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Is understanding wine a talent, or can a novice oenophile learn?

Wow I am SO amazed by all these really encouraging replies. I am actually going to print this page to read at home tonight and see what conclusions I can draw from all these different perspectives. What is clear from skimming is that it does seem there is some hope, and to that I say,


May 05, 2012
mp413 in Wine

Is understanding wine a talent, or can a novice oenophile learn?

Dear Chowhound wine experts, I am a lover of wine who lacks entirely in the art of tasting and pairing. Is there hope for me?

- I do know when I taste a wine what I don't like about it.
- There have been many occasions when I have a dish with a wine and I know that the wine brings out something good, or makes the dish or the wine taste worst.
- I also can SOMETIMES understand, when taking in the aroma before sipping, what I detect in the wine (e.g. berries, flowers, etc.).

Unfortunately, this very low level of understanding of wine is all I possess! And I am close to several people who, when they taste wine, seem to get it all.

My question: is understanding wine a talent, like drawing, or is it something I can learn? I hope yes! But I would like to know if it's really something you (or rather your nose, mouth, and brain) are born with.

If as I dearly hope one can learn, how? Is it a matter of taking practical steps (e.g. noting in a log somewhere that X varietal tastes good with Y cheese)? Can I just hang out a lot with people who know and who are willing to patiently teach? Or is it a more complex process of studying different smells and tastes?

I know what sommeliers will tell you (what they are trained to tell you): drink what you like! But I also know that sometimes a wine just doesn't work with some food, while another wine will work perfectly, and I don't just want someone to tell me what to order, I want to KNOW what to order.

I hope this question will provoke a good discussion but also some helpful answers.



Apr 26, 2012
mp413 in Wine

Have a dish...but help me find the perfect sauce!

So I came across a recipe in a magazine last year and it turned out to be something I really love: chicken breast wrapped in sage and pancetta (with sage butter stuffed inside the breast). I sear the chicken then slowly finish in the oven. I usually serve it with garlic roasted new potatoes. My boyfriend and his parents loved it, but they were all like, "Where's the sauce?" And I kind of see their point, I've never been a huge sauce-on-protein person but in this dish a sauce would probably not hurt.

I was thinking something mild and not too heavy, like a white wine sauce. I googled this recipe to see if it is usually made with sauce but didn't find anything. Any ideas? I am a sauce novice so...butter or olive oil? Flour or no flour? Any thoughts would be very appreciated! I'll be making this dish at a dinner party next week and want to have a saucer to pass around with it for the sauce lovers.



Dec 07, 2011
mp413 in Home Cooking

New Year's Eve menu - advice needed!

I am having a dinner party for New Year's and need help planning dishes. It's a multicultural dinner featuring NYE traditions from Japan and Czech Rep (so far) so I need ideas for hors d'oeuvres and other dishes that could complement the mains:

- Japanese noodles with shrimp and squid
- Lentil soup

Because that's all carb-heavy I was thinking salad or some kind of other raw/light dishes would be good? Any ideas?

Oh, and I can get decent steak, charcuteries, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, peppers, and basil possibly. For sundries I have nice olive oil & vinegars, sesame oil, mirin, truffle oil, canned hearts of palm, kidney beans, capers, low quality olives, maybe cornichons (I live in Chad!)

Would very much appreciate menu planning advice!



Dec 29, 2010
mp413 in Home Cooking

Inventive recipes needed for aid worker stranded in Central Africa!!

These are all great ideas! No butter or dairy here, I think we can find powdered milk though. And I was very happy to find tomato paste! No fresh tomatoes. Not much meat, you can find goat from time to time but in huge pieces for grilling rather than cooking with, and chicken but it's rather stringy. No seasonings, other than what I brought with me (dry basil, curry powder, pepper, I think maybe I was smart enough to bring herbes de provence). Flour must be around, as you can get dry bread here.

I totally thought of deviled eggs, that I will do for sure! I also like eating the deviled egg mixture on bread, that's a classic snack in the motherland (Cz Rep). The poached eggs are a good idea too, I have never tried that. I am down for lentil soup/stew, but as mentioned have no carrots or celery which I always consider fundamental to lentils, and to stew. I will definitely try a spin on that lentil soup recipe Christina, I won't have all the spices but I do have mustard and wine vinegar which might work!

We eat fried plantains practically ever meal (we have staff preparing local food for us) which are fabulous! So yummy. Otherwise though it's boiled cassava and boiled cassava leaves, all the time. Which is old already and I've only been here 3 days!

thanks a million for all these ideas, it will already add a lot of variety to our diet out here!

Jun 26, 2010
mp413 in Home Cooking

Inventive recipes needed for aid worker stranded in Central Africa!!

So I just got to my new work station, which is the very north of Congo, in the bush. This is by far the bushiest of all places I have ever worked, if you'll pardon the term :) (Minus the wi-fi access and satellite tv in our guesthouse!) So, I was warned to bring food provisions with me because I wouldn't find much. This is what I'm working with:

Can find on-site:
- eggs
- tiny tomatoes
- cassava leaves (and cassava which I'm not crazy about)
- palm oil
- onions
- avocados
- hot chillies
- plantains and bananas

Brought with me:
- olive oil
- pasta
- canned tomatoes
- garlic
- Kalamata olives
- capers
- pickles
- mustard
- white wine vinegar
- some dry French sausage
- dry lentils
- canned chickpeas

So I am seeing a lot of variations on spaghetti marinara and puttanesca in my future. I was thinking lentil soup, but no carrots or celery! I look to you Chowhounds for some help! What creative things can I do with what I have access to? thanks!!


Jun 25, 2010
mp413 in Home Cooking

Recipe calls for skirt steak, will "Fajita Sirloin" work instead?

Actually this was a tad cheaper ($8.99/lb) than the flank steak ($9.99/lb)!

May 31, 2010
mp413 in Home Cooking

Recipe calls for skirt steak, will "Fajita Sirloin" work instead?

Yeah, it does sound made up. It looks a lot like a skirt steak, kind of ridged and unevenly marbled. Well, anyhoo it's marinating so we'll see how it turns out on the grill tomorrow!

Thanks for the info. about grilling flank steaks. If we like the recipe we'll try that cut next time!

May 31, 2010
mp413 in Home Cooking

Recipe calls for skirt steak, will "Fajita Sirloin" work instead?

I am trying to make a skirt steak recipe in which you marinate the skirt steak (in fresh herbs, garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar) overnight then grill it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find skirt steak! They had flank steak and something called "Fajita Sirloin." I was about to buy the flank, because I know it's often mentioned as interchangeable with skirt. But, it looked super lean, and I'm planning to grill it, so I opted for the more marbled looking "Fajita Sirloin" (whatever that is!).

Anyone heard of this cut? Think it will work instead of the skirt steak for this type of recipe?



May 31, 2010
mp413 in Home Cooking

If we can only afford one "high-end" spot on our trip, WHICH?

The ones we're parsing are:

- August
- Bayone
- Stella!
- Mila
- Emeril

I realize that these have somewhat ranging price ranges, but they're probably all in the upscale price-range for us, and we're hoping to splurge only once! '

Just for some context, we love Dick & Jenny's, weren't super impressed by Upperline nor Acme.

On this trip we plan to hit 3 of the following: Cochon, Boucherie, Patois, Herbsaint, Lillette. If any of you have favorites among those, please advise! They are all highly recommended on the various threads here.

Thanks NOLA! See you soon


p.s. also curious, is there any noticeable effect on prices/availability of oysters yet? we were so thrilled to discover the 25c oyster special at Luke's for happy hour, and then realized it probably won't be in existence when we are there next week. Sad, of course more so for all the obvious reasons that are far more significant than our petty culinary interests. But, just curious since NOLA is obviously a food destination, and oysters play a big part. I read a lot last week that there were fears, but haven't heard anything more recent.

930 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, LA 70130

Emeril's Restaurant
800 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130

701 Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130

Upperline Restaurant
1413 Upperline St, New Orleans, LA

Dick & Jenny's
4501 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, LA 70115

8115 Jeannette St, New Orleans, LA 70118

May 11, 2010
mp413 in New Orleans

Restaurants in Banglampoo (oh and, first time to Thailand)

I really appreciate these two suggestions. I had hoped for a few more answers but this will be a great start, I only have a few days in BKK on this trip so Curt's map should keep me plenty busy. thanks!

Mar 11, 2009
mp413 in China & Southeast Asia

Exciting new places in Toronto's E Bloor area?

I am visiting my boyfriend next week after a) taking the bar exam and b) not seeing each other for months. We're staying right around Bloor and Jarvis, and for our first night would like to have a really memorable meal within a few blocks of our hotel. We're totally open regarding food genre, but looking for a dimly lit, exciting kind of place - i.e. a new restaurant that's really hot right now, exciting food and atmopshere (if it's also kind of romantic that's a plus!).

Not knowing much about Toronto, if this isn't the neighborhood for this type of restaurant, our second choice would probably be really good take-out and a bottle of bubbly for the room! (Which reminds me I need to post another question - where in Toronto does one find a decent bottle of wine!! We went to LCBO last time and I was pretty appalled at the selection... Question for another post.)



Feb 21, 2009
mp413 in Ontario (inc. Toronto)

Restaurants in Banglampoo (oh and, first time to Thailand)

I am moving - yes moving - to Thailand in a month and have never been there let alone Asia. Thai food is one of my favorites but I only know the Americanized version (which is delicious but, I've learned from my research, not usually authentic). I will be living up north for work, but have a week in Bangkok first for training. Will be staying on the river near the Phra Pin-Plao bridge (at Navalai River hotel), that's also near my office.

Can anyone recommend some out-of-sight restaurants within walking distance? Or if there's some kind of market/street with food stalls where I can go crazy and try some new, quintessential things, that would be nice too. I won't have a lot of free time so I don't think I'll have time to venture out much beyond the Banglampoo area.

This is a very amateur question I know, but I'd love to get names (and translations!) of a few really typical dishes to try in BKK. I am getting some really great advice already from previous posts on the board, but a lot of times, you Thai foodies you, you give the Thai name without any kind of translation so I am totally lost! I have the LP Thailand which has a small food section but it's pretty basic.

Anyway would appreciate advice!


Feb 17, 2009
mp413 in China & Southeast Asia

Looking for neat foodie things to do w/ visiting gastronome friend from France

I am amazed at how you guys are really turning out for me on this query! Great suggestions. While Magnolia might not be the best (I have no idea), I think cupcakes are a great idea, like bbq--something uniquely American. Like asianbun pointed out he won't be impressed by us trying to do what they do to a T :) I think definitely bbq, definitely typical LES delis/shops, definitely pizza, definitely Chinatown--and thanks to all for the specific recs!--definitely cupcakes...now I just need to narrow down two restaurants worthy of our dinner dollars. I think sushi could be a good plan since he lives away from the ocean, and maybe a steakhouse for the next night.

I'll check the board for great sushi recs., but if anyone feels like repeating them here that would be appreciated too--I have really gotten amazing advice on this thread.

Thanks in advance for helping me show my friend everything the city has to offer :)


Feb 29, 2008
mp413 in Manhattan

Looking for neat foodie things to do w/ visiting gastronome friend from France

Thank you guys these are all fantastic suggestions. I think we will definitely have to try Daisy May or Hill Country, they both sound great and bbq is a must--thansk lookingforpig and RGR! Chinatown is also a great NYC idea though I don't know it well so it's kind of intimidating to me! I imagine there are as many awful places as there are great ones. I don't even know what char siu bao is JoanN but thanks for that specific rec.--your walking tour sounds really great! And thanks ChowDiva for recommending Congee Village, I don't know it but he is definitely an advenurous eater so he'd probably like it.

To be honest, the only rec. I'm not really persuaded on is to take him to a steakhouse. I know it's an American/NYC thing but it seems kind of boring? But if we decide to do that I will definitely keep Keen's in mind. Thanks!

Feb 28, 2008
mp413 in Manhattan

Looking for neat foodie things to do w/ visiting gastronome friend from France

oooh I LOVE the LES tour, thank you so much for pointing me to that. Perfect ideas. BBQ is also a fantastic idea, which (being from Texas) I should have thought of right off the bat! Anyone want to dispute Virgil's as best BBQ in NYC? I have been two 2 bbq places in NYC, one was in Queens in Little India and mediocre, the other was Blue Smoke which was amazing. Olana sounds neat, my friend is definitely about slow food too so it sounds like a neat place. I'm not too sure how interested he will be in Italian, but then again it's less about labels and more about amazing food. Sushi is probably something he can't get readily where he lives in the Alps, I don't know Momofuku will have to google that but sounds very neat. Please keep the recs. coming!

I would especially appreciate recs. beyond the LES/pickle-bagel-pastrami-smoked fish scene since that seems covered. thanks!!

Feb 27, 2008
mp413 in Manhattan

Recommendations for solo dining in Cape Town, Winelands and Garden Route

Hi Parkin, I did a similar trip last summer. I was a on a tight budget, but splurged at two places that I would recommend:

Mama Africa in Cape Town: it's a tad touristy, but I really enjoyed it and there were more locals there than tourists. The attached bar has live music (which is terrible--South Africans who have beautiful music of their own playing Western hits to please tourists) which bleeds into the restaurant, but it provides some entertainment if you're alone. I had curried mussels and a delicious plate of game prosciutto-type meats that was fab.

In Stellenbosch I had an AMAZING splurge meal at a tiny little place in the shopping center across from my hostel (the Stumble Inn). It was all booked so they took my name and sent me to a bar on the other side of the courtyard, and came and fetched me when my table was ready. They had an amazing menu with South African wines paired to everything. I ended up getting a 5-course tasting menu, which included a wine with each course, and a liter of sparking water and total it only set me back about $45 or so. The service was impeccable. The interior is very modern and classy, yet cozy. Couldn't recommend it enough. I am sorry I don't remember the name, but it is literally visible from the Stumble Inn--standing from the Stumble Inn it is just across the street to the left. Stumble is on Market just north of Dorp Street--the restaurant is in a small shoopping center occupying the corner of Dorp and Market just across from Stumble Inn. I hope you try it!

Feb 26, 2008
mp413 in Middle East & Africa

Looking for neat foodie things to do w/ visiting gastronome friend from France

My childhood friend from France is visiting NYC and he's a serious gourmand--he really loves food and will try anything (he's extreme--makes his own blood sausage kind of thing). We only have a couple of days but I want to take him to do some of those neat foodie things only NYC has to offer. One limitation is that we have to keep it to Manhattan, since our time is so limited and he's on a business trip. What I'm really hoping to take him to are neat NY institutions known for food, like the Sturgeon King on Amsterdam or the pickle shops in the LES. I haven't lived in NYC in a couple of years so I don't remember everything so I need some help! If anyone has some neat ideas please let me know. We only have a couple of nights and aren't on a huge budget, so if there are some really don't-miss reasonable (i.e. entree under $30-40 or so) places that are either super adventurous or just do what they do perfectly, please recommend away!


Feb 26, 2008
mp413 in Manhattan