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Monday, February 6, 2012

Presentation of Wine

Anyone who has been reading my blog, Facebook posts, or Twitter posts over the past several months must realize by now that I have a fascination with the wines from South West France.  Maybe that seems like a peculiar fixation, since Tannat, Courbu, and Manseng aren’t exactly the most trendy wines.  Well, it all began back in September when I attended a tasting of twelve South West France wines, presented by Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer and Master Sommelier Scott Carney.  Aside from the mysterious, bold, aromatic wines that took over the room where we tasted, what really drew my attention to the wines was the way they were presented to us - it was the first time I heard Master Sommelier Dexheimer present wines, and the second time I heard Master Sommelier Carney present wines.  And their enthusiasm and passion for the wines was so contagious I couldn’t help but perceive the wines enthusiastically.  But they also presented the wines and went through the tasting very technically, and that approach - enthusiasm but a profound respect for the wine region, the producers, the grapes, etc., is exactly what sparked my interest in the wines from that region.

Tasting wines of South West France

When I go to a tasting, whether it’s at a tasting room, a restaurant, or a more formal setting, I attend because I want to learn and to experience something different.  I want to be able to take that knowledge with me, and I want to apply it to more research and tastings, and I want to impart it to my readers.  If someone bothers to read my blog posts, the least I can do is give them something fun and informative to read.  But I also believe that people who grow grapes and produce wine are giving wine drinkers their very best effort - and to take a frivolous approach to tasting their wines would be doing them an injustice.
I love going to wineries and tasting new releases - but I get pretty frustrated when a person pouring and presenting the wines in a tasting room isn’t familiar with the wines at that winery.  I’ve gone into some tasting rooms and spent hours discussing the wines with the person pouring, and learned a great deal about what that particular winery is doing in terms of growing, harvesting, producing, etc., and I feel very satisfied when I leave a winery with a stack of tasting notes and information - and I look forward to telling my readers all about it.  And then I’ve been to some tasting rooms where the person pouring couldn’t even answer my questions about whether the wine spent any time in oak, or what percentage of each grape type was in the wine.  I’m sorry, but to me, that’s just not acceptable.  The people growing, harvesting, and making the wine deserve a lot better, and the people attending the tasting deserve better.
And then a few months back I attended a tasting at a restaurant, where five wines by a particular winery were being shown.  The presentation of the wines was “bare bones” at best, but it was rather an expensive tasting to attend, and I was going to make the best of it.  So when I got to speak privately with one of the presenters, and told him that I was going to be writing a blog post about the wines presented that night, I asked him some questions, and got no answers.  So I finally asked him, “Is there anything about the winery that you’d like me to know?”  His response: “It’s a very pretty winery.”  It actually made me feel foolish for even asking him the question.  I’m sure it’s a lovely winery, but that’s not the answer I was looking for.  I was hoping for something informative.  So all my blog readers got to hear about from that tasting were my own notes on color, aroma, flavor, structure, but nothing about the winery, nothing about the vineyards, the barrels, etc.
Tastings and presentations are important - sometimes that’s our only chance of sampling certain wines.  And presentations where the room is extremely warm, or the wines are the wrong temperature, or the presenter has no knowledge of the product, make the wines show poorly.  And I’m pretty sure the winemakers deserve for their wines to show better than that, after all the effort they put into it.
I know there are a lot of people who take tasting and writing very seriously.  I like it to be fun and I like it to be informative.  I’ve been told that sometimes my tasting notes look kind of long and detailed, but for me, that’s the whole point.  A wine with complexity and nice structure, and expressiveness of its terroir, is what makes me feel inspired to discuss the wine, and tell others about it, and encourage them to try it as well.  Wine can be such a wonderful way for people to connect.
I’ve also read some articles and posts by people who write about wine.  I love hearing about unique experiences, exciting wines to try, and interesting observations.  I’m not saying it should always sound like it came from a textbook, but fun and informative is what I like in a wine article.  And then there are those trendy words like “yummy” and “tasty” that seem to show up more and more often in articles about wine.  I could be wrong, but it seems to me that “yummy” is a word that probably should not be used to describe wine - I feel like it’s dumbing down what could have been a well thought out discussion of a wine.  And recently I read an article about rather an important Bordeaux, which undoubtedly took a great deal of effort and years of learning to produce such a wine - and the writer of the article called it “yummy.”  Again, I could be wrong, but don’t the people putting their very best efforts every day into that wine deserve a lot better than to have their masterpiece called “yummy”?  It’s one thing if a few of us are having a fun discussion about foods and wines and words like that are used.  But when we’re depending on an expert to write a review of a special wine, in my opinion, words like “yummy” and “tasty” just won’t do.
I do realize it would be unrealistic to expect everyone to present wines the way Master Sommelier Dexheimer and Master Sommelier Carney do - they’re among the very best at what they do; their enthusiasm and passion for wine is unparalleled, and their knowledge is priceless.  After attending their presentation, visiting South West France someday has become a dream for me, and since I heard them speak about those wines, I’ve been researching and tasting as many South West France wines as possible.  Wines from Cahors and Madiran have found a special place in my tasting notes, and I’m currently trying to hunt down some wines from Irouleguy, which I found to be the most mysterious at the tasting.  And when I attend a well-presented tasting, I have even more respect for those whose efforts make wonderful wines possible and available to us.

Preparing to take notes on some important wines from Bordeaux

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