Friday, August 24, 2012

Beginner's Guide to Wine, Part 2: Lessons Learned

1.  A wine you buy for five dollars will taste like a five-dollar wine.  If this wisdom comes tragically late, tonight might be a good night to make spaghetti sauce.

2.  Those little chewy brown bits were not present before you opened the bottle.  Reconsider your method for removing corks.

3.  Refrain from swirling the wine while simultaneously inserting your nose inside the glass and inhaling deeply.

4.  If you are holding out a glass of wine in anticipation of a refill, make use of verbal and nonverbal communication to indicate that your glass is stable and in position for the pour.  Alternatively, invest in burgundy and black clothing.

5.  Due to the structure of a wine glass, a full glass of wine is top heavy.  Keep this in mind when making a last minute decision to move a coffee or end table already supporting a glass or two.  Plan your path carefully as you navigate your hand across the dinner table for another piece of bread.

Beginner's Guide to Wine, Part 1: Wine Tasting

You like wine.  You've been drinking it for a while now.  Maybe it's time to enjoy wine at the next level, to really analyze what you're experiencing and savor the moment.  So how does one proceed?

Step One:  Take note of the color of your wine, an indicator of quality and age.  Sometimes people like to tilt their glasses as they examine the color as well as the legs of the wine.

Step Two:  Smell the wine.  Swirling the wine helps release aromas.  Extreme caution is recommended at this juncture, particularly in close-quarters wine tastings.  Somewhere out there, there is a woman who has no idea how close she came to disaster as my boyfriend overzealously sloshed his ruby red wine mere inches from the back of her snow white sweater.

Step Three:  You're allowed to drink it now.  I like to hold the wine in my mouth for a few moments before swallowing to really investigate what I'm tasting.  Experiment with opening you mouth slightly to allow oxygen in--you may find notice more flavors.  Avoid experimenting with this technique at dinner parties or amidst those clad in white sweaters.

Step Four:  Make a few notes about your experience.  I keep a little black wine journal, which is useful for trying to remember the name of a wine, or in figuring out who to pick up that night.  Common descriptors for wine tastes range from floral or fruity to petrol or cat's pee on a mulberry bush (no, I didn't just make that up).

Step Five, the Most Important Step:  Remember to exercise your wine palette often.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

2008 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc

I was first struck with the color of Domaines Schlumberger's Pinot Blanc.  My wine journal  is so full of descriptions of "straw" coloring that it was with great delight that I enscribed the word "gold".  Aromas were fruity and, as the wine opened, distinctly melon.

Domaines Schlumberger's Pinot Blanc is most enjoyed when savored thoughtfully.  Upon tasting, I first noticed the acidity, which quickly gave way to a modicum of fruit, followed by unmistakeable creaminess.  The creaminess fleshed out, and I was dazzled with hazelnut in a heavenly blend that paralleled a silky dessert.

Comparing notes with my boyfriend, I was pleased to learn that we shared the same experience!  We felt the wine evolved through three distinct phases as you tasted it.  Only, he experienced the triumvirate in reverse order: creamy, fruity, and crisp.  And sans hazelnut.

What we did agree on fully, however, was what a great wine this Pinot Blanc was.  He described it as having, "The nose of a Riesling, the start of a Chardonnay, and the finish of a Pinot Gris."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Girardet and the Umpqua Valley

There are over twenty wineries in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon, skirting several towns and sprawling across the country. The area supports a broad range of grapes—all the classic varietals as well as a smattering of interesting hybrids—which is remarkable given that prior to the 1960's, it was thought that Oregon could not grow grapes.

My boyfriend and I spent a few days wine tasting in the Umpqua Valley at the end of July. Our first pick was the Girardet vineyard, southwest of Roseburg. I found the name interesting, suggesting a possible French heritage, and was all the more intrigued when I read that Philippe Girardet was among the first winemakers in the area.

Philippe and Bonnie Girardet
At some point during the tasting, we were honored by the presence of the Philippe. Talking with him, we felt that we were in the presence of a master, though his demeanor was warm and personable. We were charmed by his Swiss-French accent and the playful sparkle in his eyes, framed by his straw fedora.

Philippe started his Umpqua winery in 1971. Evidently, he left his home on the French side of Switzerland, seeking a more flexible area to experiment and innovate with wine. Certainly he left his mark on the valley, introducing the Baco Noir hybrid to the area—something strict European guidelines would not allow.

Philippe explained to us that as a winemaker, one cannot force the wine to be a certain way; one must work with nature to make the most of what that grape wants to do. He said, “This is like your relationship with your wife.” Of the wines the Girardets produce, Philippe's favorite is, in the fact, the Baco Noir. Upon tasting it, we too were seduced by its magical and unique balance of complexity and smoothness.

The entire experience at the Girardet tasting room—wine and winemaker—was enchanting. As we left contentedly, we admired the wisdom of a philosophy Philippe shared with us: “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Redwood Creek Pinot Noir: A discount wine

The aromas begin simple, fruity, and unremarkable.  Then, after vigorous swirling, they open.  Wafts of sumptuous plum and the promise of spice tantalize my senses.

Maybe this won't be so terrible.

The first sip.  It tastes unfamiliar at first.  Something I can't identify immediately--something new.  I allow the wine to caress my tongue, arousing all my taste buds as I investigate the flavors.  What could that be?

I swallow, finding myself setting my face into a grimace that I haven't summoned since childhood during a bad case of streptococcus.

Oh, that's it.  Cough syrup.

My only conclusion is that the Pinot Noir of 2010 was so uninspiring that it was necessary to add ample sugar to distract the taster.  Not unlike your favorite Nyquil vintage.

On the other hand, Redwood Creek's Pinot Noir at least conforms with a certain consistency I have come to expect from the California-reds section of my local liquor store.  And to be fair, there is certainly room in any market for a low-end product.  However, if you're looking for the next step up from this Pinot Noir, I might recommend Franzia boxed wine.