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Fleming’s teaches staff fine art of wines

Employees of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar spent several evenings this past week familiarizing themselves with the varieties of wine that will soon become an integral part of their dinner service for customers.

Marian Jansen op de Haar, director of wines for Fleming’s corporate chain, was in town to train the staff on the use of wines prior to opening. She said there is more to a wine than just its legs, which can be observed by swirling a wine around in its glass.

“Legs are due to the sugar content and alcohol content in a wine,” she said. “Good legs may mean more sweetness, but it is not necessarily an indicator of quality.”

She said there are many factors involved in the winemaking process that play a role in how a wine tastes, looks and smells. The entire process starts with the grapes themselves.

Jansen op de Haar said there are hundreds of types of wine grapes, but there are six types of grapes that are considered the “big six.” For white wines, the grapes are Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. For red wines, the grapes are Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

She said the region of the world the grapes are grown in could make a difference in the taste of a wine. If a region’s climate is cool, the grapes tend to have more acidity in them. Those grown in warmer climates, such as California wines, tend to have less acidity. Some grapes, however, are naturally more acidic than others. Jansen op de Haar said Sauvignon Blanc grapes, for example, are more acidic than Chardonnay grapes.

“Acidity can be a good thing,” she said. “It adds complexity to a wine. It acts as a preservative. So do sugar an alcohol.”

The term dosage is used to refer to the amount of sugar that is added after a sparkling wine has been made that determines its sweetness. The label of a sparkling wine, also known as champagne, indicates the level of sugar in it. The term demi-sec means sweet, extra dry means slightly sweet and brut means dry or almost no sugar.

She said the winemaker determines the level of sugar in a wine. Residual sugar is what is left over after the fermentation process of a wine has finished. A winemaker can adjust the amount of residual sugar in a wine by when he stops the fermentation process.

She said contrary to popular opinion, a majority of wines are created with the goal that they were meant to be drunk within one to three years. Only two to three percent of wines are meant to age for longer periods of time.

“Wines are becoming mainstream, so it’s important to know something of what is involved in the process of creating them as well as their tastes,” Jansen op de Haar said.

A couple of Fleming’s employees in training felt Jansen op de Haar was imparting a lot of useful knowledge to them.

“I think this training is very extensive and gives a great overview of what we need to know,” said Patrick Tucker, a server with Fleming’s. “I think we will have knowledgeable customers coming to the restaurant and we need to be able to converse with them on the subject.”

Meagan Riehl of Clinton agreed that knowledge of wines was necessary in her vocation as server.

“I didn’t have any knowledge of wines before I started taking this class,” she said. “I had even bought the book ‘Wine for Dummies.’”

Fleming’s wine list contains an extensive list of by the glass and a reserve list of wines by the bottle. The signature 100-wines-by-the-glass program will feature 60 wines with recognizable names, while 40 represent hard-to-find boutiques from California, Oregon and Washington. International selections, which include wines from France, Italy, South Africa and Australia, are also available. Wines and champagnes included in this selection are Sofia Blanc de Blancs, Beringer white zinfandel, Conundrum, Wattle Creek Mendocino, Pascal Jolivet, Cakebread sauvignon blanc, Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, Renwood zinfandel and a host of others.

The reserve list includes in the champagne category: Moet Chandon, Brut Champagne Cuvee Dom Perignon France, 1996 at $306 per bottle; Schramsberg, Blanc de Blancs Napa Valley, 2001 at $105 per bottle and Louis Roederer, Brut Campagne, Cristal, France, 1999 at $550 per bottle.

The chardonnay reserve list includes: Oliver Le Flaive, Puligny-Montrachet France, 2004, at $120 per bottle and Cakebread, Napa Valley, 2004, at $120 per bottle.

The reserve pinot noir category includes: Etude, Carneros, 2003, at $115 per bottle and ZD, Carneros, 2004, at $80 per bottle. Reserve zinfandels include: Niebaum-Coppola Napa Valley Rutherford Estate Edizione Pennino, 2000, at $120 per bottle and Paraduxx, Napa Valley, 2002, at $130 per bottle.


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