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Friday, May 31, 2013

It’s the Little Things that Count

They say that it’s the little things that count.

I’d tend to agree.  Sure, they also say that life is measured by the moments that take your breath away.  That sounds great, but in reality, how often do you have your breath taken away by something?  Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that while I’m very satisfied in my life, it doesn’t happen all that often.

So what keeps it exciting?  Well, that’s where the little things come into play.  In our everyday lives, we don’t have monumental things happening all the time.  What makes life worth living, and what keeps it exciting and fun all the time, are the little things.

These days, I’ve come to appreciate the little things a lot more.  Seeing beauty in something simple, giving or receiving a small act of kindness or thoughtfulness, and taking a moment to appreciate something that would otherwise go unnoticed are what I find most important.  If that didn’t happen, life would get pretty boring - at least I think so.

So how does this apply to wine?  Well, when you first start enjoying wine, you might go for big wines with big characteristics that deliver seemingly a thousandfold.  It’s just a huge wine that bursts with aroma and flavor and has a rich texture that satisfies your palate.  Bigger is better.  They do say that too, don’t they?

Think of it this way - perhaps bigger isn’t always better.  In fact, often, bigger really isn’t better.

Drink too much “big wine” and your nose and palate will only recognize and appreciate the big aroma and flavor.  Or you could try enjoying some of the lighter style wines that show elegance and finesse - and when the wine isn’t overpowering, we can detect and appreciate the little things - subtleties that we’d never find with a big wine, because the ripeness and largeness of it fail to allow the hints and soft characteristics to come through.  If we take our time and enjoy and sense the slight notes and characteristics, such as expression of earth and soil type, and perhaps other fruit notes, floral notes, herbs, and spices, we can feel the wine speaking to us.  We get to hear the whole story, instead of just one huge part of it, which tends to distract us from the little things.  Don’t overlook and underestimate the lovely little things - they have a way of telling us so much more, if we only allow them to.  When a friend is recounting their day, not every part of the story will be some big juicy news - most of it will be the little things.  The same goes for wine - let it tell you the story with the fine little details, and not just some blast of a single characteristic that overshadows everything else.

Friday, May 24, 2013

On Aging Gracefully and How It’s Done

They say that the vast majority of wine produced is intended for immediate consumption.  And it’s true - most wine should be opened and enjoyed not long after their release.  But there’s this fascination with older bottles - and rightfully so, because only wines made in special years, of special grapes, from special vineyards in special regions have true aging potential.  And a great older wine can be spectacular.

Years upon years of sitting, waiting for the right time to be opened, the great bottles reach maturity.  If you’re the one who bought the bottle in its youth and decided to age it on your own and hold it until it’s ready, then I’m guessing (and hoping!) you took the time to know how to store it properly - not to move it around, not to leave it in a place without the proper temperature or darkness or humidity, etc.

But perhaps you decide you want to invest in an older bottle, something that’s mature now, and you’re willing to pay the price for it, but you weren’t the one who aged it.  This means that you’ve got to gamble on whether it’s been stored properly over the years.  And unless you’re buying the wine from a reputable place, the wine might not have been kept correctly over the years.  We know what this means - there’s a strong chance the wine is not good any longer - it’s gone bad, the color will be off, the aromas and flavors will be nothing at all like a wine that’s been properly stored, the texture will be unappealing - basically, the wine is ruined, or at least not aged as correctly as its counterparts who have otherwise been kept properly.

Last year, I wrote a post about the aging potential of some wines, namely Nebbiolo, and created a parallel to the aging potential in people, and how some people just have a better capability to age gracefully than others do, and some are, in fact, better with age.  But not all people are that way.  Some are genetically less equipped to age gracefully.  Others bring it upon themselves and live a life that tends to age them quicker than others, and perhaps quicker than they otherwise would have aged.  They don’t look so good, they don’t feel as well as they could have, and there’s no possibility of recapturing their youth at any time.  An unhealthy or foolish lifestyle tends to have these results.

Think of it as the way we store a wine for many years.  The ones properly cared for will probably age well, if they were produced as wines with aging potential.  But improper care will eliminate chances of aging potential.  Too many rough spots, bumps on the road of life, will do the same thing to a person, coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle for too long.

If you go into a wine shop where older bottles are available, be careful when selecting an older bottle.  Observe the conditions and inquire about the care of the bottle.  Of course, you’ll have to depend on your own judgment, but remember that there could be a reason why the bottle may be sitting there so long, perhaps past its peak time, particularly if the price seems a bit too low.  Think twice - it may be worth the gamble, or maybe not.  And if you decide that the gamble is not worth your trouble, remember that you can always choose a different older bottle, or stick with a wine for immediate consumption for the time being, and play it safe.  Risk-taking can be fun, but only when the results are to your liking.  No one wants to be disappointed.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Case for Wine Tasting - In Case You Need a Reason!

Do you love wine tasting?  Who doesn’t?

But why do you go wine tasting - is it for fun only?  Or maybe to experiment a bit and see what wines work best for you?  Either way it’s a good thing, especially if you do it for both reasons.

Think of it this way - when you go shopping for clothing, do you just pick up an item and bring it to the counter and pay for it and bring it home, never knowing if the item is right for you until you put it on for the first time at home?  Probably not.  You probably bring the clothing into the fitting room and put them on, see how they look and feel, take a look in the mirror, and take another look in the mirror, and possibly ask for the opinion of an employee at the clothing shop, or bring a friend for another opinion.  Only then, after careful deliberation, do you decide to make a purchase.

Why not do the same thing with wine?  If you’re permitted to taste before you buy, why not take advantage of the opportunity?  It lowers the risk of not liking the wine you purchase, and tastings are generally not expensive, and some tastings are free, whether it’s at the winery or at a wine shop.

This summer I’m scheduled to pour a lot of in-store weekend tastings, aside from my regular Friday tastings.  The public will have an opportunity to try before they buy, and I’ll have an opportunity to explain the products to them, and help them find the wines that are right for them.

When someone says, “no, thank you” in response to whether they’d like to taste, for free, I wonder why that happens.  It only takes a few seconds to taste, it costs nothing, and you won’t get drunk on one sip.  And if you’re still afraid of getting drunk, taste it and then spit it into the bucket - that’s why the bucket is there.  People at tastings sometimes tell me that it’s a waste for me to spit it out, when they see me do that.  This makes no sense to me - it’s a much bigger waste to buy a wine that you’re not sure you’re going to enjoy.  Just taste it - trust me, you won’t be sorry.  What have you got to lose?

Friday, May 10, 2013

You Know You’re a Wine Geek If...

You know you’re a wine geek if...

  1. You spend more on wine than food.
  2. You spend more on wine than other life expenses.
  3. You pair your dinner to your wine, not the other way around.
  4. You walk into a wine shop and immediately go to the “esoteric” section.
  5. You know that German wine means so much more than just Riesling.
  6. And you know that not all Riesling is “sweet.”
  7. You know the difference between Pauillac and Pomerol, Saint Estephe and Saint Emilion.
  8. You can pronounce Gewurztraminer and Blaufrankisch.
  9. You realize that bocksbeutel does not necessarily translate to Mateus.
  10. You don’t think Tannat is excessively dry.
  11. You can explain botrytis cinerea and start dreaming of good Sauternes.
  12. You strongly prefer Grower Champagne over the well known houses.
  13. You try, to no end, to explain the concept of terroir to just about everyone.
  14. You don’t laugh when you say “Cahors.”
  15. You keep records of everything you ever drank, and when a new vintage is released, you take notes all over again.
  16. You know that Malbec, Tannat, and Carmenere have their origins in France - not South America.
  17. You think it’s fun to say “Gruner Veltliner,”
  18. You enjoy sparkling wines from outside of Champagne, and still wines from Champagne, and think nothing of it.
  19. You have a new favorite grape and region every day.
  20. You have a section in your collection dedicated to Aglianico.
  21. Your iPhone apps include vintage charts and you check them regularly.
  22. You find brown bagging to be a most exciting game.
  23. All day, you wonder what bottle you’ll be opening this evening.
  24. You carry a corkscrew wherever you go.
  25. When you’re invited to parties, the host automatically expects that you’ll be bringing wine.
  26. You know what a GSM blend is.
  27. The statement, “I don’t drink Chardonnay; I only drink Chablis,” frustrates you.
  28. You think those intentionally oxidized wines are so cool.
  29. You can spend an entire evening with friends talking about wine.
  30. You dream of trips to Burgundy, Jura, Campagna, Nahe, and Priorat.
  31. You really only drink rosé in the summer months.
  32. You secretly want to kill people who put ice in their wine - especially in their red wine.
  33. You have an urge to marinate your steak in Pinotage.
  34. You were loving Sancerre long before it became a massive trend.
  35. You’re not worried about Parker reviews - at all.
  36. You panic when a thunderstorm knocks out the power on a hot summer night - because the temperature will rise and might affect your wine collection.
  37. You celebrate milestone birthdays with wines from your birth year.
  38. You start swirling orange juice, coffee, water, anything that’s in a glass or cup, and begin sniffing it before tasting.
  39. When you hear the word “bouquet,” you don’t think of flowers - you think of aromas.
  40. You prefer to support “vignerons independants” - because the wines are fascinating and because you feel it’s the right thing to do.
  41. All of the pictures you post to Facebook are of wine labels.
  42. You have a collection of different shaped wine glasses and use them accordingly.
  43. You’ve been involved in a heated argument regarding corks versus screw caps.
  44. You place a light behind a bottle as you decant.
  45. You have designated Friday wine, Saturday wine, Sunday wine - and weeknight wines.
  46. You don’t just save special bottles for special occasions - oftentimes, opening the special bottle counts as the special occasion.
  47. You tell “wine jokes” and “wine puns” and expect everyone in the room to laugh.
  48. You die a little when you hear someone at the next table order White Zinfandel.
  49. Your knowledge of geography revolves around wine regions.
  50. The more you learn about wine, the more inquisitive you become, and the more you realize there is left to learn.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Gewurztraminer - My Gateway to Wine

Some people remember their first real wine epiphany, and others don’t.  I remember mine - it was some years ago.  I really didn’t drink much wine except Asti Spumonte on New Year’s Eve.  And then one day, I met a wine that would be my gateway into the world of wine, and would, in a sense, change my life.

That wine was Gewurztraminer, from Alsace.

What is it about Gewurztraminer that gave wine a permanent grip on my palate?  Well, with Gewurztraminer, a light golden color looking beautiful in the glass, it might just begin with the nose.  Gewurztraminer is very aromatic with notes of fruit (in particular lychee, tropical fruit, and orchard fruit, and a hint of ripe citrus), spice (as reflected in its name), and blossoms.  Who can resist the beckoning call from a glass of Gewurztraminer, with such enticing aromas?  Certainly not me.  I was ready for a taste very quickly, and immediately I loved the wine.  Even at that time, with a completely underdeveloped palate, I knew the wine had a lot going on, and I was captivated.

What I’d later realize is that Gewurztraminer seems to share some of my personality traits.  I’ve written a bit on wine personalities (remember the Nebbiolo Man?  How about Cabernet, Malbec, and a post from two years ago about a Pinot Noir personality?), but when I think of my own quirkiness, I can’t help but relate to Gewurztraminer.  No wonder Gewurztraminer was my gateway into wine appreciation!  For many people, the gateway (or as I sometimes call it, “training wheels”) is Riesling, and for others, it’s White Zinfandel.
I think when a novice wine drinker tastes Riesling or Gewurztraminer, sweetness is the first thing to come to mind.  But to be more fair and respectful to a properly crafted Riesling or Gewurztraminer (two of the most important grapes in Alsace and Germany), we’re sometimes fooled by the fruitiness of those two grapes, mistaking them for sweet, and missing out on the individual characteristics, aromas, flavors, and textures each has to offer.

So while Gewurztraminer ushered me into a new world of wine appreciation, these days I spend more time examining the wines made from this fascinating grape, noting the characteristics on the nose and palate and feeling for the textures the wine has to offer.

And I’ll be forever indebted to Gewurztraminer for the introduction to wine.