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Why Wines Deserve a Second Chance: #MWWC22

19 Jan

 

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Yesterday was a day I planned for months and worried about for weeks in advance. It was a wine tasting of a group of wines outside my normal scope of expertise. Traditionally when I host a tasting, I do ONE thing specifically: I serve wines I know personally, whose vines and trellises I have paced aside, whose barrels I have touched, whose flavors and colors I know intimately.

This was not one of those times.

Sure, on my ten wine list I hand-picked a few bottles that had been waiting in the cellar for just such a day. But by in large, I researched and shopped regions I didn’t know as well, and looked more closely at wines that often get a bad rap. For examples, the wines we scoot past quickly in a restaurant list when we see them. Such as: Italian white wines, and chianti.

“Why?” you cry out, outraged and distressed, “What have Chianti and Italian white wines done to you?”

Nothing.

That’s exactly it, they did nothing for me, and nothing TO me.

And it’s my own fault.

Because we first taste these wines in a family-style Italian restaurant where cheap wines are served by the gallon. We learn, early in age, to be dismissive of cheap pinot grigio and cheap chianti. As a result, later on in our lives,  we don’t even bother look for quality versions of these same things. It’s as silly as hating cars as an adult, just because your first teenage car was a cheap junker that smoked from the exhaust, had bald tires, and barely got you where you needed to go. It’s not the fault of the vehicle, to be honest.

It’s time to give these wines a second chance.

For white wines, I turned to Friuli-Venizia Guilia.

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I served these four white wines, in order:

Venica 2013 Malvasia from Collio,

Borgio Del Tiglio 2011 white blend from Collio,

I Clivi 2014 Verduzzo from Collio Orientali del Friuli DOC, and

I Clivi 2001 Galea from Collio Orientali del Friuli DOC.

These four wines changed all our preconceived notions of Italian white wines. Crafted with obvious expertise, love and care, these wines displayed depth, complexity, minerality, and body. They told stories. They enticed our palates, and they left us wanting more.

The 2001 Galea showed its age, grace, and deep color beautifully, on par with some of my revered and aged Bordeaux or Burgundian wines. The color alone was stunning; photos just don’t do it justice.

Clivi Galea

I found it funny: one of my guests (almost as a rule) dismisses white wines. He was not as quiet as I expected during these first four bottles, and eventually, I learned he was impressed and enjoying himself! And he made a point to speak up and admit both of these points to the group.

And we moved on to the red wines, and we laughed, and we loosened up. And at the 9th bottle, I poured a chianti.

But not just any chianti.

Thought a relatively young wine, I served a Chianti Classico Gran Reserva Selezione, a DOCG wine with the tell-tale black rooster on the bottle. I said little about the wine, and I said nothing about the Rooster.

Chianti rooster

 

 

 

My guests said it all for me. They told me this wine was stunning, eye-opening, not what they expected from a chianti. They shared pairing notes, talked about the color, the nuances they found.

Even after I served the 2000 Brunello Di Montalcino, we ooh’d and ahh’d about it and thoroughly enjoyed it… but eventually we went back to discussing the chianti.

And I thought that maybe it was really us who needed the second chance.

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à votre santé!

Submitted to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #22

 

The New Wine School

26 Jun

The NY Times Wine Critic Eric Asimov has begun a new revolution.

His monthly column called “Wine School” suggest three bottles from various vintners (with alternates) to introduce his students/followers to a specific grape.

Guess what… it’s working! Look for yourself: his first post from the series the past March covered Bordeaux and asked readers to sample one of the three bottles and consider three specific questions:

1) what does the wine smell & taste like?

2) what is the wine’s texture?

3) how does the taste change over time?

Keeping it simple and straightforward is working. That digital post has 633 comments, and wines are flying off the shelves. No doubt wine stores would like a chance to stock up on orders prior to his posts, fortunately the suggested wines aren’t impossible to find, nor are they limited production or highest profile (and price).

Asimov’s second article in the series ‘decanted’ the process and covered his reaction to the responses while providing a few lessons in what one could have expected, sharing reader’s experiences, and providing commentary that furthers the education of the process. I love the way he describes both the objective and subjective response to drinking a wine, including practical and temporary emotional responses. “Curiosity and an open mind are vital. Listen carefully to your responses and note them, but don’t accept them as the final word.” To me, Asimov is mentoring flawlessly here. I have always told people asking for wine advice “all you need to know is what you like” as a starting point, but few novices are ready to follow that up beyond figuring out what to order in a restaurant, pair with a meal, or pick up from the store to enjoy at home.

The comparitively small number of responses to the ‘decanted’ (22 comments) isn’t proof that people didn’t pay attention. But it does show that people were thirsty for the next taste: Beaujolais,  which pulled in 175 comments. The signal to noise ratio on the commentary demonstrates that those who wrote back often provided lengthy and detailed responses, which is both rare and appreciative in the world of digital media.

The next assignment, Sancerre, received 130 responses, again many with powerful detail and personal insight. I applaud The Times for inclusion of those who didn’t enjoy the wines as well as those who did.

The current assignment (Riesling) has been out for three weeks and already has over 90 comments, again most providing intelligent and quality worth reading, with a good percentage of responses describing the wine sourced, the food pairing, and the overall wine response, making a good dialogue.

So what’s enticing to your palate? Which wines are you tasting when you attend school?

Personally, I’m fascinated by the concept of open wine tasting & commentary, as opposed to formal tasting & wine school. Who knows how well it will work!

What do you think? Do you like this idea? Why or why not? Thanks for sharing!

à votre santé!

 

Keeping as Many Balls in the Air as Possible…Without losing One’s Own!

8 Jun

The title above is a quote from my business world. Specifically, from Abe Jacob, the Godfather of Theatrical Sound Design. He’s a mentor and friend, and the man who was not being satisfied as the sound mixer for Jimi Hendrix,  The Mamas and the Papas or the other 60’s acts he worked with. So he started designing sound for Broadway shows such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. He’s quite famous in the small world of theatrical sound designers. (How does this relate to wine? I’m getting there!)

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But today, Abe’s famous tongue-in-cheek quote, “What exactly does a sound designer do? (He/she) Keeps as many balls in the air without losing one’s own!” is quite apropos to me, as I struggle to complete a blog post I started some time ago whilst making  a living in a totally different industry, while tackling multiple projects simultaneously, and trying to be father, husband, techno-genius and wine director at the same time.

Today, the cherry on the sundae is that I have promised a group of friends a wine tasting, and I’m terrified that what I have planned won’t please everyone. While I know that ultimately it’s impossible to please everyone, I’ve got a great plan yet I keep second guessing my choices. At the same time, I have other friends, associates, and co-conspirators whom I know would LOVE to attend this get-together, but I can’t invite them as the group is already maxed out in size. So, too, is the wine. I thought I’d pick ten bottles to taste, which is about two more than most people can really handle at a tasting before their mind or taste buds explode and they just want to stop thinking about wine and enjoy something in their glass. Currently I’m at *15* bottles, and I have about three or four more I’d like to add! Ball after ball goes in the air. Knowing sooner or later, something is going to drop.

Agreeing to hold a tasting is the same as committing to teach a master class (something else I do in my professional “production” life). You might or might not know the level that each of your attendees has attained. They might not like what you serve, they might not understand what your goals are or why you are sharing these wines. You need to keep everyone engaged, and you have to accommodate all the levels of your students simultaneously, making sure everyone learns something that is appropriate to their own level. It’s not for the faint of heart, believe me.

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In this tasting, the goals are simple yet expansive: to allow a varied group of people to taste a series of wines, to begin to understand and identify individual  grapes used for single grape and blended wines, and through the process of tasting, begin to understand the language of wine as well as to be able to understand the differences between a basic vin du table versus a well-crafted, world class vintage. I’m hoping the difference will be obvious, but that’s where the terror comes into play, long before anyone even mentions terroir. (You saw that joke coming a mile away, didn’t you?)   For the advanced oenophiles, it is a taste test and comparison in evolution of style, price point, as well as terroir. As designed, any level of wine drinker would enjoy the selection.

wine notes

What can I expect from this tasting? I sincerely hope that all my guests will:

1) Learn more about wine than they knew previously

2) Experience new wines they enjoy tremendously

3) Have a good time

4)  Retain their wits and manners

5) Refrain from drinking to excess.

 

Honestly, with all I have left to do on my platter, I’m happy that I was still able to use Abe’s quote. If life gets any tougher, I might have to amend it to juggling chainsaws or something I learned in the circus- which is a very different blog post for another time.

Because you were wondering, for my tasting I have selected wines that range in price from under $10 per bottle to almost $100 per bottle.  Choosing price point bottles and selecting flavor samples to match wine language is almost as difficult as figuring our what foods I can serve that will pair with all these wines and prepare in advance. I hope I can keep from changing my mind,  but ultimately rolling with the changes is part of what I’m good at, both personally and professionally. Maybe that’s why this is a challenge without being terrifying. 

No one ever said that life would be easy. If however,  you look at it the right way, then boy… is it fun! 

I lift my glass in a toast to you, fellow wine lovers. Here’s to opening a bottle and finding something you love inside it.

clink

à votre santé!

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