Tasting with Intention: A How-To Guide to Enjoying Wine

By Brittany Galbraith, sommelier, Dedalus Wine Bar, Burlington, Vermont

DS4A0804Technique: The 5 S’s

If you’re new to wine tasting, use this popular, easy-to-follow technique to help you remember the main points: see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor.

Start by pouring about two ounces of wine into a clean wine glass.

*Pro-tip: After pouring, quickly twist the bottle clockwise just before lifting the bottle to catch any drips.

Step 1: See

How: Hold the glass by the stem. Tilt your glass against a white napkin or tablecloth. Check for sediment, observe the richness of the color of the wine and note the streams of liquid moving down the glass, known as legs.

Legs may give clues to the alcohol and sugar content of the wine. Generally speaking, the faster-moving and skinny legs may indicate the wine is light-bodied with lower amounts of alcohol. Sluggish and wider legs may reveal a fuller-bodied and higher-alcohol wine.

Step 2: Swirl

How: Place the glass on a flat surface. Hold the glass by the stem and make quick circular motions for several seconds. If you’re moving the glass properly, this should create a whirlpool-like motion in the glass.

Essentially, the intention behind swirling is to intensify aroma.

Step 3: Smell

How: Tilt the glass toward you, keep your gaze downward and take a series of short sniffs.

If you have difficulty identifying specific aromas, start with broad categories, like “fruit,” and narrow to specifics. For example: “fruit” evolves to “citrus fruits,” which leads to grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange and so on. Move on to other broad categories, such as DS4A3639floral, vegetal, earth and wood. This process is a bit like creating an aroma checklist. Don’t search for aromas that aren’t there. If it doesn’t come to you in a few seconds, move on.

Picking up subtleties takes time. Practice by tasting often and smelling everything from produce at the farmers market to taking notice of aromas while cooking.

Step 4: Sip

How: Take a small sip of wine and move it around your mouth. Then, gently place your upper teeth against your lower lip, and suck air into your mouth. This will make a gargling noise as wine and air swirl together.

Just like swirling the glass, this technique, called aspirating, forces air to charge the wine. This motion helps carry aromas to the back of your mouth, where you can pick up additional aroma and nuances.

In addition to aroma and flavor, we can evaluate other important aspects of the wine:

Acidity causes mouth-watering and a tingling sensation at the sides of the mouth. High-acid wines may be described as juicy, crisp and energetic.

Tannins dry out the palate. Tannins create a mouth-feel that may feel gritty against the gums and roof of the mouth.

Alcohol is felt as heat at the back of the throat and in the chest. If this is out of balance, you might describe the wine as tasting “hot.”

Sweetness, or dryness, is determined by how much residual sugar is in the wine. Sweeter wines will linger on the tongue.

Body refers to the weight we feel on our tongue. It’s easy to compare the body of wine to the weight of milk: comparing skim milk to light-bodied wines, whole milk to medium-bodied wines, and cream to richer, full-bodied wines.

All of these components are related to the grape varietal, where and how the grape was grown as well as how the wine was made.

Step 5: Savor

Ask: Do you like this wine? Is the wine balanced: do all of the components work together or does one stick out from the others? Do the flavors of the wine linger on your tongue or do they fade quickly?

Food Loves Wine: Guidelines for Food-and-Wine Pairings

Acidity Loves Acidity: Foods high in acid, like citrus fruits and tomato-based sauces, need wines with equal or greater amounts of acidity. If the food is more acidic than the wine, the wine may appear flabby or lack-luster.

Like: Goat cheese with dry rosé or citrus salad with sauvignon blanc

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Fat Loves Acidity: Fatty and oily foods work well with higher-acid white and red wines. The mouth-watering acidity cuts through rich foods. These wines will act as a palate cleanser, getting you ready for the next bite.

Like: Bacon-wrapped pork loin with late harvest Riesling or grilled salmon with pinot noir

Fat Loves Tannin: Foods rich in fat and protein complement wines with tannin. If you have ever added cream to tea, you’ve experienced this pairing. The protein in the milk-product binds to the tannin in the tea, which softens the bitterness of the tea.

Like: Grilled steak skewers with Shiraz or burgers with Côte-du-Rhone

Heat Loves Sweet: If you like a bit of spice in your food, choose a wine with some residual sugar and low tannin. Stay away from wines with a high-alcohol content and bubbles; these wines will accentuate the heat of the spice causing a burning and bitter sensation.

Salt Loves…Wine: Salt has the power to soften acidity and bitterness as well as DS4A3410accentuate fruitiness and body of the wine.

Like: Popcorn and Champagne — you won’t regret it!

Sweet Loves Sweet: Sweetness in food can make a dry wine seem more astringent, heighten the burning effect of alcohol and alter our perception of fruitiness in the wine. When pairing, the wine should be as sweet or sweeter than the food.

What Grows Together Goes Together: Regional cuisine and local wine tend to complement each other. This is the magic behind oysters and citrus and saline-driven Muscadet, smoked meats and juicy Alsace Pinot Gris, and truffle-scented pizza and earthy Barolo.

Be aware of the intensity of flavor and aromatics in the food. Choose to match this intensity or have fun by following the rule: opposites attract.

Like: Salad Niçoise with rosé from Provence or grilled chicken with Cru Beaujolais, like Fleurie or Morgon.


Brittany Galbraith is a certified sommelier and wine educator at Dedalus Wine Shop, Market & Wine Bar in Burlington, Vermont. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Food Anthropology and is currently working on the WSET Level 4 Diploma.








All Aboard the Original Freedom Train

8 Oyster Car

By Ana Kinkaid

In the 1890’s, America’s newspapers largely printed stories that only provided coverage about the activities of whites. Occasionally, a random story would appear that mentioned the experience of blacks and immigrants, but only to sensationalize and exaggerate with tales of prison riots or immigrant thefts or murder.

The result of such biased coverage was to create an atmosphere of distrust and fear. People who spoke a different language or came from a different culture or religion were to be seen as harmful and not really Americans.

2 Robert Abbott

Robert Abbott

But one man saw the world differently. His name was Robert Abbott and he lived in Chicago. Through his efforts, America would change forever with a little help from trains and from oysters.

Abbott was born in 1870 to freed slave parents on St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia, home to the Gullah people, an African-descended ethnic group that had continued stronger ties to their original African tribal heritage.

Abbott’s father died when he was a small child and his mother remarried John Sengstacke. His new stepfather’s parents had been a German sea captain and a woman named Tama, a rescued slave from West Africa, whom he married.

With such a background, it is not unusual that young Robert Abbott had a worldview broader than most. From 1892 to 1896 he studied the printing trade at Hampton Institute, a historical black college in Virginia.

Next he trained as a lawyer in Chicago and tried to set up a law practice in the South, but without success. By this time, the Jim Crow laws were in full force, restricting the rights of blacks and immigrants in every sector of life, including the right of a qualified black American to practice law.

Disappointed, he returned to Chicago to look for another avenue to effect change. With the help of an understanding landlady who lent him a spare room, he started a newspaper in 1905 with the modern equivalency of $7 that would soon grow to become the nation’s largest black newspaper, The Chicago Defender.

5 Chicago Defender Masthead

The masthead of The Chicago Defender

In that newspaper he wrote that truth often is like a pearl, hard and gritty at first, and difficult to face. But if one shines the light of honesty upon it, it will heal and come to glisten in the sun like a pearl. And then no one has to be afraid to speak or write the truth.

7 Pullman Porter with Oysters on Table

An ad featuring a Pullman Porter.

Because Chicago was the hub of the nation’s transportation system, he encouraged the oppressed Southern blacks to come North and seek a better life. The resulting mass black movement North is known as the Great Migration. Influenced by his stories of more humane conditions, thousands came North, fleeing the injustice of the post-Civil War laws, sometimes as many as 5,000 in a week to Chicago alone.

All of these people needed jobs. One of the most sought after jobs was as a Pullman Porter on the sleeper/dinner trains that criss-crossed the nation through Chicago because the they featured the bright blue and silver oyster cars and the tips were better because the celebrities preferred these trains.

Designed by A. E. Stillman, these unique rail cars carried fresh oysters from both coasts and the Gulf to diners in the Mideast. Eight cool salt water tanks hidden deep inside ensured the shellfish arrived in the very best condition.

In the dining cars attached to the trains, fresh savory oysters, served in such countless variations as Oysters a la Poulette, were always popular on the menus from which millionaires and movie stars dined.

But these trains carried more than oysters. The brave porters aboard these special trains often carried Abbott’s newspaper hidden in their suitcases to the many readers across the nation forbidden in the South to own or even read the publication.

These same porters would return from the South with endless hard-to-face but fact-filled stories about discrimination, lynchings, unfair wages and unequal education — all to appear weekly in The Chicago Defender Newspaper when no one else dared write about such injustices.

This little known story is truly part of our American culinary history, not to be forgotten. It’s a story about a tenacious Chicago newspaper editor, a courageous group of Pullman Porters and some longed-for oysters aboard a train that changed a nation — asking it, like Abbott’s original imagery, to face the ugly truth of discrimination and heal it, until like a pearl, the nation shined bright and free.

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If you enjoy learning about culinary history and the chefs who shaped America, you can catch Ana Kinkaid at Cook. Craft. Create. ACF National Convention & Show in Orlando, Florida, July 9-13. She’ll be presenting on chefs and culinary history. For a taste of her presentation, check out her blog post on Why Chefs Wear White (and sometimes color too).

Kinkaid, Ana

Ana Kinkaid brings 25 years’ experience in the hospitality industry to her writing. As a world traveler, nothing delights her more than discovering an innovative restaurant or a unique ingredient.  Ana is a consultant to leading food companies and also speaks at major culinary conferences, often linking past culinary traditions to current and future trends. Her areas of expertise include culinary history, ethnic foods, terroir, wines and cocktails, as well as sustainable development within the food industry.

Meet the Oyster King of New York City

By Ana Kinkaid

The enduring values of our country can be found in the history of American cuisine. No story better demonstrates that fact than the life of Thomas Downing, New York’s legendary Oyster King.

Born in 1791 to freed blacks in Virginia, he grew up near the Methodist meeting house where his parents worked as caretakers. Yet his heart belonged not to the church steeple but to the nearby seashore. There from an early age he raked oysters and dug for clams among the chattering seagulls.

3 Map of New York City.jpeg

As a young man he fought bravely against the invading British in the War of 1812 before settling in Philadelphia, where he met his wife. In 1819 he and his young bride moved to New York City and purchased a small oyster cart on Staten Island.

New York was an ideal location for his new business venture. At the time, the large majority of men working as registered oystermen were freed blacks. Because racial discrimination seemed to matter less on the nearby stormy waterways, of the 27 oystermen listed in the New York City Labor Directory, at least 16 were freed black Americans.

4 Oyster Cart

The same was true of the City’s many oyster bars. They too were largely owned and operated by freed blacks, who in 1821 were granted with additional restrictions the right to vote and own businesses, a decision sadly reversed in 1857 by the repressive Dred Scott Decision.

5 Oyster Harvesting.jpeg

Downing worked hard, very hard. He first bought a boat and would row out in the dead of night to bargain with the returning watermen in order to buy their best oysters before they could be auctioned off to the other oystermen waiting on the City’s docks.

He combined his “sea bought” oysters with premium oysters harvested from the rich shellfish flats on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River to establish a reputation among buyers as a man who provided only “superior oysters”.

Soon his rolling cart business expanded to a full oyster house and then a catering service. To offer both services simultaneously was unique for the time.

His oyster house, strategically located on the corner of Broad and Wall Street, close to the City’s important center of commerce, which included the banks, the Customs House, the Merchants’ Exchange and department stores, was actually a full restaurant, one any chef today could be proud of.

7 Downing Newspaper Ad.jpeg

Its lush décor was opulent and filled with soft Persian carpets, rich damask curtains, gold-leaf carvings, sparkling chandeliers and mirrored hallways. As a result, his was the only oyster house that attracted the powerful and elite of New York’s white society. Tables were regularly filled by the City’s leading politicians, rich businessmen, intellectuals and foreign dignitaries, as well as women in the company of their husbands or suitable chaperons.

Downing’s catering services were equally sought after. Indeed, when the famed English writer Charles Dickens came to New York in 1842, Downing was chosen to cater the grand honorary “Boz Ball” with a guest list boasting of 3,000 guests!

If one was ever to doubt the professionalism of the business he built, consider the list of the items he provided to guests on that memorable night:

50,000 oysters

10,000 sandwiches

40 hams

76 tongues

50 rounds of beef

50 jellied turkeys

50 pairs of chicken

25 ducks

2,000 mutton chops

Yet Downing’s enduring fame does not rest just on his skills as a business man. Instead of hoarding his wealth, he chose to share and to support the urgent social problems of his day including voting rights for all, equal access to education and complete rights for women.

But he did far more than just support these causes financially. For while New York’s elite dined upstairs, he welcomed fleeing slaves into his restaurant’s basement, which was a secret stop on the Underground Railroad. Once rested and fed, he helped hundreds to reach Canada where they would be free from the fear of recapture.

He also employed black musicians, laying the groundwork for the great jazz clubs to come later in Harlem that would electrify the music world. As his catering business flourished he actively worked to see that equal educational opportunities were available to all regardless of race or national origin. As a self-made man, he understood the vital value of education in order to achieve success.

His skill in business and his commitment to community were so esteemed that when he died in 1866 the New York City Chamber of Commerce closed so that they and the other leading members of business, religious and social communities could attend his funeral.

11 Downing Funeral

Truly, Downing was more than just someone who sold shellfish. He was, instead, an outstanding example of what is best in the hospitality industry. He chose to take oysters and clams and used them to change the world into a better, more just environment for others.

Kinkaid, Ana
Ana Kinkaid brings 25 years’ experience in the hospitality industry to her writing. As a world traveler, nothing delights her more than discovering an innovative restaurant or a unique ingredient.  Ana is a consultant to leading food companies and also speaks at major culinary conferences, often linking past culinary traditions to current and future trends. Her areas of expertise include culinary history, ethnic foods, terroir, wines and cocktails, as well as sustainable development within the food industry.