Vilma Mazaite is the Assistant Director of Food and Beverage at the famous Little Nell hotel in Aspen, Colorado. She has a diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, has been awarded the Advanced Sommelier title and is on her way to becoming the Master Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. In this first part of a three part series, transcribed from an interview by our reviewer Vilma Darling, Vilma shares some of her knowledge with Bon Vivant.
Part 1: Vilma’s Wine Drinking Tips
1. Drink Champagne from a White Wine Glass
Champagne is my favourite wine; unfortunately a lot of people forget that champagne is actually a wine and not just some fizzy drink to make a toast with. I love to serve champagne in a white wine glass – even in the Champagne area of France and some of the best restaurants, it isn’t served in a flute. Champagne is one the finest wines in the world and can be enjoyed as such throughout the meal. The wider wine glass softens the bubbles, so you get a better taste of flavours.
Don’t save Champagne for special occasions or celebrations only. It has the highest acidity of all white wines and pairs well with food. Champagne has the combination of breadness, yeast and creaminess and is great with seafood, especially oysters. Certain Champagnes such as Krug, Bollinger and Vilmart are aged in oak, so they develop rich and creamy characteristics and can withstand any type of dish.
It is, however, worth maintaining tradition for toasts – then you can drink from a flute to help the Champagne to stay fizzy, which is great for surviving long speeches!
2. Buy ‘Grower Champagne’
The big champagne houses such as Veuve Clicquot or Moet & Chandon mass produce champagne and make millions of bottles. They do not grow enough grapes to satisfy the demand and have to buy them from the whole Champagne region. The NM letters (Négociant-Manipulant) on the label will tell you that the Champagne house sources the majority of their grapes.
I prefer to drink the ‘grower champagne’ – the Champagne produced by wine makers who grow their own grapes instead of selling them to big houses.
The initials RM (meaning Récoltant-Manipulant) mean that the champagne you bought or ordered was made by growers under their own label. RM champagnes are incredible and exclusive, but often cost less than the famous names.
3. Decant White & Red Wine
Decant old wine to help remove the sediments or if you want to achieve the right temperature or soften the acidity and tannins.
Old wine often has dead yeast or dead protein cells that are totally harmless, but might not be pleasant, on the bottom of your glass. Even white wine has crystals, which can actually be a good thing because the wine wasn’t stabilised with many chemicals or filtered too much and is therefore more natural.
Wine might be too cold when brought straight from the cellar, so decant to achieve the appropriate temperature.
Decant white and red wine to soften the acidity. I decant young white Burgundy wines because the air softens not only the flavour, but it helps to warm the wine up so you can truly enjoy the bouquet. Red Burgundy is served in big bowl glasses because of the same need for air, but some bottles could be far too elegant for decanting; it totally depends on the year or producer.
Red wines with high tannins and high acidity such as Cabernet, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo taste much better decanted.
4. Do Not Hesitate to Refuse Bad Wine in Restaurants
Wine can be spoilt when corked or oxidised. If you’ve never tried bad wine you probably wouldn’t know how horrible it tastes. Wine can be corked when bacteria gets into the cork – it will smell of mold and must.
Wine can get oxidised when left in the light or in a room with temperature variations, because it has to be kept in a stable climate. The air can also get through the cork and oxidise the wine. It will taste like vinegar and will smell of cider rather than wine.
You should return the bad wine, because drinking it would do no justice to the restaurant or the wine label. It’s impossible to enjoy corked or oxidized wine and you will never order the same bottle again.
5. Investigate the Lesser-Known Regions
If you want to find great wines at a good price, look into less famous areas. Let’s say, the ten Cru Beaujolais villages in France. I absolutely love one of the producers Marcel Lapierre from Morgon. Beaujolais have had a bad reputation for many years for making bubble gum like wines, but after you try such producers as Marcel Lapierre, it will become your favourite, I have no doubt.
There are other lesser-known areas in the expensive Burgundy region, such as Giverny, Mercurey or Macon. These places are off the beaten path but you may well be surprised by both the quality and the value of the wines.
Famous producers always make village wines or second label wines, so if you know a good producer, buy their second label wines if you want to save money. For example, Leroy which is a big famous Burgundy name, makes a regular, but great, Bourgogne. There is the Vezelay village next to the famous Chablis region in France where wine makers use the same grape variety (Chardonnay), but sell for much less. Try Domaine de la Cadette wines and you can thank me later!
I love Italy because it is the source of good wines that aren’t expensive at all. There are still lots of small areas that you can discover, such as the Marche region; also Puglia, Campania or Sicily. The grapes are often indigenous to that area and you might not have heard of them.
Spain also holds good value for money. I’ve recently fallen in love with Spanish whites, such as Albarino or Verdejo. Txakoli from the Basque country is unbelievable too – you almost never describe wine as salty, but Txakoli is a bit salty because the grapes grow so close to the ocean.
Of course, you might make a mistake and you’ll never buy that wine again, so play with small amounts of money. I never buy expensive wine, but always investigate areas that are close to famous wine producers, but nowhere near close to their prices. Open a map and look for regions that you haven’t come across before – you might be surprised.
6. Invest in Burgundy
If you want to invest in wine, buy only big names. The best ones come from Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. Barbaresco and Barolo in Italy can sometimes be good for investing, but Bordeaux wines will probably bring the best returns.
For further information on Vilma Mazaite, please click here to visit her blog.