She'll taste, too, thanks

Published8/13/2008 12:04 AM

Q. At a restaurant recently, we both studied the wine list and I suggested a Pinot Noir. We both discussed our choice with the waiter. When he brought the wine to the table, the waiter then poured some wine into my husband's glass. While Larry was busy swirling and sniffing and tasting, he missed the fact that I was glaring at him from across the table. I have now asked him to please pass the glass to me after he has tasted the wine so that I, too, can taste it before nodding approval to the waiter. This is at least to open the eyes of the otherwise intelligent and charming waiters that perhaps a woman has something to contribute to this event.

Marion Hamermesh, Wilmington, Del.


A. In our experience, sommeliers and waiters tend to pour the taste for whoever ordered the wine, which makes sense. We both look at the wine list (we routinely ask for a second copy - yes, for Dottie, who feels your pain) and discuss the wines, but John usually actually orders the wine (it's habit after 35 years) and so he is generally offered the taste.

At informal places with informal wine, we really don't care. But at better places where we order finer wines, we prefer to have Dottie taste because she has the better palate. So as the sommelier approaches, we mention that she's the one who tastes the wine. We're always pleased when the waiter or sommelier arrives with the bottle and, without prompting, asks, "Who would like to taste?" which indicates that he or she noticed that we're equal partners in the process, as the Hamermeshes were. Sometimes astute waiters pour us both tastes. And we're even more charmed when the waiter simply chooses to pour for Dottie. This happens routinely at Indian restaurants; we have no idea why.

In any event, if Dottie ordered the wine and the sommelier, without asking, poured only for John, yes, we'd also be annoyed and Dottie, certainly, would have to be restrained. But it's easy enough, before the pour, for your husband just to smile and say, "My wife should taste. She has the palate." That's what John says.

Q. With your words of advice to try the unfamiliar and exotic repeating in my head, I picked up an $8 bottle of unfamiliar wine that was on sale. I asked the shop manager what she thought of it and she recommended it, saying that it was great in the summer with light dishes. Was she right! It's a Picpoul de Pinet. I was wondering if you have had the pleasure and whether it was a pleasure for you also.

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Marlane Juran, Morgantown, W.Va.

A. It's funny you should ask because Picpoul has become something of an inside joke at our little Wine Department during the past few months. Picpoul is a grape and Picpoul de Pinet is a specific wine from the Coteaux de Languedoc region of southern France (it's one of the few formal areas named after a grape, by the way). Annual production is about 500,000 cases from about 3,200 acres and some of the wines come in a tall, pretty bottle called a Neptune, which has the Languedoc cross molded into the glass.

As we've often said, the selection of interesting wines from throughout the world is burgeoning at wine shops everywhere. A while back, we noticed a Picpoul at a store and we talked about how this was an example that just about everything is available these days. Then we saw another, and another. It became, for us, a cute little - petite - example of a very big trend.

Then we were in London this summer and, at a fish restaurant called Fish Works, saw a Picpoul de Pinet on the list, which, of course, we ordered. It's made for seafood - crisp, lemony and clean, with ripe apples, some pear, maybe a touch of honey and minerals on the finish. When we got back, we bought several for a little tasting and found them consistently good - especially for about $10 to $15. We especially liked Chateau Font-Mars ($11) and La Chapelle de la Bastide ($10), both from 2007.

They're the kind of wines we'd keep in the refrigerator at all times to sip when we got home on a hot day - refreshing and mouth-watering. Heaven knows you're not likely to walk into your corner wine store and see a Picpoul today, but one of these days you will see one, and we hope it makes you smile, too.


Q. I was hoping you might be able to recommend a good nonalcoholic wine that my pregnant wife could enjoy. We've tried a couple of the brands readily available in most liquor stores but have been left underwhelmed.

Paul Cummins, Washington

A. We are often asked this question. As a result, we have tasted, over many years, every brand of nonalcoholic wine we've seen and we're sorry to report that we've never had one we'd recommend. We'll keep trying them. While this doesn't help your wife, keep in mind that, for yourself, there are more and more fine wines available in half bottles.

And there's a cute, nonalcoholic "wine soda" available in some places called Vignette that comes in three types: Chardonnay, rosé and Pinot Noir. The producer says it's "sweetened with the juice of California varietal wine grapes," made from very sweet concentrate. It's pleasant and fun and, while certainly nothing like wine, will at least allow your wife to dream about the real thing. (We prefer the Pinot.)

Meantime, it might be fun for you and your wife to plan a special bottle of wine for that time when she can drink wine again. In our case, it was a 1947 Burgundy that we can still taste almost two decades after Media's miraculous birth.

Dorothy J. Gaiter andJohn Brecher write Tastings wine column for The Wall Street Journal. Melanie Grayce West contributed to this column. Contact them at

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