By Lora Abernathy
PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — There is more to wine than just drinking it.
“The history behind it is so fascinating,” said Dr. George F. White, a local wine enthusiast. “You can specialize in the ancient history of it … as well as the technique of tasting and the whole conversation about it.”
And, he said, “it’s quite healthy.”
The semi-retired Portsmouth doctor said he first became interested in wine because of a girl.
“At the end of college, there was a young girl I wanted a date with and, after graduation, we went to dinner,” he recalled. “She asked if I liked wine and I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I really love wine,’ and she asked, ‘What are the five greatest wines in the world?’ I couldn’t answer her. That was our last date.”
While serving in the Navy in San Diego after finishing medical school, he traveled to wine country, in northern California, and began taking lessons about the beverage that had cost him that second date many years ago.
That second date never coming to fruition was a good thing. He met his future wife, Sandra, while completing his residency at The Ohio State University. From there, a general interest turned into a serious pursuit and understanding of the beverage — and a life-long love of it.
He has an advanced certification in wine, and has passed four of six exams for a diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in London. Two more to go, he said.
He has also taken several wine courses online and in person at the University of Davis, school of enology, and in Avignon and Bordeaux, France.
In the 1980s, he joined the Bacchus Wine Society in Cincinnati, and he began speaking there about wines. He also built a cellar in his home to store and collect the bottles. At the height of his collection, he had approximately 1,500 bottles. He quit buying wine recently and sold 800-900 bottles at auction last year.
The collection of wine led to an interest in donating bottles of it for charity events within the community.
And that’s where his wife, who also loves wine, comes in.
“Sandy has a much better palette than I do,” White said. If she says, “George, it isn’t any good,” despite have a good reputation or coming from a good year, they won’t donate it.
For individuals interested in learning more about wine, White offered his top seven tips for beginners:
1) All wine is not the same. It’s all alcohol, but not the same.
2) Don’t buy the cheapest wine possible to think you’re getting a good deal.
3) Study wines, how they’re made and their qualities. Then understand the first one you taste might taste awful, but there are hundreds and hundreds to try.
4) Take a little tasting class. The ones held at stores, though, give you the wines they have to sell.
5) You have to be determined that you want to learn to drink it. You can have it with dinner, cocktails or dessert. Most people start out with something sweet, because Americans have a sweet palette, and then switch into things that are dry, meaning without a lot of sugar. Then they learn to mix it with food which makes it more exciting.
6) After you find ones that you like, learn how to store them. A wine cooler is inexpensive and a great way to keep the beverage.
7) Learn about vintage, which means the year. You can have the same wine from two different years and they can taste totally different. One could be terrible and one great; it depends on the season.
He also said a common mistake beginners make is tasting too many at once and swallowing when tasting.
“The last one will always tastes better than the first,” he said with a chuckle.
Other helpful hints from Dr. White
How to taste wine
Swirl the wine in your glass so it releases its aroma. Smell the wine. Swish it in your mouth, spit it back out and breathe it in. The odors go back up the throat to the brain. Wine is not tasted in your mouth.
What type of glass to use
Keep it simple. You want a glass that will hold five ounces. It should be shaped so it can be swirled and so that the bowl part is a little bit broader than the area out of which you drink. People have made a fortune off of saying, “Drink a syrah out of this, a Bordeaux out of that.” I fell into that many years ago. I think it’s a bunch of bunk.
How to store it
You have to have a cool place. In basements, there’s usually a corner that’s cool, but to store and keep very long, it must be 60 degrees or cooler and dark. You can keep it in the fridge if you want, as long as it isn’t an expensive bottle. A mini wine cooler, though, doesn’t cost that much, and is recommended.
How to pair with food
Keep it traditional. The red wines go with meat better because the meat softens the tannins in the wine so it makes it milder. You can have a drink of red wine by itself and then have it with steak and it will taste much milder. White wines do go better with fish and chicken, because red wines have lots of tannins and they don’t go with those foods. The pinot noir, which is a milder red with high acidity, goes with salmon and veal. It’s a matter of trying to match what the wine has in it that amplifies the taste of what you’re eating.
Lora is the editor of Salt magazine. Originally from West Virginia and a proud Marshall University alumna, she lives in Hillsboro, Ohio, with her husband, Gary, is mom to a Great Dane and Yellow Lab, and trains and competes in triathlons. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @AbernathyLora.