Wine-Tasting Divas on the Art of Sipping

Divas Uncorked is a Boston-based wine-tasting club. Callie Crossley, a founding member of the group, offers tips on how to choose a wine and how to sip savvy.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Just ahead, a Memorial Day tribute to those who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. But first, Memorial Day is also celebrated as the unofficial start of summer. So we thought you, like us, may soon be getting your grill on. And if your guests are over 21, you might like to serve something a little more sophisticated than Kool-Aid and your grandma's sweet tea. Yes? Well, we have someone here to help you.

Callie Crossley is a founding member of Divas Uncorked, a wine-tasting club in Boston. She would like to help you become wine savvy, not wine snobby. Callie, welcome, diva.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Divas Uncorked): Hi. How are you?

MARTIN: Very well. When you first taste a wine, what are you looking for?

Ms. CROSSLEY: First you want to just look at the color and say is it a deep color? Is it light? And that sometimes will tell you about the age. If it's a, for example, if it's a white wine sometimes the deeper colors means that's it's a little bit older. It could also mean that that's just the variety of wine that it is.

Then when you smell it, that's the next thing you want to do. You want to just breathe in the aroma. That's where people get a little freaked out. They say, I don't smell the chocolate and the whatever. I don't know what people are talking about.

Well, just take a breath, and really breathe it in. And whatever you smell, you'll be amazed at what starts to come up when you're just concentrating on it. So that's what you're looking for. You want some aroma, so after you do the aroma, then you want to taste it. And after you have looked at it and smelled it, then the taste takes on a whole different dimension.

MARTIN: Let's say you're out to dinner and you want to order a bottle of wine for the table. What are some of the questions that you could ask the server?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, first, the server's is probably going to ask you what is it that you're ordering. And so let's say you're ordering fish. Traditionally, it's been white wine with fish, and red wine with meats. But all of those rules are broken now because there's so much different kind of wine out there, and people, their taste buds have expanded. So that's no longer the hard and fast rule.

But I will say that generally speaking the reason that people paired a white wine with fish was so that the white wine, generally lighter, would not overpower the fish. What you want is a pairing or a matching, something that enhances both the wine and the food. So what you're asking the server, you tell him I think I'm going to have chicken, and I might have chicken with a butter sauce, what do you have that I might enjoy?

You also want to ask the server about price too, and there is nothing wrong with doing it, because there's plenty of good wine that is not expensive. You know, I have some favorite wines that are just cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, and they're delicious. So…

MARTIN: And I may be revealing a little bit too much about myself here and my own anxieties. But let's say you haven't studied Portuguese or French and there's a name on the menu that you can't pronounce and you don't want to come across like a complete amateur. Have you come up with a slick way to get the name without, you know, looking like a dummy?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, you know, it's not so much the name. It's the taste that you're looking for. So say, you'll say to your server, I'm going to have chicken. He may say to you, or she may to you, well, are you, do you tend to like it a little bit sweeter, or a little bit drier? And you'll say, I really prefer medium or dry. And then they can say, okay, well, here are some. You don't have to pronounce them at all. Let the server pronounce it.

MARTIN: So we're heading into summer and I understand that you have picked out some different wines for us to try. So let's start with a Vinho Verde. And it looks like it's spelled verday(ph), but because it's a Portuguese wine it's pronounced verd(ph).

Ms. CROSSLEY: Exactly. And listen, I'm one of those people who has been mispronouncing it for a couple of years, but it's one of my favorite summer wines.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. CROSSLEY: It may be my favorite summer wine.

MARTIN: Okay. Let's have a little bit of a pour.

(Soundbite of liquid pouring)

MARTIN: Here we are. Cheers. Okay, now I'm swirling.

Ms. CROSSLEY: You're swirling. What do you see in the color?

MARTIN: Well, it's very light.

Ms. CROSSLEY: It's kind of greenish, right?

MARTIN: Yes.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Slightly greenish. Slightly greenish. Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay, now, I'm assessing the aroma. To be honest, Callie, it smells just like alcohol to me.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I bet you it has a little citrus-y smell.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. CROSSLEY: How about a little grapefruity.

MARTIN: Okay. Now, okay. Okay, now I see it.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: Now, should I have a little sip?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yes, have a little sip.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. CROSSLEY: It should be slightly fizzy.

MARTIN: It is, actually.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yes. I call this a full bubbly. It's kind of like a spritzer. It's grape. Remember, we just talked about cheap wines, and this one is cheap. Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap. Do you…

MARTIN: And what would you serve it with?

Ms. CROSSLEY: You can serve it with fruit salads, cold roasted chicken, crab cakes, and it's a good sipping wine. And it is cheap. If you are paying over $10 for this, and it should be actually way under 10, you have paid too much.

MARTIN: Oops. But moving on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Next we have a viognier, well…

Ms. CROSSLEY: Viognier is a extremely food-friendly wine. So I'm wondering if you get the peaches and the apricot. A little bit of honey might come through.

(Soundbite of coughing)

MARTIN: Excuse me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Sorry, Callie. I'm not quite there yet.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Don't take a big swig.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CROSSLEY: Don't take a big swig.

MARTIN: I'll take you're word for it.

Ms. CROSSLEY: It's a pretty bottle though.

MARTIN: Viognier, where does the name come from? I see that it's from a label that's an Australian wine. Where does the name come from?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Actually, the grape comes from then Rhone Valley in France. There's a lot made in tiny batches in California and, as you said, in Australia, because Australia makes a lot of wine in general.

MARTIN: Next you have a rose for - something to pour a little. And…

Ms. CROSSLEY: And let me just talk about Rose while you're pouring it.

MARTIN: What is rose from? It looks like it's white and red mixed.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yes, red grapes crushed and they let them linger a little bit in the juice to get the color; it's pretty. And this wine is dry, though, people tend, because it's a pink color, they tend to think it's sweet. And this is not to be confused with what is known is blush wines like white zinfandel. That's an entirely different genre that generally is sweet. But these are dry wines that are fabulous across the board in the summer because this is your barbecue chicken wine. Great, great, great.

MARTIN: And finally, you have a pinot noir. And here's another screw top. I'm going to have to get used to this, the screw top.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, yeah. Pinot noir is very popular now because of the movie "Sideways." It's a finicky grape to grow, so it's become more and more expensive. So it remains popular with a lot of Americans, but it is tending toward the pricier side. It's really tough to get an inexpensive pinot noir.

MARTIN: And I wouldn't have thought of a red as a summer wine. Just given what we think of as, you know, red for heavier meats and white as a kind of light and summer is so…

Ms. CROSSLEY: But remember we're moving away from that. There's so many that just work very well. This with salmon would just be delicious. Some grilled fish would be fabulous. Ham absolutely.

MARTIN: What am I smelling here? Now, I'm giving my…

Ms. CROSSLEY: Oh. What do you think?

MARTIN: It smells heavier. Sort of oaky?

Ms. CROSSLEY: It's spicy.

MARTIN: Spicy.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Spicy.

MARTIN: Spicy. I can see it.

Ms. CROSSLEY: A little raspberry, cherry.

MARTIN: A pretty color. Having a sip.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Good buffalo wings, too.

MARTIN: Okay, I smell something heavier, something spicy for the counteract. It would stand up against the spice. Okay, terrific.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Right. But it's not real heavy. It's some sort of a light to medium. Pinot noir comes from Burgundy region of France. You know, Burgundy is a heavy red wine, so this is a much lighter. And this should be served slightly chilled, by the way.

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Most people don't know that. You can put a little slight chill on this red wine - not cold, slight chill.

MARTIN: Callie, you are dropping all kinds of knowledge on us today because I did not know that one ever chilled a red wine.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Absolutely. Sometimes we serve our reds too warm and our whites too cold. See if you do bone-chilling cold on any of these whites that we've talked about, you won't get the essence of it, it will be too cold and you won't be able to pick out the aromas. Sometimes you just let it slightly warm up and you will be amazed at the difference.

MARTIN: If you are going to plan a wine tasting for friends, something like we've just done here, how many wines should you try? You've given us four, is that the right number?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Oh no. This is just to help you go across the board. I'd probably do maybe just two, really, just to start off. Just a good red and a good white, the same kind of wine from different vendors perhaps. So maybe you have two or three pinot noirs and then maybe you have two or three Vinho Verdes.

MARTIN: So you would just suggest focusing on the same region or the same varietal, as you would say?

Ms. CROSSLEY: I would suggest a focus. However you want to focus, focus so that it allows people to really get a chance to try the wine, to taste it, to get comfortable with it and to start being able to really smell it and taste it and appreciate it through all of the senses, and most importantly to enjoy it with the food.

MARTIN: And finally, Callie, how do you drink this much wine in one evening and remain socially responsible?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, first of all, we're not guzzling. If you go to a restaurant, they're usually pouring way too much in your glass and most people are going to drink it. Why? Because you paid for it. I'm not leaving that here, I paid for it. But it's way too much. And you must drink a lot of water. You must hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. And then you can appreciate all the flavors, it will cleanse your palate, you'll be able to enjoy the food, and you don't get wasted.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Because that's not the point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Callie Crossley, divas uncorked. Thank you so much.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Thank you.

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