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Oh to be a Sommelier

Oh to be a SommelierIt's that time of the year again when the annual wine harvest is in full swing; wine growers are nervously waiting in suspense, measuring the quantities and quality of this year's harvest, and yes my mind is teeming with romantic thoughts of travelling the country's wine regions in search of the perfect wine.

Oh to be a Sommelier; dedicated to the hedonistic enjoyment of fine wine. Yet life as a Sommelier is not all about pure indulgence. Sommeliers are trained and knowledgeable wine professionals. Their principal responsibilities lie in the area of procurement, storage, and rotation of a wine cellar; however their occupation also extends to the development of wine lists, delivery of wine service and training for the other restaurant staff. Working along with the culinary team, they pair and/or suggest wines that will best complement each particular food menu item and greatly add to the operation and reputation of the finest restaurants worldwide.

Today there are various levels of education and awards designed to nurture the passion and dedication of Australia's aspiring Sommeliers but here are some basic guidelines to get you started:

1. A creative wine pairing should feel like a discovery. The thrill is in finding something new. Think about which flavours complement or contrast with one another. There are no rules! Forget the old “red with meat, white with fish”, it's completely irrelevant. Pairing is all about balance, matching the size and weight of wine with the richness and intensity of the food, but don't try so hard. Pair the wine with your guests first.

2. When you pair wines and foods,it's always in the sauce. In other words, it's not the what, it's the how. The easy recommendation is to serve light wines with light foods, heavy wines with full-bodied foods.

3. Wine likes to be kept cool, quiet, and in the dark. As a rule it's best to store wine at a constant temperature ofaround 15°c. Be sure too to always store wine bottles on their side so the corkstays moist. The exception to this rule is those wines sealed with a Stelvin enclosure (screw cap). Wine sealed with these caps can be stored either way.

4. When it comes to serving temperatures, most people expect white wines to be refrigerator temperature and for red wines to be served at room temperature. That's unfortunate. If you drink wine that's too warm or too cold you lose all the fruit flavours and the complexities of the wine. An easy rule of thumb is to place the red wine in the refrigerator a half hour before you're going to serve it. And take the white wine out of the refrigerator a half hour before you're serving it.

5. The battle continues to rage between those who believe in decanting (aerating) all wines before they're drunk and those who believe that young wines should be decanted, while older wines should be left alone. There is no argument however that big, young, full-bodied beauties definitely benefit from the oxygenation that decanting provides.

6. When tasting wine, often you will see people swirl wine in a glass before smelling it. A hearty swirl can in fact blow subtle problems off the nose and have them land right on your palate when you take the obligatory sip. However strong or subtle the problem, you want to avoid tasting it. Instead of swirling, simply lift the glass to your nose and take a sniff. If it smells bad you will know it and you will not want to taste that smell!

Above all remember to have fun. You don't have to spend a lot of money. You can find good, drinkable wines in any price range. Expensive does not always mean better. Try something new. So many people are stuck in a rut drinking their usual Chardonnay or Merlot. There are so many wines to taste and regions to explore.

How do you know when you're onto a good wine? Simple! When you first approach a wine, ask yourself: “is this a good wine?” And then at the end, again: “is this a good wine?'

Make the opinion your own!

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