Group of friends gathers to taste wines, share dinner and have some laughs
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I don't think there many activities as intimidating as wine tasting. The word itself conjures up images of sophicated women and important-looking men knowingly swirling glasses of wine. After a pursed lip sip, they allow a smug nod to signify their approval.

Are they really detecting the 'gentle hint of hibiscus' or the 'infusion of citrus' that the winemaker insists is captured in this bottle? Often the winemaker's description seems like the new robe in the story, 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' I just can't see - or in this case, taste - what they say is there.

Ah, but friends, there is hope for us wine-tasting neophytes. No longer will we have to rely on an arty label to lead us to our favorite wine. The practice of wine tasting is as old as the beverage itself and we can crack the stuffy methodology to get to the heady enlightentment enjoyed so smugly by those sophisticated men and women aforementioned.

In wine tasting you are basically considering three qualities of a wine: Its appearance, the fragrance of the wine in the glass, the sensations of the wine in mouth. These attributes are used to determine whether or not you like the wine. In the grander picture, it helps you describe the wine's complexity and character, its suitability for drinking or aging and any possible faults.

To study a wine's appearance simply tilt your glass against a white background and look at the wine. You are looking for clarity and the brilliance of the color.

Whites will range in color from nearly clear to straw color.

Reds will range in color from light cherry red through ruby to almost mahogany brown. The more purple the color, the younger the wine. With older wines, the color is not uniform and will be lighter at the rim of the glass than at the center.

Let's talk about that swirling action. Swirling not only looks cool, and lends an air that you know what you are doing, it releases molecules of the wine, which enhances the aroma, or 'nose' of the wine. The nose is your first introduction to what the wine will taste like, and you are supposed to contemplate the aroma.

Now you are ready to taste the wine. Take a sip and hold it in your mouth for a few seconds to saturate the taste buds. Allow the wine to pass slowly through your mouth.

What do you taste? What do you feel? You should taste and feel the presences of sweetness, acidity and tannin (from the skins of the grapes) in your wine, hopefully in a good balance.

Tastings are organized by horizontal or vertical flights. A horizontal flight is one selected for its vintage, meaning choosing wines made from the same grape type, region and year. A vertical flight would compare wines from the same winery, comparing vineyard and vintages.

Blind taste testings, in which the bottle is masked until all have assessed the wine, are also commonly conducted. This can eliminate preconceived notions about a particular vineyard or wine.

The or-der of tasting is very important as heavy or sweet wines can dominate lighter wines. The suggested chronology is sparkling wines, light whites followed by heavy whites, roses; light reds; heavy reds; ending with sweet reds.

If you have never tasted the wine, you probably will not know if it is light or heavy. In that case, rely on your assessments of appearance and fragrance. A heavy wine will be deeper in color with generally a more intense fragrance. Sweeter wines will leave thick, viscous streaks called legs down the side of the glass when swirled.

The temperature at which you serve a wine is crucial to its taste. White wines should be served between 60 Fº and 68 Fº. If served too cold you may suppress some of the bouquet and flavor. For red wines a serving temperature of 70º F to room temperature is recommended. If reds are stored at the proper 55º F, 80 percent humidity, allow time for the wine to reach room temperature before serving. Champagne and other sparkling wines should be served well chilled, but again, caution should be taken not to serve them too cold, to avoid completely suppressing aromas and flavors.

Though I am far from expert, this information made me decidedly more confident about what I am supposed to be experiencing. I owe my new-found knowledge to Martin Forbes, the Lake Oswego Review editor. He and his wife Carolyn recently hosted a tasting at their home, which my husband Mark and I attended, along with Review staffer Linda Hundhammer, her husband Paul and former staffer Susan Mansfield and her husband Chuck.

For our initial tasting, Martin suggested a theme of Oregon white wines - ones we've either enjoyed in the past, read good things about or thought might be interesting. With that as the foundation, each couple brought a bottle and we sampled King Estates Domaine Pinot Gris 2006 from Eugene, Apolloni Vineyards 2006 Pinot Gris from Forest Grove, Willamette Valley Vineyards 2006 Pinot Gris and Adelsheim Vineyards' TF (Tocai Friulano) from Newberg. Our favorite was the King Estate wine, though Susan preferred the sweeter Apolloni Vineyards.

In future get-togethers, our little band of wining-dining warriors plans to put together dinners built around other wine themes. Next up: Rosés.

And now it's your turn. Far from being a complete guide to appreciating wines, this information is meant to inspire you to take your knowledge of wines to new levels.

Experts suggest tasting as often as the opportunity allows and to treat yourself to good wine. Try unfamiliar wines and take notes while sampling. Even if you never look at the notes again, putting your impressions down in words will help you make more succinct judgements about the flavors. Most of all, enjoy tasting wine.

The recipe shared today is Martin Forbes' signature Roast Pork Tenderloin with Apricot With Attitude pepper jelly, which he prepared for us after the tasting. It can be cooked on the barbecue or indoors, and is delicious every time.

Bon Appetit! Try something new.

Martin's Pork Tenderloin with Apricots and Apricot with Attitude Jelly

Serves 8

4 pork tenderloins

1 cup chopped dried apricots

1 cup Apricot With Attitude pepper jelly from Rose City Pepperheads

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Fresh sprigs of mint (optional)

On a cutting board slice ¾ of the way through the tenderloin lengthwise, then cut horizontally out to butterfly the pork. Spread Apricot with Attitude Jelly along one edge of the pork (about 2 inches from the edge), top with salt, pepper and dried apricots. Pull meat back into a roll and tie with string.

You can barbecue or bake the roasts until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 145º F.

Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes before slicing into ¾ inch slices.

Serve with fresh sprigs of mint.

Martin Forbes

(Martin notes that the habanero peppers that are infused into the apricot jelly make for a delightful one-two hot-sweet taste combination. While the habanero is the hottest pepper that the Portland-based Rose City Pepperheads Co. uses in its jellies, it is not at all overwhelming. It also makes a delightful marinade for grilling shrimp on the barbecue. The jellies are available around the metro area and at many farmer's markets. Find out more through its Web site, .)

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-835-8811 or by email at [email protected] .

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