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Friday, June 28, 2013

What’s New?

I was looking back at my blog posts over the past two and a half years since I started Champagne Taste, and I can see a huge shift from posting mainly tasting notes to my current posts that revolve around a sort of wine philosophy.  I love the direction the blog has gone, because I realize that I learn a lot from wine, and apply what I learn to things other than just wine - a lot of the things I’ve learned are life lessons and can be applied to just about anything.

But sometimes I miss writing about tasting notes and direct observations from particular wines, especially my focus on offbeat wines, Sud-Ouest in particular.  I do understand that a blog centering on tasting notes can become quite boring, so here and there I’ll add some notes and weave them into my wine thoughts.

So if you have been reading Champagne Taste since the beginning, you might be wondering, what’s she drinking now?  What happened to the tasting notes and specific recommendations?

Well, I’ve still been focusing on offbeat wines.  And I’ve been teaching myself even more about the “classics” - the more traditional wines.  It’s essential to have a good working knowledge of the classics while remaining open minded toward the offbeat wines.

Since it’s summer, rose’ is what’s happening.  (And if you’re among those who think that all rose’ tastes the same, or that all rose’ is sweet - guess again!)  I generally enjoy rose’ from Provence, with the occasional rose’ from Sancerre, as I love the color, clean feel, and fun flavors and aromas - they’re so refreshing, especially those from Provence.  But I do like to try rose’ from elsewhere.  So with my fascination and love for Sud-Ouest wines, an exciting thing happened recently.  While my parents were on vacation in Newport, RI, they came upon what they tell me is a very cool and well thought out wine shop.  There was an interesting selection of rose’, and what did they bring home for me?  Two from Sud-Ouest - a Fronton and an Irouleguy!  I’m so excited to try them soon, I never thought I’d get my hands on anything like that.

Of course, I haven’t only been focusing on rose’ - I’ve been enjoying some very unique whites and some lovely reds.  I’ve got a few fun Italian reds to write about, so probably in my next post I’ll touch on those - one thing is for sure - Valle d’Aosta producers are making some amazing wines, and while I’ve noticed that they’re a bit pricier than wines from other parts of Italy, for me they’re worth it, due to their uniqueness and expressiveness.  And thanks to a “brown bag” experience courtesy of my boyfriend, I got to try a really “geeky” and fun white from the Spanish side of Basque, which was exciting for me, since I’m usually focused on the French side, Irouleguy.  There’s a cool topic I need to cover soon!

And what else has gotten my attention lately?  Biodynamics.  I never thought I’d say it, but my curiosity has been sparked, and I’m on a mission to learn more before I form a complete opinion on it.

It’s shaping up to be a hot, fun summer, and I hope everyone is spending some time enjoying great wines with family and friends!

Friday, June 21, 2013

God Loves Us and Loves to See Us Happy

“We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle.  But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes.  Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.  The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it.”

This paragraph was taken from a letter written by the esteemed Benjamin Franklin in 1779, during his time in Paris.

The entire quote works for me, really, but for purposes of this particular blog post, I’m going to focus on the part about God giving us wine because He wants us to be happy.  This is something I believe.  For me, lots of things are based in fact, but others are based in faith, and while I’ve always believed it, these days I realize I have firsthand knowledge that God gave me wine so that I may find happiness in my life.

Allow me to explain.

It’s not that I was unhappy initially, it’s just that my path to wine had not yet been discovered by me.  Who can say exactly when it happened, that wine would find a special place in my life?  I must point out that I never turned to it for purposes of the alcohol in it.  That was never the case.  Rather, I found a love and admiration and respect for it quite quickly, which translated into a passion and a desire to learn more and more about it.

Happy - on the porch with a glass of Macon
At the time I began exploring wine shops and restaurant wine lists, I was a very different person and my life was completely different from what it is now.  I was in law school, preparing to embark on a career as an attorney, and I was engaged.  To this day, when I think about it, I still wonder if I ever really had my heart in law or in that engagement, but whatever the case may be, some time later I found myself making some drastic changes in my life.  Feeling lost, I turned to wine.  Again, not for the alcohol.  It was for something enjoyable to think about and learn about and experience, even if some of it would be on my own.

Fast forward to two years ago, when I thought perhaps I’d like to enter the wine industry in some capacity.  I decided to sit for the Court of Master Sommeliers level 1 two-day course and exam, and to my surprise, I passed it easily.  How could this be?  I studied law and politics for years, and yet after a very brief preparation for this wine exam, it felt so natural to me.  I’d spend some time self-educating over the next several months and learning about the possibilities in the wine industry, and before long, with the help of a friend in the wine industry, I’d land my first real wine job.  And since I’ve had that job, I can’t even begin to quantify what I’ve learned about wine, about the industry, and about myself.  Happy?  Yes.

I’ve met some cool people in this industry - some who inspire me, some who make me laugh, and some who share my passion for wine.  Some I consider great sources for learning, some I consider friends, and then something else happened.  On the job, I met someone who shares my love for wine, and who, as I’d learn, shares other interests with me.

Those of you who know me well probably know by now that after some pretty rough experiences, mostly on the personal level that proved discouraging for a while, I’ve entered into a relationship with a fellow wine professional.  Most of us would agree that personal information is generally at its best when left off of a blog, but I know it can’t hurt to mention that without choosing the path where wine has led me, I would not have met this person.  I realize that I’m enjoying wine more now that I’m not opening bottles alone for the purpose of self-educating, and with it comes so much more.  So, when God brought wine into my life, did He bring me happiness?  ABSOLUTELY.

Sometimes I forget to thank God for the many blessings in my life.  Sometimes I take things for granted.  But as more and more people tell me that they wish they had my job, that they wish they got to hang around other wine professionals, and that they wish they got to drink wine all day and night, while I’d like to remind them that being in the wine industry is still a job and isn’t just fun all the time, I’d also like to remind myself just how lucky I am.  And that, yes, God wants me to be happy.  And with my job, I’m enjoying bringing good wine to others so that they too may be happy.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Now or Never?

Sometimes, whatever it is, we’re thinking, how about now?  Or, how about another time?  Other times, it’s - HOW ABOUT NEVER?

I think we can apply that thought pattern to just about anything.  Sometimes, whatever it is, we can just decide right on the spot, now is as good a time as any.  And sometimes it’s not the right time for it but of course later on sounds just fine, of course we’d be open to it.  And then there are those things that will never happen.  We know it.  The answer just has to be no, for whatever reason.

It’s how I see pairing wine to food.

Choose a dish, any dish, at home or in a restaurant.  What are the flavors and aromas, and perhaps most importantly, what are the textures?  This is how we choose a wine to pair with the dish.  Sometimes we’re looking for a perfect contrast, and other times, we’re looking to mirror the characteristics of the dish.  And when we find the right pairing, suddenly it’s more than just a food and a wine - the flavors, aromas, and textures marry and what we experience is like another sense, it’s exponentially better.  How wonderful!  Of course, now was the right time for that wine.

Other times, there may be a wine that we love, but for that dish, it wouldn’t be a good pairing.  That doesn’t make it a bad wine - it’s probably a perfectly good wine.  And at any other time, it would be our wine of choice.  But not with this dish.  For whatever reason - the flavors clash, the textures no longer seem appealing, the combination of that food and wine offends the palate, even though both the food and wine would be great on their own.  Find another wine for that dish, and go to the incorrect pairing wine some other time, when it’ll be the right time for it, and it’ll shine.

And then there’s that wine that you tried sipping.  You didn’t enjoy it.  Perhaps it needs food, you wondered.  So you tried pairing it with different flavors and textures.  It’s still offensive.  Why?  Well, maybe the wine is off-balance by nature, maybe the flavors are just flat out unappealing, maybe it’s too aggressive and will overpower anything, from your dinner to your own palate while sipping.  A wine like that just isn’t for you.  Maybe it’s not your style, in which case maybe someday your taste will change and you should revisit it.  Or maybe the wine is just plain lousy, it’s a bad wine, from poor quality grapes, or a bad winemaker, or anything else that might make the wine subpar - in which case, you should abandon that one forever.  It’s not a bad match - there’s nothing wrong with the pairing, or with your palate - it’s just a lousy wine.  Let it go and don’t look back - of course you’ll find something far superior - a wine that won’t let you down.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Guild of Sommeliers Master Class - Ribera del Duero

This week I got to attend another master class with the Guild of Sommeliers, this time on Ribera del Duero, taught by MS Matt Stamp (and I’d attend another of his classes in a heartbeat, he ha a great way of explaining things and presents the wines in an easy-to-understand way).

So, what did I learn?  Well, I learned that, as I thought, my favorite red wine region in Spain remains Priorat.  I like Rioja but have never connected as well with the wines as I’d like, and Jumilla makes some great wines but they’re just not for me as they tend to be a bit overpowering for my palate.  Priorat has been my favorite since I’ve been tasting Spanish reds, due to the cool slate characteristics laced into the fruit and spice, which appear to cool the wine off a bit and show plenty of mineral, just the way I love it.  I hadn’t been exposed to nearly enough good Ribera del Duero wines, so I figured, this was a great opportunity to learn more.

And learn I did.  I had no idea how drastically temperatures fluctuate over the course of 24 hours, during the summer growing season.  I didn’t know much about Ribera’s soil types, or about the success of pre-phylloxera vines that still produce - so let’s just say I didn’t know enough about Ribera to form a proper opinion.  What I also learned after what felt like a massive tannin overload is that Tempranillo from Ribera is quite different from Tempranillo from Rioja, in that the skin of the grapes in Ribera is a lot thicker due to climate, which brings a lot of tannin into the picture, and also brings dark fruit characteristics into the wines, as opposed to the red fruit notes we usually perceive in a Rioja red.  And regarding alcohol content - those of you who know me or have had a glass (or bottle...or two...or three) of wine with me, know that I’m pretty good at guessing the alcohol content of wines, especially on reds, and that unless a wine is extremely well balanced, I rarely appreciate alcohol content of over 13.5%.  The heat just tends to get in the way of expression of fruit and soil and environment, which are the things I value most in a wine and its identity.  So when I started reading through the list of wines we’d taste, I got a little nervous as what I saw - most were over 14% and some were over 15% - and interestingly enough, one of my favorites was over 15%, but due to its wonderful balance, alcohol content was not an issue for me.

I’m going to mention right up front that you might not agree with some of the things I’m saying in this post, and that one of the main reasons I opted to take the class was that I knew Vega Sicilia Unico was part of the tasting, and knowing what the cost of that wine is (between $450-$500 for the current release), I felt it was a good chance to taste it and not pay nearly that amount.  And for that price, after tasting it, I’m not at all tempted to lay out that kind of money for it.  It’s far too big for me and I wasn’t connecting as well with it as I did with some of the others that were closer to the $80-$100 price range.  Am I surprised?  Well, no, not exactly.  Go back about a year and a half and check out a blind tasting I sat through at Lake Side Emotions that included the wines from Mitjavile against the likes of Petrus, Mouton Rothschild, and Cheval Blanc - and see that I understand that price does not always indicate which wine I’ll like best.  For $450+ on the Vega Sicilia Unico, after tasting it, I can honestly say I’ll pass.  And in fact, on some of the other Ribera reds we tasted, I’ll pass.  But some stood out to me and left quite an impression, even some in lower price ranges.  Those wines truly impressed me.

Some of the disappointments, in my opinion, included a couple of the wines we tasted first.  The Rosado, 2012 Bodegas Penalba Montecastrillo, was definitely not my style.  I like my pink wines to be light and refreshing, and for me, this wine was anything but refreshing.  There was almost too much fruitiness, making it borderline sweet, and it felt a bit heavy.  I also don’t care much for reds without any use of oak, at least that’s generally what I’ve found, and this was no different - the 2011 Bodegas Hornillos Ballesteros Mibal Joven was also not my style, in that I felt it lacked complexity.  The other wine from the first four that I didn’t connect with was the 2008 Tinto Pesquera Reserva - imagine how disappointed I was!  I had hoped to love Pesquera but it didn’t happen that way, because for me, the wine felt like there was entirely too much tannin and left me with absolutely no fruit or mineral at all at the end, the dryness just knocked everything else out, and I found myself downing half a glass of water.

I found that I didn’t care much for the 2008 wines that we tasted, and MS Stamp reminded us that 2008 was not a particularly good year for Ribera del Duero, so that was no surprise to me, after the 2008 Pesquera and 2008 Monteabellon 24 Meses left me wondering what was wrong with those wines.

The wine that left surprisingly little impression with me was the 2010 Pingus PSI, which seemed to lack aroma, and while the wine in no way offended my palate, it seemed to have very little to tell me about itself.  And looking back, I have few tasting notes about it.

The best value wines I felt were the 2010 Aalto at around $39, which was absolutely lovely and showed great complexity with youthful dark fruit notes and elegant spice, and herb notes, with a nice balance of acidity and tannin heading toward the finish; and the 2010 Antidoto at a shocking $20, with perfectly mellow fruit, herb, floral, and soft spice characteristics, and a clean feel.  There’s one that I’d buy for a weeknight or pour with tapas.

And now for the favorites - the third wine of the tasting was stunning to me - the 2009 Bodegas Perez Pascuas Crianza Vina Pedrosa (around $39).  I wrote in the margin, “gorgeous” and “love” - and for me, it was no exaggeration.  Everything seemed to be as I call “ in check,” meaning that the wine was nicely balanced with lovely characteristics, the wine showed big aromas but was gentle on the palate, and reminiscent  of dark fruit but some red fruit as well, herbs, dry flower petals, and mature spices.  Who wouldn’t love that?  From the second flight, I absolutely loved the 2009 Atauta Valdegatiles (around $125), a soft but big wine and as I wrote, “incredible,” I admired the elegance of such a big wine and realized that yes, such a thing is possible, as the wine showed fruit and floral notes and was everything I’d hope for a Tempranillo to be.  The other wine from the second flight that I marked with a huge asterisk and a “must buy” was the 2009 Vina Sastre Pago de Santa Cruz (around $84).  This is a big and somewhat bold (and very dark) wine with aromas of ripe dark fruit and earthiness, and another showing excellent balance.  The rustic character of the wine was the best at telling me, “I’m a big red wine and I’m from SPAIN.”  That’s one that I’d love to try again in a few years.  And the favorite, for me, was the 2001 Valduero Gran Reserva, which was the wine I felt I best connected with (around $100).  With mostly dark fruit notes, vanilla, dry herbs and flower petals, tobacco, and soft spice, and plenty of mineral heading toward the end, this was the irresistible wine of the afternoon, absolutely gorgeous with a great feel, amazing aromas, and for me, everything about it was just right.  It had such presence and yet was in absolutely no way overpowering.

So when we tasted the 2003 Vega Sicilia Unico right after that wine, I was left feeling disappointed with the Unico, as it was pretty nicely balanced and showed some fabulousness on the nose and in its flavors of rich stewed dark fruit and tobacco, but it wasn’t as elegant or as enticing as the Valduero.  And I’d rather pay $100 for a wine that I love, than $450 for a wine that I like.

So there you have it, my observations from the Ribera del Duero Guild of Sommeliers master class.