A Lyonnaise friend took me for some wine tasting and purchasing to northern Beaujolais, first to Fleurie to visit the Co-op there and then to Romanèche-Thorins to visit the Georges DeBoeuf négociant wine cave. We drove north from Lyon on a beautiful sunny afternoon and through some beautiful Beaujolais countryside after getting of the A6 Motorway at Villefranche-sur-Saône.
A French Wine Cooperative (LINK)“produces and sells wine made from the grapes grown by its members. It mutualizes such tasks as winemaking, storage, selling, and, in some cases, the bottling process.” It is a community of vignerons coming together for mutual support. So, you won’t find single-vineyard production, it is more of a collective effort to produce wines under the name of the appellation where the cooperative is located.
A French wine négociant (LINK) is “a merchant who buy grapes, juice, or finished wine from growers, then bottle and sell them on the market wholesale.”
In general, you’ll encounter three types of wine négociants (LINK): those who buy pre-made wine and bottle it, those who make some improvements on the wine before bottling it, and those who take whole grapes or unfermented juice to make the wine virtually from scratch. This last type of négociant is called a “négociant-éleveur,” and they are the négociants with the most prestigious reputations.
Like all Beaujolais wines, the Fleurie reds are made from Gamay (they also produce a tiny bit of Pino Noir), the whites from Chardonnay. The famous Noveau Beaujolais, a soda-pop like wine bottled just after fermentation will be released in early November. I would have avoided it even if it had been available. It can be a fun way to celebrate the recent harvest, but it isn’t good wine.
The cooperative offers about 20 wines for sale, including a rosé made from Gamay and three créments (sparkling wines).
I tasted several whites and reds before purchasing a few bottles to take home to Lyon. The wines are well-crafted, not premier crus, but very good, drinkable wines. Most cost under 10 euros per bottle. The cooperative offers a couple of “Burgundian” wines, as parts of the area are on the southern side of Burgundy.
Then we drove a few kilometers west to the village of Romanèche-Thorins to visit the Georges DeBoeuf négociant wine cave (LINK). This is a huge operation, and many of my American friends will be very familiar with Georges DeBoeuf wines.
As a négociant, DeBoeuf operates across all three types listed above. Labels will indicate what the relationship between the négociant and winemaker are for each bottle.
The cave is expansive, featuring the DeBoeuf wines as well as a selection of other premium world wines (even a couple from the US – I won’t name them, but they were not premium wines. One seldom finds really good US wines in France), and a large area of gift items, wine accessories, glasses, etc.
The tasting room is an old-time bar connected to a large area where food is served and there are entertainments (a calliope) for those who have just exited the adjacent wine museum and Hameau park (LINK) (which we did not visit this time). It was a quiet afternoon, so we got some personal attention. You can taste as many wines as you want, and the tasting is complimentary. I was interested in comparing wines made from the fermentation through bottling and wines only bottled by DeBoeuf. The Brouilly samples were representative of this. In this case, I found the wine processed by the vigneron superior to the DeBoeuf-made Brouilly (reds); DeBoeuf sells both for just about the same price.
I purchased a few bottles of the Brouilly I preferred, plus a few others to take home, including a very special Cahors Malbec from their premium wine room. I passed on the Château Haute Lafitte-Rothchild this trip. By the way, the premium wine room has an excellent selection from all over France and the world at very good prices.
If you are in the area, for a day trip or longer – southwest of Mâcon and northwest of Lyon, Beaujolais offers beautiful countryside, picturesque villages, good restaurants, and wine at very reasonable prices. At home, check your local wine shops for Beaujolais wines – see what they recommend. Despite the reputation of Nouveau Beaujolais, there are some very nice wines coming from the area at very reasonable prices.
REFUSE TO BE INTIMIDATED. The world of wine is populated with a few, well, snobs. There are people whose income depends on you, the consumer, feeling like you don’t know enough to order a wine you will like. There are some whose income depends on getting you to buy a wine whether you like it or not. There are also few who want to make you feel uncomfortable just for their own ego gratification.
That said, there are also lots of folks who can and will help you feel more comfortable. These can include wine stewards or waiters in restaurants, employees in wine shops and at large retailers like Costco, tasting room employees, and, yes, wine bloggers like me. Take advantage of their knowledge and willingness to help. Even with the first group, you will usually find if you ask a couple of clear questions and let them know what you like and what you are willing to pay, you will get what you desire.
2. BE AN EXPLORER. Try some unfamiliar wines. Even if after doing so, you become a drinker of one kind of wine, you will at least know that you aren’t missing something better for you. Again, wine retailers and restaurant employees can be helpful. Like Malbec? Try something close, like a Barbera or a Tempranillo. Traveling? Try the local wines. (LINK to my post WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?)
3. AVOID REALLY CHEAP WINES. The issue here is not so much about price or quality as it is about additives. Most new world (that’s everyplace but Europe) wines under $10 to $15 are laced with additives of various kinds. There are no labeling requirements, so you don’t know which ones or how much of them are in your wine. Some additives are benign, some are not. Many people who eat only organic food buy cheap wines filled with chemical additives – unknowingly, of course. (LINK to my post on ADDITIVES)
There are three main reasons that cheaper wines have more additives than more expensive wines: One, consumers of cheaper wines tend to want their wine to taste the same every time. They are not interested in seasonal variation – the kind based on weather which affect wine grapes from just about everywhere. So, additives can mask changes – and in cheap wines, the issue is not seasonal variations; most are bulk wines, made from whatever grapes or juice are available at that moment from any location. Second – additives can make a rough product taste smoother, smell better, look better. In other words, mask problems. Third – there are economic reasons to use additives in some products, and your health is not one of them.
4. NEW TO WINE? TRY A STARTER CASE. I blogged about this a while back. If you are new to wine or have someone, like in my case, my daughter, who is new to wine, consider a starter case. This is a mixed case of wines for them to try to learn about. Then, when returning to the wine retailer, you or they can say what you liked and would like to get more of, or maybe explore a bit with something like what you enjoyed previously, but different. (LINK to my post on STARTER CASE)
5. LEARN HOW TO SHOP FOR WINE. I often go into wine shops without intending to make a purchase – just to look around, familiarize myself with the kinds of wines available, the labels, the price points. I may engage someone in the shop in a conversation about a specific wine, or a wine region that they feature. And, truth be told, much more often than not, I walk out with a bottle or three.
Many reputable wine writers and bloggers will tell you to ask questions when shopping for wine. Wine shop employees will generally enjoy helping you (with the possible exception of the Holiday rush). For example, you might ask for a wine in the $20 range to go with a lamb roast, or something to take as a special gift to a lover of Argentinian Malbec. (LINK to my post on SHOPPING FOR WINE)
6. LEARN HOW RESTAURANT WINE WORKS. There are a few things to be aware of when ordering wine in a restaurant. One is the pricing structure. The norm is to mark up a bottle two to two-and-a-half times retail cost. Many restaurants are offering wines at a lower mark-up (in Europe it is often the same as in a wine shop). Wine is a significant part of the profit structure at many restaurants. For others, it is an afterthought; the wines may not even go with the food offered.
There are myths about ordering wine in restaurants. Most are false or only partly true. The reality is that if wine is a serious consideration in a restaurant, the wine list will have been chosen with care based on what is important to that restaurant’s management. It might be by region – focusing on Italian wines in an Italian restaurant; or by type of food served – an emphasis on white and rosé wines in a seafood restaurant; or it may be wines selected for the specific items on the menu. Some say that the best buy is the 2nd cheapest wine on the list. This is almost never true. If it is good value you are seeking, a good choice is to order a bottle of one of the wines they are selling by the glass. These wines are usually a good value and they are sold by the glass because they are well-received.
Again, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter, wine steward, or sommelier for guidance – and DON’T forget to give him or her your budget! I have never had a negative experience with wine in a restaurant when I have been given guidance (I don’t always ask for it). (LINK to my post on ORDERING WINE IN A RESTAURANT)
7. REMEMBER CORKAGE. In many places, you can bring your own wine to a restaurant. Normally, a corkage fee will be charged, to cover the cost of using the glasses and having the wine open and served by the restaurant staff. This is a good option if you have a special bottle to share with family or friends that will go well with the restaurant meal. Some etiquette – if you don’t know, check in advance on the corkage policy of the restaurant; don’t bring a wine the restaurant has on its wine list; don’t pay $20 corkage on an $8 bottle of Yellow Tail to save money. And, if the wine is corked or otherwise bad, don’t try to send it back for another bottle! (LINK to my post about corkage)
8. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DRINK BAD WINE. I know you have a budget, which, like mine, is limited. And maybe you don’t have an educated palate to justify really expensive wine. However, as I noted above, just about all of the really cheap wines are filled with additives and are bad for you. So, think about how much wine you drink and what it would take to get the average cost per bottle up to $15 or more. At that price point, generally speaking you are drinking wine, not just a mixture of random grapes made in bulk. You will notice qualities like minerality, or terroir – the effect of the soil on the wine. You will begin to tell varietals apart ($7 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes surprisingly like $7 Merlot). And you will be drinking a more healthful beverage.
Also, if you buy a decent bottle and it’s bad (corked or chemical tasting for example), don’t drink it! Pour it down the sink, or if it’s not too bad, save it for cooking. If you get a bad bottle (meaning there is a flaw of some kind) at a restaurant, let the staff know. They should replace it. If they disagree with you, let them know that you may not be an expert, but you find the wine undrinkable. They should replace it with another bottle. If the first one was bad, you will taste the difference in the new bottle. It is bad form to ask for a different wine in this situation. Maybe you will get lucky and that will have been their last bottle of that kind in stock! (LINK to my post on EXPENSIVE WINES)
9. WINE ENJOYMENT IS SUBJECTIVE. No matter what the experts tell you, for 95% of wine consumers – the ones who haven’t trained their palates for years and taken rigorous certification classes – wine enjoyment is subjective. You either like a wine, have a “meh” reaction, or don’t like it at all. Robert Parker can’t tell you if you will like a wine. I try to look at tasting notes only after I have tasted a wine, to see if they got it right for me. There are things to know about specific wines, but, let’s be realistic, most who drink wine will never invest the time and energy to learn more than a few of them.
Wes Hagen, currently of Central California’s J. Wilkes Wines (LINK), shares his way to taste wine for most consumers:
Swirl the wine in the glass and look at the color; put your nose to the glass and sniff the bouquet; if it smells like something you want to put into your mouth, take a sip; if it tastes like something you want to swallow, swallow it; notice the finish.
If you begin from there and add some knowledge as you go, you will never get to a point where Wes’s advice doesn’t hold true.
10. HAVE FUN WITH WINE. Wine is both a beverage and, for some, a lifestyle. I love sharing a good bottle with friends and family, and almost never have an expensive (say over $30) bottle when alone. Dorianne and I used to have wine dinners, where we would ask our guests to bring a special bottle, like the one they’ve been saving for a special occasion for ten years, and a dish to accompany it. At the dinner, each guest will tell the story of their wine as everyone shares it. Or bring a bottle from a trip and share the story of the trip.
Go wine tasting when you travel near wine country – there are hundreds of “wine countries” these days. We have tasted in Mexico, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, England, and in Michigan, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Texas, to name a few outside of the normal wine destinations. You will meet some great people in the local wine industry, and fellow tasters are often interesting as well.
I am sure that there are other guidelines for enjoying wine. These are my top ten and I hope you find them of value!
Millennials (LINK) are in the process of redefining the wine industry, just as the Baby Boomer (LINK) generation has done over the past 40 years or so. But this post is less about large-scale trends than about individual decisions based on some experience and knowledge.
Summer Wines in Provence
The wine world contains a vast number of possible wines to drink, from many countries and many more wine regions. There are hundreds of varietals and tens of thousands of wine labels. These numbers are steadily increasing, along with total wine consumption (LINK). No one is going to know them all.
“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.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
Few young wine drinkers have had any instruction or experience as they have come of age to drink wine. Most will grab something cheap off of the shelf in the grocery store and look for sweetness and fruit in the flavor. This is understandable when you combine a desire to spend as little as possible with an untrained palate.
But now you are in your twenties (or thirties), and it’s time to craft your drinking patterns and preferences (if you drink at all, that is, and I assume that if you are reading this, you do).
In other words, it’s time to evolve.
“A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books”
~ Louis Pasteur
Here are my recommendations for Millennials or anyone new to wine:
UP YOUR GAME: Get some knowledge about what you are consuming. If you eat organic food and drink cheap wine, the additives(LINK) in the wine will likely more than offset the benefits of the organic food. Find good value wines that are organic or biodynamic which you like and support them.
DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS: Connect with the employees at your local wine shop and let them know your preferences and budget. They will be able to direct you to what you want. Note – most supermarkets will not have knowledgeable staff in the wine department (there are exceptions to this).
EXPLORE: Try different varietals, different regions, different winemakers. Branch out a bit and see if there are more areas of the wine world that appeal to you. You can also include wine exploring in your travel. There are wonderful wine regions all over the world that you can visit and expand your experience with wine.
GO DEEP: Settled on a varietal or a region? Study it, explore the wines offered, and learn as much as you can.
ENJOY: The number one rule of wine appreciation is to enjoy what you drink. Find your own sweet spot (or spots) and make a nice glass or two of wine a part of a very good day.
Wine enjoyment should be just that – enjoyable. Whether it is researching what to purchase, purchasing, tasting, drinking, or pairing, it should first be something to enjoy. If you aim for that, you will not go far wrong.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans”
I was going to let 2016 end without a new post, but then I came across and excellent article at VinePair.com (LINK to Article).
The article by Keith Beavers, is entitled “The People Calling Expensive Wine a Rip-Off Are Lying to You.” It is a thoughtful look at a recent trend in the wine media world – the trend of attacking wine experts, the folks who are highly trained in all aspects of wine and who often recommend expensive wines to their readers. This would include people such as Robert Parker, Janis Robinson, and Eric Asimov.
Here is a sample from the article (I highly recommend that you read the entire article via the link above):
“The pleasure of “taking down” the wine industry is certainly understandable. There’s something devastating about knowing that other people are able to appreciate something that we can’t. It’s especially unsettling to know this about something we imbibe regularly, yet know we are not fully experiencing. There’s something mystical about wine – all those mouthfeels and blueberries and leather. What could be more delicious than to find out that those shamans, those mavens with their alienating knowledge, were nothing but charlatans, snake-oil peddlers whose knowledge was all a hoax?”
Now this blog is, if anything, a voice urging greater appreciation of wine without all the pretense. I have tried to simplify purchasing and enjoying wine, and generally removing the intimidation factor that many feel when confronted with a complex wine, a point system they do not understand, ridiculously mellifluous tasting notes, or a price tag in the hundreds of dollars.
But I have never said not to read the experts. I am self-taught in all things wine (meaning that I have never taken a wine course for certification; I have taken a few seminars) as is Keith Beavers, the author of the VinePair article. Like him, I learned, in part, by reading the experts. Unlike the experts, I am not doing regular tastings of dozens of Bordeaux or Burgundy wines. I have not tasted wines from dozens of other vintages to compare with what I am tasting now (although that is changing over time). So I count on the experts to be guides, although I am not a slave to their guidance.
A good point in the article is the difference between the typical European and American wine consumer:
“Then there’s the fact that there is just so much wine out there. It makes choosing and understanding each bottle that much more difficult. This is especially true here in the United States, because we are not a culture that grew up with wine. Wine in the U.S. is a relatively young culture, and though we want to understand wine, we’re very new at it.
“Compare us to Europe, where drinking wine is such an integral part of the lifestyle, a part of the attitude. In the rural wine regions of Europe, you don’t go to a wine store and choose a bottle from a selection of 10,000. You live in a specific region that grows one kind of grape best, and the wine that comes from that grape is what you drink, probably every night with dinner. The soil itself determines what wine people drink, and they grow up with a specific varietal like mother’s milk.”
Americans face a huge variety of regions, varietals, wine growing techniques, wine making styles, terroirs, additives, and more when deciding which wines to purchase. The advice of experts is one pathway to take toward greater understanding, but they are never a substitute for trying things yourself and discovering what you like and enjoying yourself along the way.
As to expensive versus inexpensive wines, there are reasons why some wines cost more. And there are reasons why many people prefer cheaper wines, even in taste tests with more expensive wines. Again from the article:
“. . . people with less experience drinking wine tend to enjoy cheaper wines. It’s not because wine is one big hoax. It’s rather because their first experiences with wine were probably with cheaper wines, and cheap wine is manipulated to taste the same every year. There’s no inconsistency, no terroir. It’s homogenized, for a very simple reason: We are a culture that likes sweet things. When you’re drinking a really cheap wine like Yellowtail or Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck, you’re drinking a wine that has added sugars and added coloring so it tastes the same every time you buy it. And it’s wine experts who teach us how to move past these wines, and how to enjoy the more expensive stuff.”
In my experience with expensive wines, which is somewhat limited I admit, once you get to about $50per bottle, you can expect an excellent wine and will often get it. I have drunk and tasted wines that cost $250, $500, even $1000 or more. At those price points, if the wine is old, every bottle is unique, and the more refined your palate (LINK), the greater your experience. There is also a certain mystique in knowing that you are drinking say, a 1982 Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild, which I have had the pleasure of drinking. What is that mystique like? Think of driving a Rolls Royce versus a Nissan – both will get you there, but the experience of the Rolls will be different. In fact, just knowing it’s a Rolls makes a difference.
For me, wine appreciation has been a slow but certain road toward wines that are well-crafted and which have different characteristics from year-to-year. I drink or taste from at least 500 bottles per year (considering that a day of wine tasting can mean 20 or so different wines). Maybe 40% of those are wines I have had before – at least the label is the same, although the vintage may not be. I would say that the average price per bottle of the wines I drink has gone from $10-$12 a dozen years ago to $25-$28 now. Over that time, my tastes have changed, my palatehas improved (intentionally), I have read and learned more about wine in general and have experienced a greater variety of wines.
So I recommend that you read Eric Asimov’sWine Columns in the New York Times (LINK), especially his wine school columns. Get yourself a copy of Janis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine(LINK) or borrow it from the library. Read Hugh Johnson’s A Life Uncorked(LINK) or A Pocket Guide to Wine(LINK). Or, go through the Amazon listings of wine books (LINK) and find something that appeals to you. Read Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast Magazines. And, this blog!
If you are a wine lover, or aspire to be, my suggestion would be to enter 2017 with the intention of deepening your knowledge and expanding your experience with wine. Your life will be richer for it.
On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Shop (LINK)after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.
Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.
After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a BurgundianChardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.
Here is the list:
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.
My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).
To create your ownstarter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).
I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.
A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.
It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.
Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.
Please pardon the lack of originality in the title of this post. It was the best I could do under the circumstances. You see, I am trying to experience as many aspects of the world of wine as I can, and there just isn’t time for creative blog title development.
In fact, there isn’t time to write this blog post – but I am devoted to you, my dear readers, and that devotion shall not wane. But communicating with you like this is eating into my wine exploration and experiencing time. Just so you know.
The reason for this post is the fact that there is just too much.
Too much wine, too many varietals, too many producers, too many pairings, too many restaurant wine lists with too many wines listed, too many wine blogs, too many wine books, too many tasting rooms, too many regions, AVAs, AOPs, appellations, districts, domains, too many wine terms, tasting notes, words in those tasting notes, too much chemistry, too many vineyards with too many terroirs, too many wine apps.
How is a wine lover to keep up?
One answer, the one that I like the best out of the options that I have thought about, is that one cannot and should not even try to experience it all. Can’t be done anyway, so give up that ambition, my friend. Let that sphere of wine experience shrink down to a manageable size. Perhaps you give up on the nether regions of Eastern Europe, the vineyards to Thailand, maybe even China. Take a pass on the wines of Malibu, Michigan, Maryland, and definitely, Florida. You aren’t going to taste them all, travel to them all, anyway. And even if you could, how much enjoyment or appreciation could there be in tasting five hundred wines in a weekend?
Now I say this as a wine lover who has a preference for exploration. There are many other kinds of wine lovers. I know one who drinks only one wine 95% of the time – Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay (LINK). That’s it. As for me, looking back over the photos I have taken over the past year, I have probably had 250 to 300 different wines, not counting wine tastings; you have seen many of them here and more on my Twitter feed (@JimLockardWine). And in that, I have had a few dozen wines more than once. So I get that there is a range of behavior in the wine lovers’ universe. My Kendall-Jackson loving friend probably does not care too much about this post. But she is an anomaly, isn’t she?
Take last night. We are staying with friends in Cleveland for a week. Last night was to be a birthday celebration for family friends of our host. One of the guest is a former wine columnist (yes, Ohio has wine columnists), and a another, their daughter, is currently taking the Certified Specialist of Wine course (LINK) in New York, where she lives. In preparation, our host, a wine lover himself, took Dorianne and I to the best local wine store – Whole Foods – where we purchased a mixed case, Italians for last night, and some others for the rest of the week.
I had a great conversation with the other wine lovers (and a heightened level of wine lover they were to be sure). And I found that while we shared some common experiences and areas of knowledge, that for the most part, our experience and knowledge were different. This is, of course, to be expected. And, it tells me that there is no such thing as someone who knows even close to everything about wine. So we all have to operate within a chosen personal sphere of knowledge and experience that we create ourselves, either on purpose or by default.
So what does this mean for you, treasured reader? Simply that you have dominion over your domain of wine knowledge and experience. So choose what you love, follow your nature (an explorer or a few wines that you return to over and over); include travel or stay at home; talk about the wine at a meal or talk about other things; download half a dozen wine apps or none at all; explore those small wine regions or stick with Napa and Bordeaux; opt for the top shelf at your wine retailer or the bottom shelf, or stay resolutely in the middle.
Wine is, after all, about the enjoyment of life. It is best when shared with friends and family, and it is best when sipped alone with a good book or a beautiful sunset. It is a social lubricant and a solitary muse. It can be the reason for travel, or a small part of a larger purpose. It is a living, breathing thing that can add to the quality of your life, as long as you do not overindulge.
So do not feel pressured to go beyond your own comfort zone in your experience of wine. (Well, maybe a little bit from time to time.) You are not going to know or experience everything anyway. And no matter how broad and deep your knowledge and experience is, you will meet people who know things that you do not, and who have tasted wines that you have not.
My advice is to find your wine sweet spot, explore that thoroughly, and then branch out from there in a way that suits you best. And have fun in the process.
A very well written article from The Globe and Mail (LINK TO ARTICLE)across the Pond on the difficulties with the 100 point scale. It speaks to several of the points I’ve made here before, but it’s well written, as I said, and as a bonus, has some interesting reviews of some little-known (in the US) wines.
Of course, one of the main concepts behind this blog (LINK) is that wine should be both accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Anything, even a rating system that is intended to be helpful, that gets in the way of either of those ideals is problematic. The enjoyment of wine is a subjective experience for everyone, and becomes something close to an objective experience, that is, one that can be quantified generally, for only a very few. So I come down on the side of the many, without denying the few the bounty that results from their training and expertise (and maybe their God-given naturally discerning palettes).
Robert Parker may have started the whole 100 point thing, but don’t blame him – someone else would have done it. And personally, I find his ratings helpful. I trust his Bordeaux ratings and distrust most of his California ratings. So, like I said, subjective.
Each year at the Garagistè Festival, there are two seminars held as part of the VIP package for the Saturday events. This year’s seminars were “Exploring the Aroma Wheel” with Madeline Puckette of WineFolly.com (LINK) and “Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems,” with Mikael Sigouin, Ryan Pease, and Stewart McLennan.
“Exploring the Aroma Wheel” explored how to discover the various aromas of wine and how to go a bit deeper than the normal surface sniff of the glass. Madeline Puckette is a very good presenter and the seminar was interactive. Each table had 8 covered and numbered coffee cups, each containing a different scent. We were to begin by sniffing each cup and noting what we thought the aroma was. Then, we were provided two glasses, one with Pinot Noir, the other Cabernet Sauvignon. We were asked to sniff the glasses (some instructions were given) and to list three fruit aromas and three non-fruit aromas that we noted in each.
Then, we were asked to sniff one or two of the cups again, and then sniff the wines. The experience of most people was that the aroma of the wine changed after sniffing one or two of the cups (the cups had odors like chocolate, mint, vanilla, smoke, etc.). Ms. Puckette noted that sniffing the aroma in the cup tended to eliminate that odor from the wine for the person sniffing; that changed the aromatic experience of the wine. The workshop was a good experience, and yes, we did get to drink the wine.
“Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems” featured three Paso Robles winemakers: Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Company (LINK), Ryan Pease of Paix Sur Terre (LINK), and Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle (LINK). Each of these winemakers uses stems and whole clusters in making some or all of their wines. The idea is to bring more of the sense of the terroir to the wines and to broaden the flavor profile beyond the fruit itself.
The wines were:
Kaena: 2013 Grenache – Terra Alta Vineyard
Paix Dur Terre: 2013 “The Other One,” 100% Mourvedre
Golden Triangle: 2013 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 50% Syrah
Each was very different in character, although all were the result of whole cluster fermentation. It was very interesting to hear what each winemaker seeks to get from the process and how this process is impractical for large-scale producers.
After the seminars, a lunch was served and then the VIP ticket holders had first shot at the Grand Tasting, with over 70 Garagistè winemakers, producers making under 1500 total cases each year.
We will explore the Grand Tasting in the next post.