Recording a Test Kitchen Radio segment with host Christopher Kimball

Every retail wine shop worth its salt ought to be part clinic, a place where problems can be addressed and resolved. In the wine corner at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge where I work, for example, we spend time showing folks how to use a waiter’s corkscrew to open a bottle of wine safely (and with a certain panache) and demonstrate how to perform a hard decant (a technique that can bring even the most recalcitrant wines to heel). We also field the usual “what wine do I drink with swordfish?” kind of queries.

Sometimes issues arise that really do make us feel like clinicians. I’m thinking of folks who tell us that they either have to carefully restrict their intake of red wine or have given it up all together. I’m not a doctor and don’t try to play one, but in a case like this, I will often ask for some details on the kind of red wine they typically consume.

Before I go further, I should explain that not all red wines are built the same way because they don’t all have the same phenolic load. Let’s unpack this.

Phenolics are a large class of chemical compounds found in all wines but in varying abundance in red wine. A shorthand way of describing them is to say that they’re the things that make red wine red. In other words, phenolics are naturally occurring compounds that add the body, texture (tannin), and color (pigment) that lend red wine its character.

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