Saturday, February 27, 2010

Weekend Cooking: "The Red and The White" by Calvin Trillin


Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button, head over to Beth Fish Reads, and link up anytime over the weekend.

This weekend I am returning to Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. Calvin Trillin's 2002 essay "The Red and The White" deals, of course, with wine. In it, he addresses the question of whether experienced wine drinkers, in the absence of color and temperature cues, can actually tell the difference between red and white wines.

From the outset, Trillin emphasized his lack of sophistication in matters of the vine:
"...when I'm trying to select a bottle of wine from a liquor store I'm strongly influenced by the picture on the label. (I like a nice mountain, preferably in the middle distance.)"

I laughed out loud when he recounted an experience at a "barrel tasting" held at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York:
"Displaying manners that I thought would have made my mother proud, I drank what was placed before me - not noticing, as I glanced around to see whether more food was ever going to appear, that everyone else was just sipping. I have since heard two or three versions of what transpired that evening, but they do not differ in whether or not I fell asleep at the table."

He also observes "... wine is way beyond any other subject in inspiring in the American layman an urge to refute the notion of expertise. (Modern art must come in second)."

Trillin attempts to get to the bottom of the question by investigating a famed study from University of California at Davis. He learned instead that the study had never been conducted and was, actually, little more than urban myth. UC Davis does, however, give a test at the end of a class it offers. Students try to distinguish between varietals using taste and, especially, smell. (Trillin flunked a 2 glass red-white test on the spot.)

Still curious, he approached a Napa Valley wine-making friend and proposed to round up a small group of "wine people" for the red-white test. An informal test was given, using methods suggested by the UC Davis professor... all wines at the same temperature, black glasses, some even wearing sunglasses!

And the result of this unscientific test? When there is no deliberate effort to fool the tasters, experienced wine drinkers could distinguish between red and white wines 70% of the time.

So tell me... will you be conducting your own temperature-controlled, black glass wine-tasting this weekend? I'm thinking it might be fun. Cheers!

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19 comments:

  1. That does sound like a lot of fun! I know so little about wine and rarely drink it so I'd probably fail this one.

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  2. I love Calvin Trillin. He's my kind of eater. I do not know wines either but I love to do wine-tastings.

    On a trip last summer we collected local wines from various states. We are planning a wine tasting party with family and friends in California Wine Country when the weather is nicer. We're going to see how these other wines compare to the California wines. I don't think we'll do any fancy experiments. Just taste.

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  3. oh my goodness - I love the quotes you selected! I am still chuckling over the manners comment :)

    I have not read anything by Trillin, but I will be keeping my eyes open now.

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  4. I does sound fun. Don't you just love Calvin Trillin?? I need to track down more of his essays.

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  5. Haha, I always pick my wines based on the wine labels! (I believe my most recent pick was a label that said "Good Pinot Grigio" on it...).

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  6. Great post and great quotes-they made me smile and chuckle. We are not big wine drinkers here--but when we do, it is definitely sweeter white wines. I prefer my wines chilled as I don't like warm drinks! I am pretty sure I would flunk any wine test given to me...:)
    *smiles*

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  7. this sounds like a fun idea. I do wonder how I would fair. I much prefer whites, though hubby is confirmed as reds only.

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  8. I'm glad I'm not the only person who chooses wines by the picture on the label. I'm also partial to a nice scripty kind of font. As you can tell, not much of a wine drinker here (sad to say, it aggravates my migraines).

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  9. I THINK I could tell. My husband and I have taken part in many tastings and tests, and we don't even do half bad with grape distinction. One time though, we were at a blind tasting and the host served us "two buck chuck", but all of us whinos thought it was something worth about $25. How embarrassing!

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  10. Oh, I saw this at Powell's yesterday and almost got it. Now I am kicking myself.

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  11. I myself would like to taste test a bunch of different beers! I'm not much of a wine drinker but beer oh yeah!!

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  12. Hmm. - I can't believe I wouldn't be able to tell the difference because I am a white drinker not red - may have to try this next Girls Night!

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  13. Bermudaonion - I'm seriously thinking about planning a tasting party for the spring or summer...several family members enjoy wine and would have doing this!

    Margot - I know I'll be reading more of Trillin's essays! What a great idea to compare all those wines. We do comparisons like that, too...nothing too formal or fancy though :-)

    Molly - This essay really "spoke" to me. We do enjoy wine, and I wonder how we'd do with the test.

    Beth F - Calvin Trillin is great! I'm glad there are more of his essays in this collection.

    Dana - One rule I've heard for 'choosing by label' is to avoid labels with animals. Maybe it's a joke ;-)

    Kim - Sweet, white wines say 'summer' to me! The quotes I chose made me laugh, too - glad you enjoyed them!

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  14. Heather - I used to drink only white, while hubby preferred reds... but now I'm enjoying red, too!

    Melissa - One rule for 'choosing by label' I keep hearing is to avoid animals... no guidelines related to font that I know of ;-)

    Sandy - Oh, too funny!! I like to think I'd be able to tell, but am going to have to try this and test myself.

    Rose City Reader - This is a great collection, maybe you can get it next time. BTW, I'm a tad envious of a trip to Powell's... some day I'll get there.

    Staci - My brother-in-law set up a beer tasting for us last winter. What a great time that was!!

    Just Mom - This would be so much fun for a Girls Night! You'll have to let me know if you try it!

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  15. Know very little about wine I'm afraid, just if I like the taste or not!

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  16. I've never taken a red-white wine test but always assumed that whites were lighter and less full bodied than reds. I must try this test sometime; it would definitely be fun.

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  17. I'm right there in the same spot as Sandy - we of the human wine skin category. Tastings (especially blind) can be fun occasionally, but usually by the time I make my way through a day to get to the wine, I'm too tired for games. Give it! :) Fun post!

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  18. This book sounds like lots of fun.

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  19. Zetor - Well that's the most important thing!

    Harvee - That's what I think, too, and would really hope I could tell the difference.

    Frances - We love wine tastings, too, but have never done a blind one. I want to arrange one sometime this spring or summer ... but not after a long, hard day;-)

    Esme - There are some great essays and articles in this collection. I'm so glad I found it!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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