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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013

Raise your hand if you love Steely Dan.  Now raise your glass if you love Steely Dan while sipping good Pinot Noir.  There’s something about the smoothness with a slight edge and complexity of the music of Steely Dan that I believe pairs perfectly with the similar characteristics of good Pinot Noir.

That’s not what this blog post is about, but since I’m listening to Steely Dan and it makes my mouth water for Pinot Noir (I’m thinking Cotes de Nuits), I couldn’t help but pose the question.

What I want to tell you about in what’s probably my last wine blog post of 2013 is what I drank on Christmas.  Everything showed really well so that’s a good start.

Christmas Eve in our house is the Feast of the Seven Fishes (and after counting, it looks like we got it up to around 9 or 10 or perhaps even more) - anyway I chose some really fun things from the stash.  I started with a sparkling wine - a sparkling Mauzac from Gaillac, to be more specific, made in the Methode Ancestrale (which is generally used only in places like Gaillac and Limoux, and is worth checking out).  Gaillac is a place in Sud-Ouest that makes some of the more expressive reds I’ve tasted from Sud-Ouest, with such minerality even on the least expensive of them, that I’m impressed each time.  Well, this one was a dry sparkling blanc.  It had some apple notes with a hint of rose water, licorice, and tiny bubbles.  Sounds like a fun start to Christmas Eve?  It was.

Next up with all the shellfish dishes were two interesting whites.  Going back to Sud-Ouest, I chose a Jurancon Sec that had a lovely pale yellow-golden color to it, and it was on the aromatic side, which I had sort of expected, and showed characteristics of lemon curd, apple, and an almost perfumed sensation toward the end.  The grapes were Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, and something I was less familiar with, called Camaralet (which is used in Jurancon sometimes).  The other white I selected (because it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without something Italian in my glass) was a bianco di Toscana made up of 50/50 Semillon and Trebbiano.  Go figure.  And I’m sure you can guess that one was aromatic too, with a tangerine peel note up front, and some orchard fruit characteristics, some soft spice and floral notes, and a slightly richer texture than the Jurancon.  Great pairing with shellfish, calamari, and some of the funkier fish in the frutti di mare.

As the fish dishes got heavier in texture and flavor (fried cod and flounder, followed by linguine with a marinara sauce and shrimp and scungilli), the two reds were the 2004 Gruaud Larose Saint-Julien and the 2006 Ridge Lytton Springs (Zinfandel with Petite Sirah and Carignan).  I’m always surprised when I hear a wine lover insist that 2004 Bordeaux wasn’t so great.  Nonsense.  I love the way they’ve been showing the past year or two, particularly those from the better chateaux.  And after my experience with that standout bottle of Gruaud Larose at my 1983 birthday dinner party, I had high hopes for this 2004.  And it met my expectations, and then some.  (Suffice it to say that the Gruaud Larose was the rock star of the two day Christmas celebration.  And no, I’m not surprised.)  Oh, and both reds were carefully decanted - the Ridge, it turns out, needed it much more than the Bordeaux did.  So the final wine of the night was the 2006 Ridge, and it was very good.  I was really unsure which should be opened first and after guessing Bordeaux followed by Zinfandel, I ran the idea by two other wine pros, and the consensus was a toss-up, with Bordeaux being before Zinfandel.  Good thing I did that, because after tasting both, it wasn’t actually a toss-up after all.  The Lytton Springs was still a big wine with lots of texture and mostly dark fruit notes and dark spice and pepper, as opposed to the red plum, wild berry, rare meat, and white pepper and herb notes of the Bordeaux.  Anyway both reds showed very nicely.

Dessert was fun (I’ll do a quick post on the food blog about struffoli) and with the struffoli there were loads of Christmas cookies.  Out came my homemade limoncello.

Christmas Day is less about food for us that Christmas Eve, and we’re sort of still full when it’s time for dinner of Christmas Day.  So with the wines, I decided to keep it fairly simple.  With leftover baked clams from the night before, I popped open a bottle of Macon-Villages, which was so refreshing and perfect with shellfish, with characteristics of lemon, green apple, barely ripened peach, a touch of pineapple, and stony white mineral, and perhaps a tiny hint of baking spice.  And with lasagne, I chose the 2010 Stag’s Leap Napa Artemis.  I do love the 2010 vintage from Napa (which I decided after first tasting the 2010 Duckhorn), and the Artemis was lovely as always, with cassis, plum, raspberry, bramble, vanilla, clove, and graphite characteristics - so refined and expressive, yet so delightfully satisfying - my kind of California wine, as opposed to some of those enormous fruit bombs laced with excessive vanilla oak, that they seem to get in their own way, let alone the way of the food on the plate.  No, Artemis is exactly what I love to see in a properly executed California Cabernet priced around $65 USD.  Artemis is more than capable of expressing its own identity and that’s as it should be.

So that’s what we did on Christmas (ending with a delicious apple pie made by my sister).  Please check out my post on struffoli (Italian honey balls) on my food blog, and I’ll see you in the New Year with some notes on Champagne!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

For the Love of All Things Good...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of my online friends and blog readers!  I’ll be back again to give you an update on how my selections show on Christmas Eve (Feast of the Seven Fishes) and Christmas Day, and again to tell you all about our Champagnes on New Year’s Eve.  But I wanted to say something to you before you set that Christmas dinner table and before you touch your corkscrew.

Please, for the love of all things good, drink well this Christmas and New Year.


Because you deserve it.  So do your guests.  Yes, I said it.  You deserve it, and so do your guests.

How do I know?  Because you’re here reading my blog, aren’t you?  Which means you have at least some curiosity about good wines, otherwise you wouldn’t bother sharing your wine thoughts and tasting notes with other people.  You wouldn’t bother reading other people’s observations about wines. Right?

I thought so.

And you probably want to know what makes me think that your guests also deserve to drink good wine.  Well, this is how I know.  If you’re opting to spend time with them over Christmas and ring in the New Year with them, then they must be as awesome as you are.  (And if you don’t like them, why do you spend time with them?  Give your time to those you truly love, and those who truly love you.  And if they don’t know how much you love them, you need to tell them, and you need to show them.  But that’s another topic altogether.)

I’m blessed.  I have a wonderful family.  I have some awesome friends.  And I have a very special guy in my life.  Those are just a few of the reasons why I believe I’m blessed, but for purposes of this blog post, I’ll focus on those reasons.  And those are the people I love sharing wine with.  It’s partly because some of the people closest to me are either in the wine industry too, or they’re just so used to being around me and sharing cool wines with me, that we have that in common.

Anyway, I’ve picked some really fabulous things to share with them.  I’ll tell you more about what I’ve picked when I write my blog posts after Christmas and after New Year’s Eve.  For now, I want to focus on you and your selections for this special time of the year.

What I suggest is that you pick a few dependable wines that you know already and wouldn’t want to celebrate without them.  It’s one less thing to worry about at an already stressful time (a good idea if you’re working with some challenging recipes and flavors).  I also suggest you pick a few really fun, off-beat wines because the best way to experience wine is to share them with others, and what better conversation topic (especially among wine enthusiasts) is there than wines that provide an interesting learning experience (and trust me, it’s a lot safer than many other topics) - what’s more fun than wine, really?  And then I also suggest you splurge just a little - spend on a few great bottles.  Just a few.  Because it’s a special time, and you deserve something special.  Do it for you.  And do it for the people you love the most.  The memory of what you enjoyed that night will last you all through the year, until next Christmas and New Year.

A few suggestions, if I may.

For my fellow Italians - well, I’m fortunate that my Italian-American family is not the kind that despises all things French.  I come across a lot of Italian-Americans who claim they just don’t like French wine, French food, or anything French really.  Nonsense.  I repeat, NONSENSE.  If you don’t like French people, that’s just flat out narrow minded to begin with.  (I’ve gotten to know a lot of French people since I’ve been working with wine - they’re really wonderful people.  And they make amazing wine.)  Fortunately for me, my Italian-American family has what appears to be an infinite amount of patience and curiosity with my little (read: major) obsession with off-beat French wines.  So I get to bring out lots of French wine, but I also remember to bring out many other things too.  (For the record, so far I’ve chosen wines from France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and the United States for dinners and gifts for Christmas.)  So, for my fellow Italians - please, for the love of all things good, do not bring out the straw basket.  There are plenty of incredibly good Italian wines to enjoy with dinner.  For the curious type, go with Sicily or Campagna.  They’re not just delicious; they also pair well with lots of foods, and they tend to show characteristics that other wines don’t, including expressive minerality and sometimes cool floral notes.  For the elegant type, how about some aged wines from Piemonte, like a great Barolo or Barbaresco, or some Gavi with your Seven Fishes, Dolcetto and Barbera with your macaroni dishes, and if you love bubbles, go for a good quality Moscato to start off the evening.  If you and your guests prefer something a little safer, go with some Tuscan selections - Chianti is safe and very food friendly, but if you want to rock the dinner party for real, go with Super Tuscans (Bordeaux type blends made by some very talented Italian winemakers) and Brunello.  Wow.  And for the lovers of luxury, Amarone is your wine.

If you, on the other hand, love French wine, then the sky is the limit in terms of good French wine.  For the love of all things good, please try to stay away from just the safer stuff.  And yes, we know you love to strut your stuff (I do too), but don’t just bring out the names that everyone will know.  Sure, some splurge wines of the most luxurious nature will be great over the holiday.  But anyone with a good Christmas bonus can do that.  Put down your issue of Wine Spectator, and leave Robert Parker out of this.  Where’s your sense of adventure?  Here it is.  Burgundy lovers, look to Cotes Chalonnaise for great quality at very good prices.  Bordeaux people, how about Fronsac and Pessac-Leognan?  And go south too - an aged Bandol or Saint-Joseph can be quite mind blowing.  Want something big and bold - how about Cahors?  Need a lighter alternative - look to the reds of Loire.  And speaking of Loire, don’t just go to Sancerre.  Everyone knows Sancerre.  Please, for the love of all things good, find yourself Muscadet, or even more exciting, Menetou-Salon.  And don’t forget some fun Cremant!  (And on New Year’s Eve, maybe consider Grower Champagne and small production sparkling wines?)  See what I mean about French wine?  The possibilities are endless.

And what about those of you who love (and whose guests love) the fruitier wines?  Germany.  And for the love of all things good, don’t keep on going for that same blue magnum of the same old thing.  You know what I’m referencing.  Find bottles labeled Kabinett, Auslese, Spatlese, and the like.  If you’re not sure what’s on the label, ask your favorite wine shopkeeper.  They’ll be able to help you out.  (And if they can’t figure out the label either, find a new favorite wine shopkeeper.)  German wines are often a great value for some of the purest, most delicious wines.  And not just sweet wines, either.  In fact, while we’re at it, not just Riesling.  But I, for one, love opening a dinner with a German Riesling.  The fruitiness is fun and delicious, and the bright acidity toward the end primes my palate for more wine and more food.

Hanging with hipsters and an off-the-beaten-path crowd?  Hunt down some fascinating wines from Austria.  They’re not cheap, but they’re worth it, because they’re not like anything else.  You can find some really fun Rieslings from Austria, and Gruner Veltliner is one of the most food friendly whites out there, especially if you’re going with lighter dishes and chilled foods.  (And for vegetarian fare, you cannot go wrong with Gruner.  Its typical notes of celery and white pepper are a match made in heaven with vegetable-based dishes.)  But Austrian wines also love to be matched with cheeses and cold meats.  And for reds, on the heavier side you can go with a Blaufrankisch, and for something a bit lighter and fruitier, try a Zweigelt.  And if you’re a total geek like me, it’s worth looking for a good quality Sankt Laurent.  I promise you, Austrian wines are among the most fascinating, so for the love of all things good, pop open a Sekt and do your homework.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  One of the lines is spoken by Nick, the bartender.  He tells George and Clarence that he serves drinks for men who want to get drunk fast.  Do you want to get drunk fast?  Well, let’s not go quite that far, but if you want the ultimate party wines at good prices (and some with insanely high alcohol levels), then you, my friend, need a little Spanish wine at your party.  I’m sure you know all about Rioja.  Did you know that Rioja Crianza often comes in at under $20, and packs quite a punch?  And if you want to try something really cool, try a Priorat - they’re (in my opinion) among the most expressive of all Spanish wines.  Want to bring out the big impressive wines?  Find some great wines of Ribera del Duero.  And if you need some whites, Albarino and Godello are perfect.  Bubbles?  Cava is your wine.  One of the great things about Spanish wine is that you don’t have to spend much, they’re fairly easy to find, and they are the ultimate party wine.  But for the love of all things good, don’t overdo it, because it’s really easy to overdo it quite quickly on Spanish wine (it’s happened to me, trust me) - and please behave responsibly by the end of the evening.

Other great values can be found in wines from South America (in particular Argentina and Chile), Australia, New Zealand, and some of my favorite value wines are from Portugal.

I hope you didn’t think I forget the United States.  That would never happen.  If you’re serving hearty meat dishes, Napa and Sonoma are for you.  But while you may want to go with some of your safer picks that you’re used to, in order to avoid conflicting flavors and stress, you may also want to find some other cool American wines.  For the love of all things good, please don’t just find something local and drink it just because it’s local.  If you want some local wines, find the best ones!  After all, if you’ve got guests from out of town, you want your hometown to shine and make you proud.  (Insert shout out to my favorite New York producers.)  Find the best local wines.  And if you and your crowd have an elegant style palate, Oregon Pinot Noir and Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah from Washington might be a fun thing to bring to your table.

So you see, the possibilities are endless.  All you need to remember is that you ought to be drinking good wines over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, because you and your guests deserve it.  Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, drink something(s) FABULOUS, keep it interesting, and I’d love to hear all about the wines that grace your tables this season!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My 1983-Themed 30th Birthday

Anyone who knows me even fairly well has probably already come to the conclusion that I have a morbid (and probably unreasonable) fear of aging.  I’m not sure why I have this fear, but it’s been going on for some time now.  It’s as if I can’t bear the thought of time passing as quickly as it does, and I can’t even think about what marks the passage of time leaves on me, both physically and mentally.  It was as if I wanted to freeze time, for some reason.  I beam each time I’m asked for my ID before being served or sold wine, and this year I was asked once if I was playing hooky from the local high school, and (being a regular Sunday churchgoer), one morning this past year I walked into church and a lady instructed me to go sit at the front of the church “with the other confirmation candidates” - imagine how happy I was!

1983 Dom Perignon
Well, the inevitable happened this past week - I turned 30.  It’s something I was dreading, both the actual thing of leaving my 20s and also the idea of admitting that I’m 30 now, and the idea of others finding out.  Don’t ask me why it became such an obsession of mine, because I can’t find a completely logical reason for it, but I literally waited up as the clock struck midnight and I turned 30, as if I expected to turn into a pumpkin or something like that, or perhaps the governor would come through and issue a pardon, allowing me to remain at 29 indefinitely.  Whatever the case may be, I had no choice but to turn 30.

In the lead-up to that day, I decided I’d have a small birthday party for myself - with wines all from the 1983 vintage.  Imagine that - well, yes, it was kind of expensive, but it was completely worth it.

On the actual day of my birthday, my boyfriend instructed me to close my eyes and put out my hands - and much to my surprise, he placed a box in them - with a bottle of 1983 Dom Perignon in it!  (I hadn’t purchased any 1983 Champagne for the party so that was exciting!)  While the wine was a little bit tired and showing its age, it was such an awesome thing and worth experiencing.  (And the box and bottle are beautiful!)

And then over the weekend it was time for the party - it was a small gathering, but if it had been lots of guests, there never would have been enough of those bottles to go around.

1983 - the lineup from start to finish
I did some serious homework and preparation while getting ready for the party - I wanted to choose only bottles from reputable places and from regions that were particularly good in 1983.  I chose a Mosel, an Alsatian white, 3 Bordeaux reds, a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, an Amarone, a Sauternes, and a Port.  (And, truth be told, I was a nervous wreck right before opening the bottles, for fear of at least one of them not showing well - lucky for me, they were all amazing.)  I decanted each of the reds (and used a candle under each of them - which I highly recommend doing if you’re decanting, especially with older bottles - you don’t want to be drinking sediment!), and just getting the corks out was scary enough - the only two that came out effortlessly were the Trimbach Clos Ste Hune and Beaucastel.

I chose the German Riesling to start - the Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Auslese from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (and there was something cool about the label at the top of the bottle telling me it was a product of West Germany - I had forgotten there was still a Cold War on when I was born!) - and it was lovely.  Clean and still fairly light in color, with lots of orchard fruit that was only just barely beginning to appear like dry fruit, and plenty of acidity, the wine was still showing beautifully and it was a perfect start to the evening.  It was paired with Comte cheese and prosciutto di Parma.  The subtle nuttiness and mild nature of the cheese and the salty yet complex prosciutto were a wonderful match for the fruit and clean feel of the Riesling.

Lobster Salad
The next Riesling was something I was extremely excited about - the Trimbach Clos Ste Hune Vendange Tardive from Alsace - the heralded wine from a heralded vintage in the region was all I read about in the immediate lead-up to the dinner party.  And as hard as it was to believe, the wine was even better than I had anticipated it would be - still really holding up well, in fact I think it’s got more time - still plenty of fruit, mostly orchard and some tropical with a bit of candied citrus, with floral notes, stony mineral, and just a hint of petrol toward the back - and a light golden color - it was wonderful and showed plenty of acidity.  It was a perfect pairing with my appetizer creation - a lobster salad of fresh chilled lobster with a bit of chopped celery and a touch of shallot, on a bed of Boston lettuce and frisee, and a dressing/marinade of fresh lemon juice, olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, dill, parsley, and tarragon.

Next up were the 3 Bordeaux - the braised lamb shanks were taking a while longer than expected to cook once they were in the oven (in fact I usually cook them for just over 2 hours, but this time it took almost 3 hours) - the lamb shanks were braised and then cooked in Pinot Noir and beef broth with kosher salt, black pepper, fresh garlic, rosemary, parsley, and a bit of lemon, and they were absolutely delicious.  But since they were taking a while, I started decanting the Bordeaux, and we sipped.  First was a Pomerol, the Chateau la Croix de Gay - and being a Right Bank Bordeaux, it’s mostly Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  And I felt a little more confident after smelling and tasting that red and observing it in the decanter and then in the glass, that 1983 reds could hold up as well as their white counterparts.  All 3 Bordeaux still had a bright red rim with a dark core - I thought there’d be more brick on the rim.  Honestly, it didn’t appear as a 30 year old wine at all.  Smooth, elegant, and releasing aromas of barely cooked meat and plum flesh with some dried floral notes and a bit of tobacco, it was clean, pure, and delicious.
Braised Lamb Shank

Soon, we were on to the next Bordeaux, which was truly amazing as it released a beautiful bouquet as it went from bottle to decanter (I kept bringing the decanter close to me to keep on loving the aromas) - darker than the Pomerol in color, the first of the 2 Cabernet-based reds from Saint-Julien, the Gruaud-Larose was practically bursting with characteristics of both red and dark fruit (more dark than red though), savory herbs, dark chocolate, tobacco, and cedar, and a dark cool mineral toward the finish (and something about it that was reminiscent of men’s cologne) - and a lovely balance.  This one really left an impression - I loved it.  And I can assure you that if I drank a bottle of that very wine from that vintage every night, I’d still never tire of it and never stop appreciating it.

The final Bordeaux, which was the first red to really pair with the lamb shanks (and potatoes, portobello mushrooms, green beans, and corn) - was the Leoville-Las Cases.  Elegant, to say the least, and much like the other 2, not at all weary or showing much age.  The color was beautiful, again the bright red rim and dark core, with notes of subtle dark fruit and some red fruit, dried petals, subtle tobacco leaves, and mineral toward the end.  Lovely.

One of the major rock stars of the evening was next - the Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Southern Rhone of course) - made up of all 13 permitted grapes from the region, mainly Grenache and Mourvedre.  And much like the Trimbach, the cork came out with such ease that I was already feeling relieved before it even went into the decanter.  The color was gorgeous and becoming lighter and clearer, and the characteristics were of mellow fruit, flower petals, and an almost sweet aroma that I didn’t expect at all, and not much of the intense earthiness that it may have shown at one point in its life - on that particular evening, everything was in perfect balance, the wine was complex but subtle and mature, and it felt almost as if, had it been opened a day earlier or a day later, it might not have shown so perfectly.  I was thrilled.

The final red was the Bertani Amarone - a big wine with a big presence - very dark in the glass, almost dense with raisinated dark fruit characteristics and a simultaneous warmth and boldness, everything about it was dark, red, and luscious.  That was a perfect end to the reds and an ideal transition from a hearty lamb dish to the after-dinner cheese course.  And again, I was incredibly relieved at just how well another big red was showing.  How, I wondered, did I get so lucky?  Well, when I think of the people who made my 30th birthday special for me, and some of the things and events and people that have graced my 30 years of life, I suppose I really am quite lucky and the wines were just a bonus that served as a reminder of my good fortune.  I need to remember this more often.

Anyway, I do love some funky cheeses after dinner, so with the cheese platter consisting of Epoisses, Saint-Agur, and 5 year aged Gouda, the Sauternes was the Premier Cru Classe Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey.  I’m already a Sauternes lover and always have been, especially when they’re already aged a bit, but the oldest I’ve had so far was about 15 years old.  30 year old Sauternes from a great producer?  Liquid gold.  A gorgeous deep honey color in the glass, the wine showed characteristics of dried apricots, wildflower honey, candied orange peel, and an almost indescribable aura of warmth and sophistication - and it was a perfect match with the cheeses (especially the Saint-Agur, which is one of my favorite bleu style cheeses).  Just incredible.

The final wine was the Taylor Fladgate, which I chose as my representative of a great vintage for Port.  And I’m glad I did, because it was amazing (and still was last night, because I had a bit left in the bottle and was able to revisit the Port experience all over again) - barely brickish with an almost pink/purple undertone in the bright redness in the glass, it’s rich and wonderful, with an amazing blend of aromas and flavors of dark fruit, dried fig, brulee, and a warm earthy sort of finish.  That was paired with the birthday cake, which was made by my sister - one of my favorite desserts growing up - Sachertorte - an Austrian chocolate cake with apricot filling and a dark chocolate and coffee icing - delicious cake, delicious Port, perfect pairing!

So there it was - after all the excitement and planning, my 1983-themed wine dinner/birthday party happened and it was perfect - I would not have changed anything.  A few moments of an emotional rush for me (particularly when I opened the Clos Ste Hune, for some reason), the process of decanting the reds over a candle and wondering what would happen next, if they’d all be ok - everything was perfect.  I could not have asked for a better evening.

What did I learn?  Well, I learned that I’m even better at decanting than I thought I was, and I learned that there’s not much to be afraid of when removing old corks from bottles - it’s just a matter of being careful and still confident.  I also learned just how well a 30 year old wine from a very good vintage will show if stored properly over the years.  I also learned that 30 isn’t so bad.  The wines held up.  I held up.  A few grey hairs here and there isn’t the end of the world.  And as I explained regarding what to expect from the wines - and used my 1 year old nephew (who was present at the party and was a perfect little gentleman!) as an example - most evenings, we drink very young wine - around the age of my nephew.  This time, we were drinking wines as old as I am.  What we want to see is graceful aging.  We don’t want to see a juvenile wine if it’s 30 years old, just as we don’t want to see a 30 year old human being behaving as a 1 year old human being.  But if some of the luscious fruit and big, round presence that we’re used to just isn’t showing, that doesn’t mean the wine has gone bad.  It just aged gracefully, as these bottles did, and it’s something I hope I can continue to do.  And maybe eventually I’ll stop fearing the aging process so much, after witnessing just how well the wines handled 30 years of age.

There’s a lot to learn from wine.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Guild of Sommeliers Master Class on Austria

“Vienna waits for you” - I certainly hope so.

If you’ve been reading my food blog, Here, Taste This! - and if you’ve caught some of my Austrian related wine blog posts, you’ll remember that I have a love for good Austrian wine that’s been increasing over the past year or two.  And I really love the reds (did you know that Austria has been increasing their red plantings and production and scaling back a bit on whites?  I didn’t know it either, until I learned it in the class I’ll tell you about.  And they say it’s due to warming temperatures in the Austrian wine producing regions - so it’s more conducive to growing good reds - go figure.)

Anyway, after sitting for a three hour Guild of Sommeliers master class on Austrian wine led by MS Andy McNamara (for me, this was like the Long Expected Party - I’ve been waiting FOREVER for a class on Austria and there it was at last!), all I could think of was, “Vienna waits for you” - and I really hope it does.  I’d love to visit a great many wine regions, especially in France and Italy and some in Germany and Spain and especially Croatia, but the more I experience Austrian wines, the more I crave the bright, clean, expressive, delicious, and impeccably executed wines coming from their regions.  And remember, it’s not just Gruner Veltliner.  Yes, there’s a lot of Gruner, but there are plenty of other whites, some that we never really see outside of Austria, and some amazing reds (again, see the food blog posts lately featuring pairings with traditional Austrian reds), sparkling wines, and something I love very much - botrytized dessert wines.  Suffice it to say I tasted a dessert wine at the master class that I’m absolutely certain was sent down from heaven.

Some interesting things I learned - well, white production in Austria is dropping, while red production is increasing.  I never would have guessed that.  While I’ve been noticing availability of the likes of Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt on the rise, I still hadn’t thought about a major increase in red production in a place like Austria that to me is fairly synonymous with Gruner Veltliner.  But they say that the climate in Austrian grape growing regions is becoming warmer and so it’s more conducive for growing red grapes there.  Also, never having visited Austria, I didn’t know much about their cuisine - apparently they like cheese and cold meats and other dishes are influenced by Italian cooking, including gnocchi and risotto - and their wines are suited to such dishes.  And as basic as it may sound, I also learned what it is that we should be looking for in a proper Gruner Veltliner - the celery and other crisp green vegetable characteristics, white pepper, and often notes of fine soil.  So that brings me to what I learned about soil and climate in Austrian wine regions - Wagram apparently has a very fine, loose, porous soil.  And Wachau is somewhat similar to Mosel in terms of terroir.  Burgenland, Mittelburgenland, and Neusiedlersee are warmer, making them ideal for red grapes.  And what I found perhaps most interesting - that Gruner Veltliner is the child of Savagnin and St. Georgener-Rebe (an ancient and almost extinct grape type in Burgenland), and that Zweigelt is the child of Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent.

We began with a Sekt - the Steininger Burgunder Sekt from Kamptal (if I remember corrently, it’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc) - I liked it, it’s clean and fun with a bit of residual sugar (and I was surprised to hear it’s about 13.5% alcohol).  As I anticipated, it showed floral notes as well as both citrus and orchard, and we were told that a sparkling sekt like this is generally served at breakfast in Austria.  Sparkling wine at breakfast?  Sign me up.

Then we began a flight of Gruner Veltliner, and I was shocked at how different each of the five wines was from the others.  We started with the 2012 Brundlmayer Terassen from Kamptal - very much a Gruner, with the vegetable and celery notes and white pepper, white stony mineral, and bright acidity.  That was a perfect start to a flight of Gruner.  Next was one of my favorite wines of the class - the 2012 Wimmer Czerny Fumberg from Wagram.  (And at $19, I think it was the least expensive of all the Gruners.)  It was slightly heavier than the first and a bit more reflective golden in color, and more aromatic, with deeper, more mature characteristics - orchard fruit, pepper, and floral notes, and drier earthiness.  That was a lovely wine.  I didn’t connect with the third Gruner, the 2011 Somm-Kracher from Weinvieterl - it seemed a bit oxidized.  While it showed characteristics of some apple, vegetables, and pepper, as well as some honeysuckle and diesel, it seemed slightly botrytized and just kind of funky - too funky for me (and that’s saying something).  The fourth, the 2012 Rudi Pichler Federspiel from Wachau, was delicious and another excellent example of a Gruner.  The characteristics of pepper, green vegetables, citrus fruit, herbs, and some charred notes as well as a dry clean earthiness and nice acidity were subtle and balanced.  And finally, the 2011 Emmerich Knoll Schutt from Wachau was a nice way to wrap up the flight - a bit golden and a hint of fizz, the wine showed the anticipated white pepper, greenness, and subtle fruit with a great deal of complexity, it’s both satisfying and cerebral, with great flavors and bright acidity.
Next up were the “other whites” - first was the 2012 Christ Alte Reben Gemischter Satz from Wein.  Apparently this is a “mix of grapes” and is a trendy thing among young hipsters of Vienna - at least that’s what we were told.  The grapes are old school traditional grapes but we don’t know exactly what they are, which I thought was interesting.  It’s another funky wine, very direct, clean, and bright, but very intense and a bit too bold for me but cool anyway.  But the other four wines in the flight were amazing.  The 2011 Johanneshof Reinisch Zierfandler from Thermenregion (I believe this is where they said the spas are location) - the aromas were gorgeous, with notes of orchard fruit, orange, and tropical fruit, herb and perhaps tea leaf, a savory note, and flowers but not the blossom kind - more like standard flowers and not from fruit trees, and a clean feel.  Next was the 2012 Heidi Schroek Gelber Musskateller from Rust, Neusiedlersee-Hugelland - this wine is incredible.  It reminded me of Alsatian wines regarding aroma, including floral notes, savory herbs, citrus but mostly orchard fruits, and bright acidity, and very dry which surprised me considering the big aromas that I thought would indicate more concentration.  It was so perfectly balanced and I loved it.  The next wine was so unique - the 2012 Neumeister “Classic” Sauvignon Blanc from Styria, which we were told is a region that makes a pure Sauvignon Blanc very expressive of the grape’s true identity.  It’s what I like to call a “stinker” - funky on the nose with some petrol notes, bitter fruit (I was thinking of kumquat), grass, herb, peach, and mineral - and tremendous acidity.  That wine might have been the most fascinating of the class.  The final white was the 2012 Weingut Prager Riesling Smaragd “Achleiten” from Wachau.  (I didn’t know it but we were told that Achleiten is quite possibly the best and most famous vineyard in Austria.)  This was another wonderful wine, but I’d love to taste it again a long time from now - it just seemed to need some time, there’s so much going on - a touch of fizz with a perfectly clean and elegant feel, citrus and orchard fruit and mineral with a touch of floral notes.  But it needs some time before it becomes something truly extraordinary.
The red flight blew my mind.  (Days later, I’m still thinking about it - and I’ve had the very Blaufrankisch we tasted before, in fact I had it again just four days before the class - see my food blog post on goulash and Blaufrankisch.)  First up was the 2008 Kollwentz Zweigelt “Follikberg” from Mittelburgenland - it showed a clear, deep red color (and I must admit it was quite different from any Zweigelt I’ve ever had - much more substantial than the others that were fruity and earthy but in no way complex) - anyway this was a “beefy” example, as they called it, with notes of earthiness, spice, cooked meat, and bold fruit, with bright acidity and a gaminess to it that would pair ideally with wild meats with texture and lots of flavor.  The Blaufrankisch was the 2011 Moric from Burgenland, which I love (I really love it with my homemade goulash, but that’s another blog post, as I’ve mentioned) - it’s another very spicy, peppery red with red but also dark fruit, coffee notes, charred meat, and a red/pink color, with great acidity and wonderful elegance and structure.  And the biggest surprise for me (since I’ve never had one before) - the 2011 Juris Sankt Laurent “Selection” from Neusiedlersee (I’ve had Zweigelt from Juris and if you go back a few food blog posts, you’ll see it there and how much I like it) - anyway my tasting notes begin with “wow” so there you have it - it’s a brighter red color than the other two, very earthy, fruity, and a bit funky, with elegant spice alongside a rustic leathery note (I love how elegance and rusticity can come together so perfectly), and a softness and deliciousness that I never expected - it’s a truly unique wine.
We finished with two sweet wines.  The first one, I must admit, I did not spit.  I couldn’t possibly, in all good conscience.  I drank it.  It’s the 2010 Kracher Trockenbeerenauslese No. 7 Welschriesling from Burgenland.  And it’s amazing.  It’s a light golden color with stunning aromas of rich blossom characteristics, candied orange, cooked peaches and apricot, and while it’s sweet and enticing and textured, it’s clean and lovely.  I was blown away by that one!  The other sweet wine was great too - the 1998 (wow) Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch from Burgenland.  It’s aged quite a bit so it’s got the dark orange/gold color with some funkiness and toasted notes, candied, honeyed, and reminiscent of brulee, rich yet slightly dried fruit, and it’s just delicious.

So there it was, the Austrian master class - a tremendous learning experience that I couldn’t possibly put down on paper - you’ve got to hunt these wines down and taste them!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Keeping Up...

I can hardly believe how my schedule these days has forced me to neglect my wine blog.  I feel like I hardly ever have a moment to post my thoughts!  It may seem that I’ve got nothing to talk about and that’s why I haven’t been around - well that’s certainly not the case - I have so much to tell you, I have no idea where to start!

My suggestion is that if you want to know what I’m up to in terms of wine, please “friend” me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter @jacswineblog and Instagram @tannatforlife.  I do post regularly to all of those places.

Tonight’s Malbec form Cahors
I’ll start by telling you that I’m currently sipping a Cahors by the fireplace, relaxing after pouring another fun tasting tonight at my favorite wine boutique, Lake Side Emotions, where I am every Friday afternoon/evening (so please come visit!) - I finally have a few hours off from work and everything else.

I’ve been tasting through so many fascinating wines - from classics like Bordeaux and Burgundy and Rhone and Loire, to esoterics like Madiran, Gaillac, Bergerac, Puglia, Burgenland, Baden - you name the region and I’m exploring the grapes.  I’ve been trying to sit for as many Guild of Sommeliers master classes as possible (by the way, the Austrian master class is coming to New York next month and of course I’m attending, even though I’ll be pouring 3 long wine tastings in the days leading up to the class) - so you know I’ll be writing a post on that!

I’ve found some new favorites and revisited a few favorites, I’ve been spending as much time learning as I possibly can, and even experimenting with some interesting pairings (examples?  How about quail with a Langhe Nebbiolo, or rare tuna and Japanese noodles with Zweigelt, or creamy mushroom, chicken, and sage sauce on fettuccine with Saperavi?  Those were just a few experiments I played with last week, and all absolutely delightful.)

Saperavi from Georgia
I should mention that something exciting is coming up in about 2 months - I’m turning 30.  I’m not happy about it, not that it matters because I have no choice anyway, but I’ve decided to shop around for some 1983 bottles and see what happens.  A generous friend sent me a bottle of 1983.  I’ve located some others, and I’m absolutely sure that the 30th birthday wine extravaganza will be a blast - and there’s a blog post I look forward to writing.

So I promise to stay on top of things when something exciting or especially informative happens.  But I’d like to throw a few things out there for your consideration - the rise in popularity of Sicilian wines, risky and rewarding pairings, and cool weather wines.  I might be going in those directions soon!

Friday, August 30, 2013

In the Wine Shop...

We’ve all been in restaurants before.  When the waiter comes to the table, we listen to him (or her).  We listen for the specials, the soup of the day, the fresh fish, the flavor of ice cream or souffle, and eventually, we place our order.  How do we know what to order?  Well, we might ask some questions about the dishes, and we might ask the waiter for a recommendation, but ultimately, we order it because it’s what we want.  It’s probably something we already know we like, and if it’s what we’re in the mood for, we order it.

Sometimes, we also speak with the sommelier or wine captain.  We do this so we can decide what we’d like with dinner - maybe we want to pair correctly, or we want to choose the best option based on value or on our own taste.  And the sommelier helps the customer come up with the best option.  But if the sommelier is doing his (or her) job correctly, he’s accommodating the taste of the customer, and not his own preference.

Such should be the case in wine shops.  And this is a two way street.  I go into a lot of wine shops, and sometimes I see an active shopkeeper or employee, helping customers find the wines that would best suit the needs of the customers.  But often, I see the shopkeeper or employee doing very little, if anything, to assist.  Odds are, if the customer is not familiar with all the products, the customer will not know what is best to suit his needs, and he may very well be dissatisfied with the wine when he brings it home and opens it.

The shopkeeper needs to take the time to assist customers for a number of reasons - perhaps the customer is completely unfamiliar with wines in general.  Or maybe the customer is looking to broaden his palate and try new things, and isn’t sure which direction to go.  Or maybe the customer has a particular palate profile (we all do) and would like something to fit his needs.  If the customer tends to prefer Malbec, Shiraz, and Cabernet, the shopkeeper probably shouldn’t recommend Mondeuse.  Maybe he’d suggest a Mourvedre, Aglianico, or Tannat instead.  Or would he?  Does the shopkeeper even understand his own inventory?  How is the customer supposed to understand the inventory if the shopkeeper cannot or will not assist the customer?
Anyone can recommend a cheap magnum of mass produced plonk.  Anyone can recommend a $300 bottle with a 95+ score from Robert Parker.  That would be taking the easy way out.  There’s so much more to it - how about finding a great value wine to match someone’s palate profile and preferences?  That should bring great satisfaction, especially if the customer returns again to make another purchase, and tells the shopkeeper just how happy he was with the previous selection.

And what about the customer who makes no attempt to speak with a helpful shopkeeper?  It’s that customer who either refuses help and goes away unhappy, or makes no attempt to describe to a willing shopkeeper what he generally likes.  Naming a price point and asking for a recommendation isn’t the answer.  Do you like your wines red or white?  Sweet or dry?  Lighter or heavier?  There’s a starting point.  Then - what would you like to spend?  Are there any particular wines you’ve really enjoyed?  And here’s a favorite - when a customer shows a label from their smart phone.  That’s unbelievably helpful - because the shopkeeper can either find the same bottle in the store, or recommend something similar.

My point is, if a customer wants to be as close to completely satisfied as possible, he’s got to do his part and work with the shopkeeper when selecting a bottle.  He’s got to give as many clues as possible, in order for the shopkeeper to come up with the best possible options for the customer.  And if a shopkeeper wants to help his business and become trusted and respected by his customers, he’s got to do his part in being educated on the inventory in the store, and being active and helpful with customers.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Guild of Sommeliers Master Class on Australian Terroir

I can’t believe I’ve spent over 2 weeks away from the wine blog - but what I’ve realized is that due to a lot going on these days, I’ll be writing blog posts “as needed,” whenever I feel something entertaining should be shared - an extraordinary bottle or wine experience, a special wine class, or some particular wine thought that I think I should flesh out.  Basically, I’ll be treating Champagne Taste wine blog kind of like I treat my other blog, Here, Taste This!, the food blog.

I’ve been tasting through some truly fascinating wines, entirely too many to blog about in detail, so if you’re curious, “friend” me on Facebook, where I post daily with photos of my wine escapades, labels, tasting notes, pairings, tastings, observations, etc.  It’s just a lot easier for me than going to such detail on the blog all the time.  Longer thoughts will, of course, go straight to the blog, and then to Facebook, Twitter (and maybe even Instagram - I recently joined that!)

So here:
Facebook - “friend” me at Jacqueline Malenda
Twitter - “follow” me @jacswineblog
Instagram - “follow” me @tannatforlife

And if you’re in the area when I’m pouring a tasting - every Friday 3-6.30pm at Lake Side Emotions Wine Boutique in Stony Brook, or wherever else I may be pouring AP Wine Imports products on a Saturday or Sunday all around Long Island (which I always post on Facebook or Twitter), please come visit!  And if you’re far away and still want to talk wine with me, please drop me an email at, I’d love to hear from you!

Guild of Sommeliers Master Class -
Australian Terroir
That said, here’s something I’ve been meaning to share with you since I attended the class.  As you may know, I’m a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, which I joined just over 2 years ago when I began with the Court of Master Sommeliers.  The Guild offers some really fascinating “master classes” which are taught by level 4 master sommeliers on various topics.  When they’re offered in New York, I try to attend as many as possible.  Usually, they cover a specific region of wine production, and some have truly changed the way I view wine - in particular, my very first Guild of Sommeliers class taught by MS Dexheimer and MS Carney almost 2 years ago, on the wines from Sud-Ouest, South West France.  Since that day, I’ve felt a special connection with those wines from Sud-Ouest, and have taken quite a bit of time to learn about them even more, and taste as many as I can find.  Cahors fascinates me, as does Irouleguy, and others, particularly Buzet and Bergerac, but the wines I seem to be infatuated with are the bone dry, dark, rustic, expressive Tannat based wines of Madiran.

I’ve taken some really fun classes since then - anyone who knows me well knows that my preference lies with Old World style wines, but I’ve made it a point to take classes also based on New World regions, and the most recent was a tremendous revelation to me.

Some years back, when I first started learning about wine, the first country I learned about was Spain, followed by Australia.  (I then went back to basics with France and then Italy, but that’s another story.)  What troubled me about my experiences with Australian wine is that most I had tasted over the years have been mass-produced, from very large wineries, and often in a style not pleasing to my palate.  See, I don’t care much for wines with that “hot” feeling, when the excessive alcohol gets in the way of everything else, or where all I can taste is a heavy note of black pepper, or just a whole lot of fruit and no expression of anything else.  I’m sure you understand what I mean.

A couple of months ago, I was at the master class on Ribera del Duero, because I feel like Spain has almost become a weak point for me, in that I can do a lot better than just basic working knowledge of Spanish wine.  And while I was at Corkbuzz in Manhattan for the class, MS Laura Maniec mentioned that she and MS Matt Stamp would be teaching a class on Australian terroir soon, as they had just returned from an interesting trip to Australia.  I was quite curious, as she seemed very enthusiastic and said that the wines that would be included in the class would not be what most Americans are used to, in terms of Australian wine.

So when the class was posted, I signed up immediately.  And I’m so glad I did.

There wasn’t much Shiraz, which was completely ok by me - there were a few, but the focus was on other things, and that’s what made the class so exciting.  The first flight was Pinot Noir from Yarra Valley, the second was Grenache from McLaren Vale (probably always will be my favorite Australian region), third was Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River, and fourth was a blind tasting flight.

Yarra Valley, it turns out, is a cooler place in terms of climate than some of the regions I’m more used to.  So alcohol levels were a lot lower in the Pinot Noir than in most of the Shiraz wines I’ve tasted - and right in my wheelhouse!  We began with the 2011 Giant Steps Applejack Pinot Noir, which felt a bit thin to me but was pleasurable and interesting, and since it was the first wine we tasted, already I knew I was in for something new - lighter style Australian wines!  Next up was the 2011 De Bortoli Estate Pinot Noir.  Usually when we think of De Bortoli, it’s the Noble One botrytized dessert wine, so this was interesting.  Again, since 2011 was a cooler vintage, the wine seemed slightly thin, but it was more expressive than the Giant Steps.  The last wine of the flight was my favorite of the flight - the 2010 Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Pinot Noir.  It had great texture with lovely acidity and plenty of fruit notes, more red and fresh than dark and stewed, lots of cherry, smokiness, flower petals, and cool stony earthiness.  And what was really incredible was that the wines were 12.5%, 13%, and 12.7% alcohol, respectively.  Wow.

The Grenache flight from McLaren Vale left the most of an impression with me.  I’ve tasted wines with some Grenache in them, from McLaren Vale, but never wines like these.  The sandy soil drains well in McLaren Vale, making it ideal for Grenache, and there isn’t a lot of rainfall.  The wines we tasted were the 2011 Ess & See, 2011 Ochota Barrels Fugazi Vineyard, 2010 Yangarra Estate High Sands, and 2009 d’Arenberg Blewitt Springs.  My favorites of the flight were the Yangarra and the Ochota Barrels, and in fact the Ochota Barrels was probably my favorite wine of the entire class, because after talking with Australians about their continent and what to expect if I ever visit and what makes Australia unique, it was right there in the Ochota, as plain as day.  The wines are spicy and show lots of red fruit but a bit more concentrated than the Pinot Noir flight, and had plenty of black pepper, and some, particularly the Yangrra, were reminiscent of the Grenache based wines from southern Rhone, they were so expressive though and I loved them.  The Ochota Barrels was the most interesting, mainly on the nose, because it showed eucalyptus, mint, and black pepper right up there with the fruit and earth, that I knew without a doubt that this wine is screaming “Australia.”  They say that the oil of the eucalyptus plants becomes airborne - this was the best example of terroir, in my opinion, in that it’s the earth but also the air as well.  Australia was truly in that Grenache.

The Margaret RIver Cabernet Sauvignon flight was just lovely.  It turns out that the purpose of the plantings in Margaret River were the result of a search for a proper terroir for cooler climate table wine in Australia, and not just fortified wines, for which Australia was known for some time.  I enjoyed the wines very much as they were extremely well balanced and delicious and very expressive - they weren’t big, huge, hearty Cabernet - they were refined.  We tasted through the 2010 Vasse Felix, 2009 Lenton Brae (a favorite), 2010 Cullen Diana Medeline, and 2010 Moss Wood (another favorite).  The elegance and sophistication of the wines was stunning.

The fourth and final flight was blind, and there were some wild card wines in there!  The first was the 2011 Whistling Kite Petit Manseng from Riverland.  It didn’t remind me at all of Manseng I’ve tasted form Sud-Ouest and it wasn’t my favorite, but it was unique and worth having in the class, even though Manseng is by no means a staple in Australia.  We were told the producer is so small and unassuming, it was evident in the wine.  Next was a Chardonnay that was pretty easy to identify because it was just so Chardonnay - the fruit and texture were lovely.  It was the2012 BK Wines One Ball from Adelaide Hills, and they told us why it had that name, but I’ll spare you the details.  Next up was another favorite for me - the 2012 Shobbrock Seppeltsfield Syrah from Barossa (and I was actually happy to taste a really cool Shiraz at this point!  Too bad it’s not available in the US - a few other wines aren’t available either, so it was cool to taste them when I had the opportunity).  It was a soft Shiraz with lots of delicious fruit, some candied fruit and “sweet water” on the nose, very floral, herbal, peppery, but not overbearing in any way.  The final was the 2012 Ruggabelis Effrus which was quite a dark wine, a blend from Barossa of mostly Mourvedre with some Syrah and Grenache.  The structure was elegant but bold, with an almost rustic elegance if that makes any sense, with leather and meat notes with the earthiness, smoke, and dark fruit, plus the typical Australian herb and mint notes.

Does it sound fascinating and far from ordinary?  That’s because it was.  MS Maniec and MS Stamp (love his teaching style by the way, very easy to understand and follow) did a great job teaching the class, and when I take a New World themed class, usually I plan on being able to point out what I like so much better about their Old World counterparts - instead, this time I was in love with the Australian wines - completely unexpected.

Friday, August 2, 2013

“Do You Like It?"

Observing and enjoying Sauvignon Blanc

There are many “rules” about wine - for me, the most important rule is this: you like it, or you don’t.

What do I mean?  Well, it’s really that simple, in a sense.  Are you going to drink something you like?  Of course.  Are you going to drink something you don’t like?  No.

And certainly your taste can change over time - mine has, and I find that things I used to gravitate towards are less appealing to me now, and things I never thought I’d like are now among the things that I love.  And there’s also the part about learning, which is quite important.  It’s important to know what we’re drinking, where it’s from, what are the grapes, etc., and what makes us like it.

When the wines speak to us via their characteristics, if we really try, we can find notes of different fruits, soil types, spices, oak, etc., and that’s great, because that helps us understand what we’re drinking and a little bit (or a lot) about it.  That might also help us determine what other wines we might like or dislike.  Granted, it’s important also to remain open minded about that, because no one wants to drink the same thing every time (at least I hope not!); we want to keep on learning and experimenting.

After sitting through a fair number of wine classes for wine professionals, I think we get kind of wrapped up in characteristics and tasting notes.  Sometimes I really turn myself loose, especially when I’m tasting alone, and I read over my notes later on and can hardly believe how many things I wrote down.

But there’s something more important than all of that - the most important thing is whether I enjoyed it or not.

“And if so, DID SHE ENJOY IT?"
See, of course I like a wine to have the traits of the grapes it’s made up of, and be indicative of its region - I like good examples of the grape and terroir.  That’s important to me.  But sometimes, a wine is just delicious.

And that’s when I love being asked, “do you like it?”  Because that really is what matters most.  So when I’m pouring an in-store tasting and the customers tell me they don’t really know much about wine, I just ask them the same thing - “do you like it?”  And I explain to them that what’s most important is whether they like it.  

So when you’re writing your tasting notes and analyzing what’s in your glass, please don’t lose sight of the importance of the pleasure the wine brings.  Yes, it’s important to appreciate the balance, the terroir and expressiveness, the aging capability, the length, and all of those other things - but remember this - you probably won’t go back for another glass if you don’t like it.  Forget what people are telling you to drink and what you should be enjoying - wine magazines, advertisements, and even wine educators can’t tell you exactly what’s right for you - only you can decide that.  So remember: first, ask yourself, “do I like it?”

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Letter to the Regulars

This isn’t the typical blog post - not that any of them are quite typical anymore - they range anywhere from tasting notes to fun anecdotes to a sort of wine philosophy.

No - today’s post is a letter to the people I often refer to as Lake Side Emotions’ “Friday regulars.”  Every Friday, I pour the wine tasting from afternoon until early evening.  And over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten to know many of the people who attend regularly.

Since I started working for AP Wine Imports, I’ve also been pouring tastings at other wine stores.  Sometimes those in-store tastings are lots of fun for me, and sometimes that’s definitely not the case.  Often, people in attendance at the other tastings take all kinds of liberties, or have no interest in the brief presentation I make about the wines I’m pouring, or just pretend I’m not even there.

Don’t get me wrong, any time I get to talk about wine is still fun for me.  But it’s not as much fun when no one is listening, or when they’re behaving badly.

Provence Rose’ tasting at Lake Side Emotions
to celebrate Bastille Day
So, I realize how lucky I am to see the “Friday regulars” every week and I notice that each time one of them walks in the door at my favorite wine boutique, Lake Side Emotions, I’m genuinely happy to see them.  I know we’ll be catching up on things other than wine, but now I also understand why so many other reps have no idea why I find pouring tastings, in general, to be a lot of fun.  It’s because the majority of my tastings are spent with you, our Friday regulars.  And while wine is fun for me, it’s also you who make it fun.

Often, at other tastings, I’m usually pouring French wines from the AP portfolio, and sometimes the wines are a bit offbeat.  Sometimes people don’t care to know anything about the products, and sometimes they just throw around statements like, “I don’t drink French wine,” “I don’t drink rose’,” “don’t you have any local wine?” and the like.

But not our Friday regulars.  I always appreciate the enthusiasm to try the wines we’re showing each week, and to hear me out on my little presentations - whether you’re that interested or not, I love it that you still let me go on about the wines for a moment.  And I love your feedback, when you tell me what you like or don’t like about the wines.  And I especially love it when you remember things we’ve poured at tastings in weeks prior.  Watching you enjoy wines you’ve never seen or heard of before, and trusting my descriptions enough to give the wines a chance, and of course bringing them home to enjoy or share with others - that makes it all worthwhile.

One of my favorite Friday tasting experiences happened over the course of two Fridays, last year.  One of the wines we poured was a Madiran - mostly Tannat with some Cabernet Franc.  It’s one of my favorites at Lake Side Emotions and I was excited to be showing it to anyone who was willing to listen and taste.  And I was a little surprised at the reception - nearly everyone loved the Madiran.  This is expecially exciting for me because anyone who knows me well knows that I have a major soft spot for the wines of Sud-Ouest, Tannat from Madiran in particular.  So watching so many people loving a wine that I connect well with, but isn’t mainstream, was fun.  And the following week, some regulars began to ask, “what was that really dark dry red you were pouring last week?  I want a few more bottles of it.”  The Madiran?  Really?  I was thrilled - they loved the Madiran!

So, I know that this is why I enjoy pouring tastings - because at most of my tastings, I’m fortunate enough to see our weekly tasters, our “Friday regulars,” and they’re the ones who make tastings so much fun for me.  Yes, it’s also the wine, but it’s the people who attend and listen and enjoy and come into the wine boutique not to judge the wines before tasting, but to have fun with us and try something new, and you are the ones who give me that three and a half hours each week to look forward to.

Thank you for that.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Everything Matters When Considering Terroir

I’m going to write some things in this blog post that may bother some of you.  But before you get angry with me for all the wrong reasons, I’d like you to think about why it makes sense.

I suppose I should start by asking if you’d order a salad for dinner at a renowned steakhouse, or chicken parmigiana at a sushi restaurant, or expect a diet coke or a beer at Starbucks - no, right?  Those things would make no sense.  Why would they make no sense?  Such options would be completely out of place.

Ok, now think of it this way - would you expect a Zinfandel to be produced in Mosel?  What about Albarino in Bordeaux?  Or Riesling in Rioja?  Or Blaufrankisch in Mendoza?

Would you blend Pinot Noir and Tannat?  Malbec and Gamay?  Falanghina and Gewurztraminer?

Do you want to know why I didn’t think so?  Because they don’t match.

Look at a basic Bordeaux blend, or a Loire or Alsace white blend, or a “GSM” from Rhone.  How about Super Tuscans?  Meritage?  The blends make sense.  The grapes are grown in regions that are known for those grapes.  But why are Merlot and Cabernet planted in Bordeaux and not in Rheingau?  Why is Sangiovese planted in Tuscany and not in Rias Baixas?  I’ll tell you why.

There’s this concept known as terroir.  It’s a concept labeled by the French, and in some cases, understood and respected by others around the world.  It’s something we believe encompasses the climate and soil and the wine’s overall “place of being” - and terroir plays an important role in the wine.  This is because certain grapes are suited to grow in certain climates and their vines are suited for certain soil types.  Sure, some of them can be pretty versatile, but after centuries, and in some cases millennia, winemakers around the world have been learning which grapes should grow where, and have perfected their craft, and this is what gives each wine producing region its characteristics best associated with their grapes, soil, and climate.

Maybe some regions are too warm to grow particular grapes.  Maybe some are too damp.  Maybe the soil is too rocky or dry for certain vines, but not for others.

But when you taste a wine, it’s that story it tells, that makes it what it is.  What’s its story?  Where’s it from, what grapes were used, what was the weather that year, what’s the soil like?  When tasting, some of those questions can be answered by allowing the wine to tell its own story.

And what happens if the wrong grapes are grown in a region?  Well, the wine won’t be the best possible representation of that grape type.  And it certainly won’t be a proper representation of what we expect from that growing region.

And think of this - what if grapes that have nothing to do with each other are suddenly blended together?  Believe me, the result can be quite awful.  Without mentioning any names, I tasted a few years ago a white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer - at least I’m pretty sure that was the blend.  It was among the worst white blends I’ve ever tasted.  And my friend who was with me that evening, who is not in the wine industry and at the time had very little experience, was also very disappointed (read: repulsed) by the wine.

It was at that moment that I explained to someone for the first time why grapes from Bordeaux, Chardonnay, Loire, Rhone, and Alsace probably shouldn’t all be used in the same blend.  Why? she asked - well, they don’t really match.  It’s something that I’m guessing wouldn’t happen very often in the Old World wine regions.  See, the people who produce wine in the Old World regions have learned through generations upon generations of labor and research and dedication that some things work well together and some things don’t.  As James May (see Oz & James’ Big Wine Adventure) would call it - it’s a “wine fact” - and it certainly makes sense to me.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable challenging ancient winemaking rituals and beliefs.  Especially when they’re tried and true.

What I’m saying is - if you see wine grapes from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Hungary, etc., all being grown within a few miles of each other, in the same wine region - I think you should be at least a bit suspicious.  Think of it this way - those Old World regions aren’t even divided into countries - they’re divided into regions inside of each country, and each region is divided into subregions, communes, and it even matters which vineyard on a property has been the location for the grapes in question.  It really is that specific, and if you don’t believe me, read up on a place like Burgundy.  It really does matter how the soil drains on that side of the property, or which direction the sunlight comes from, or where breezes come from.  Everything matters when considering terroir.  Don’t take my word for it - take it from the people who have been producing the best wines in the world for centuries.

My advice - if you want a good example of a particular grape, buy from the region where the grape originates.  Odds are, the wine will show best and will be able to tell its story.  You’ll get a better idea of its identity as it was intended.  And you might (read: probably) even pay less than for its counterpart from a place where it shouldn’t be produced.  And another bit of advice is to read up a little on important, major wine producing regions and find out which grapes should be blended together - like Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre or Cabernet/Merlot.  If you see a blend that doesn’t line up with very basic guidelines for grapes that work well together, you might think twice about buying that blend.

I’m not saying that a Riesling vine will shrivel up and die immediately in Rhone, or that Durif won’t survive a day in Burgundy, but it won’t be a proper example of what it is.  Don’t ask the sushi chef for rigatoni alla vodka.  Don’t ask the fish monger for cannoli.  You know why - no one has to tell you.  Do yourself a favor before investing in a wine for the wrong reasons - the right reasons to buy a wine include enjoying it, pairing it with the right dish, and experiencing the grapes from the regions where they grow best.  Read up a bit on traditional wine grapes and their regions.  Don’t just buy wine produced at that place up the road because it’s that place up the road.  Buy what’s good, because you’ll enjoy it.  Understand what you’re drinking and let the wine speak to you.