number one: thoroughly wash your glass with soap and water before using it! Why is it so important?

The culprit is the sealants used to protect every kitchen cabinet’s interior. For example, suppose you take a glass from your kitchen cabinet without the critical step of first washing your glass thoroughly before using it. In that case, you unknowingly add the flavors and aromas of your cabinets to whatever you pour into them. Allow me to prove my point.

Grab two glasses from your kitchen cabinet, take a whiff and you will immediately see what I mean. Wash only one glass thoroughly with soap and water until it smells like fresh tap water. If the glass has been in the cabinet for a prolonged period, it might take as many as five washings to get the funk out. Make the extra effort to get the glass to a pristine state. Don’t worry about chlorinated water; the wine will pour right over it. And no, using wine instead of water doesn’t work! The sealants are “water soluble” and formulated to bond with water, not wine.

Next, grab a bottle of wine you know to heighten the drama, open your libation and pour about an inch of it into each glass. Swirl, take in the aromas and then taste. I just rocked your world, didn’t I?

The culprit is the micro-particles of the sealants. I’m not a scientist, but this is how it was explained: Wood breathes, as we already know. That’s why wine is aged in barrels, not to season with the wood, like adding salt or pepper to your food but to allow the wine to experience micro-oxidation. This mico-oxidation softens the tannins, making the wine less raspy and smoother on the palate.

The respiration inside your kitchen cabinets allows microparticles of the sealants to fall into your glasses. They stick to the surface like glue, causing the glass to smell like your kitchen cabinet and impact the flavor of the wine. Now your wine smells and tastes like the cabinet! Yuck and double yuck.

Try this experiment at home and report back. I already know how it will go, and you can thank me later.

Rule number two: expect a wine to be shy within 24 hours of a storm, rain or snow, or turbulent weather. Like Willard Scott, I can tell if we will get any precipitation within 24 hours just by tasting wine. I have fascinated multitudes with my accuracy; it’s no parlor trick.

When a storm front approaches, a wine will close up or shut down, making the wine “less fruity” and much less enjoyable. Luckily there is a 1/2 remedy; open a bottle of 14.5% plus alcohol, or better still, a sparkling wine. Those wines are less affected; they will still be shy, but if you’re having a dinner party before a storm, you have an alternative, albeit an imperfect one.

My business partner Shem Hassen and I were in Issy-Les-Moulineaux, a suburb of Paris, to attend a tasting of 140 wines — we only had that day. We began the tasting with the tenth wine; we looked at each other and asked ourselves, “when is it supposed to start raining?” So we had four hours to kill.

We walked into a nearby Armenian Cemetery, looked at the tombstones, and paid our respects until the rain started. When we returned to the tasting, the wines had opened and tasted as expected. True story.

Cheers,
Doug Rosen

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The Nose That Knows: Wine 101

This sponsored column is written by the team at Arrowine & Cheese (4508 Cherry Hill Road in Arlington). Sign up for the email newsletter and receive exclusive discounts and offers. Experience Arrowine’s Tastings & Events. Have a question? Email thenose@arrowine.com.

Few subjects provoke more angst than wine. For many, wine is a great mystery, a secret handshake, or a password. It doesn’t need to be.

My job with this bi-weekly column is to help you safely navigate the complex world of wine without intimidation or nonsense. You are in control.

If you take a moment and read my musings, hopefully you find them valuable, educational, practical and perhaps even entertaining. I will be trying to get you to engage and ask questions, make requests for future articles and reach out. I’m listening but know I’m an excruciatingly bad typist and have learned to use the fewest words possible for practicality’s sake.

Let me begin with a little about myself. I am 64 years old and have been in the wine biz since, and I hate to say it since 1977; I began my career in the very spot that Arrowine currently occupies. In those days, you “old-timers” out there might remember the “old” Cheese and Bottle.

I’m not just a fine wine retailer but also an importer within the confines of the laws of the State of Virginia. I have traveled extensively throughout France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, The New Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Israel, South Africa and Argentina in search of the best wines these places have to offer. I also hunt for “new-growers” whose work has yet to be discovered or who are not currently represented in Virginia or our region.

I proudly support Virginia’s Wine Industry. Did you know we are now the fifth largest producer of wine in the USA? Virginia Wine is no longer an oddity; we produce the best wine on the East Coast. And many Virginia wineries are “World Class!”

Doug Rosen of Arrowine with Gérard Boulay of tiny Village of Chavignol, in Sancerre. His family has been growing grapes there since 1380. (photo via Doug Rosen)

I have extensively traveled throughout Oregon. I’m long overdue for a California and Washington State road trip, but I have a store to run. Pre-COVID, I usually took six buying trips a year. That’s a lot of miles, moving daily, staying in small hotels with no elevator or A/C. And despite what people might think, crappy food. So I usually travel to the countryside, and there aren’t many resources in the middle of nowhere.

All that said, I wouldn’t change a thing. You need to go where the wine is! I’ve met many humble, hard-working families, men and women who are genuinely jack-of-all-trades; they grow grapes, transform the juice into something delicious, and then market it in many cases worldwide. They only get to practice their craft 40 or so times in a lifetime! So you have to be a quick study. How many occupations are this demanding?

I am the ambassador of these families. My job is to tell their stories and, when appropriate, convey how much risk there is at every step. A career in agriculture is like walking on a tightrope without a net. There is so much out of your control, precocious flowering and then a late frost that can wipe out your entire harvest, hail damage, too much rain or not enough, excessive cold or heat, insect infestations, wood diseases and the list goes on and on.

And then you have to ferment the juice and try to get it into the bottle without screwing it up. Sell it and hopefully get paid. Making wine from your own grapes is not for the faint of heart. Trust me!

Congratulations if you made it to the end of my ramblings, I have a secret to share with you. It is the one simple thing guaranteed to heighten your pleasure of drinking wine or anything else.

Never and I mean never, use glass without thoroughly washing with soap and water before using it! I’ll explain why in two weeks and give you a little experiment to perform at home.

Cheers,
Doug

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