Friday, June 19, 2009

Wine as a Second Language...

Everyone wants to be educated but nobody likes to be schooled. That said, nobody likes a know it all either. I find experiencing the pleasures of a good bottle amongst friends, family, and peers much more enjoyable than memorizing the 59 Wards within the 21 Districts of the 5 Major regions of South Africa and so on. Whatever your approach may be, it is an additional challenge to be able to verbalize what your experiences have been.

Over the course of my career as Sommelier, I have heard some really geeked out styles of taking what's in the glass and transcending that into words. While I respect most attacks, I often feel that people put wine on a pedestal so high that it becomes unapproachable and seemingly pretentious. I refer to this as the "Frasier Crane Method". After all, isn't it mere grape juice we are talking about?!? Please don't take that the wrong way.

Once your homework is done for the day, you can keep what information you feel enhances your level of enjoyment and leave the rest behind. My all time favorite way to learn about wine is through travel. There is so much you can learn about a wine by just surrounding yourself with the local culture, weather, history etc..

As far as speaking goes, there are no right and wrongs here. I just recently heard someone analyzing a wine and refer to its structure as being "Leona Helmsley in style". His point being that while the wine had a rough exterior, there was a touch of softness at its core. I have also heard one of Bordeaux's finest, Chateau Latour being referred to as "a silk glove over an iron fist". There is also the ever popular sexual innuendo ie: "I find this wine to be curvaceous yet resilient with long legs that complement its perfume of vanilla sweat". As they say, sex sells!

My approach to this is to be as honest with myself about what I find in a glass as I can be. For instance, have you ever heard someone go on about lingon berries with slight undertones of the obscure African wafer bean?!? While this person may very well have had the rare experience of plugging these items into their sense memory, I have not been so lucky. As a result, I prefer to keep it simple and sincere. If I smell fruit loops, then fruit loops it is!

My Advice would be to find out what works best for you through tasting, tasting, and more tasting. Not to be confused with drinking, drinking, and more drinking as the better the wine, the more you drink and the less information you retain.

PS: To my knowledge, there is no such thing as the African Wafer Bean, Ha ha!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wine For Change...

Like a good song from the eighties, that has a way of bringing you back to that time and place in your life, I feel that wine can have the same effect. Not only specific to one's own life, but intertwined in a timeline that dates back eons before we ever had a clue the world was round. Although there is little evidence to pinpoint exactly where and when wine production began, I do enjoy the romance of associating wine with significant events throughout history. With such political fervor surrounding our country I feel it only fitting to celebrate the ghosts of bottles past in our nations capitol.

While there is no known wine cellar in the White House, it is nice to have a president in office that respects the ritual of wine on the dining room table or the consumption of wine to commemorate special events. Here is an unofficial report of two wines that have been enjoyed by President Obama thus far:

-Graham Beck Brut NV, Robertson, South Africa - Election Night
Notes: A sparkling blend of pinot noir and chardonnay showing light yeasty aromatics coupled with a creamy texture and fine mousse.
(A difficult find ever since) 

-Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, 2007, Napa Valley, California - Inauguration Lunch
Notes: Citrus and lemongrass flavors that show rich on the palate with a round leesy finish.

PS: I think it is worth mentioning here that our Ex-President Bush hasn't enjoyed a glass of wine in over 20 years. (Go figure?!)

Having had the rare opportunity to advise (a pulmonary conscious) former President Clinton towards a good fit for his dover sole at BLT Steak. It was the Domaine Serene pinot noir that won his heart over. In retrospect, I might have paired a pinot noir that has only just hit the market this year by Dr. Revana (Cardiologist) and Lynn Penner-Ash (Winemaker) named "Alexana". Both stunning examples of pinot noir from Oregon showing off place of origin. There is something special about a Cardiologist in the wine business that seems so right!

-Domaine Serene, "Evenstad Reserve", 2004, Willamette Valley, Oregon

-Revana, "Alexana", 2006, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Since Lyndon Johnson decreed that only domestic wines were to be served in The White House, it was of course Tricky Dick that could not let go of his love for French wines. In fact, upon Richard Nixon's resignation dinner. The servers were instructed to wrap a napkin over the 1966 Chateau Margaux that I am sure paired well with the beef tenderloin. However, during President Nixon's Famous trip to Beijing, it was a 1969 Napa Valley sparkler that he toted with for the now famous "Toast to Peace" with Mao Zedong. 

-Chateau Margaux, 1966, Bordeaux, France
Notes: Wish I knew first hand.

-Schramsberg, "Blanc de Blancs", 1969, Napa Valley, California
Notes: Its been said to have an amazing amount of life left!?!? 
(I will be sure to inquire with my friend Ray Tuppasch who I bet has a bottle of this up his sleeve!)

Incidentally, Schramsberg has been poured for state dinners under every president since!

Probably the biggest oenophile out of the bunch would be Thomas Jefferson whose income was outmatched only by his expenditures on wine! (uh oh, feels way to familiar) While Jefferson did favor the brilliance of Chambertin, his cellar was reported to house a fine collection of fortified Port wines and Madeira's that were all the rage at the time. 

-Chambertin, Burgundy, France
Stop whatever it is you are doing and pay attention when this wine presents itself. Unless of course it has something to do with Babette's Feast on your dinner table!

Last but not least, it was the original gangsta George Washington that gave it a good college try at planting his own vineyard in Mount Vernon, Virginia. In addition, after his presidency George went on to become one of the nation's more successful distillers of whiskey. Now, I'm not certain what grapes GW was planting or how good his whiskey's were? I do know, aside from grapes and whiskey, it was his all consuming interest in the hemp plant that I find most curious.
Is that what they were calling it back then?

Friday, January 2, 2009


While most people are under the impression that it was Dom Pierre Perignon (a Benedictine Monk) who invented Champagne, it was really one of the of the worlds greatest 'happy accidents', maybe? Decades before Dom Perignon's era, it is said the English had been complaining about the "foamy and funny tasting wine" exported from Champagne, France. Due to warmer shipping conditions, the casks of wine had undergone a secondary fermentation during transport and carbon dioxide had been trapped within the wine itself. Dom Perignon had actually worked diligently to try and prevent this phenomenon from occurring. There is also evidence to suggest that it was Christopher Merret (an English Scientist) who had invented sparkling wine three decades before Dom Perignon. Either way, the end result remains the same.

Another myth that I feel is worth mentioning here is that the glass designed for the consumption of champagne (more commonly used today for margaritas) was produced using a wax mold of Marie Antionette's breast. While I do like the association, It is known that the English once again had beaten France to the punch in designing that glass almost a century prior. For the purposes of enjoyment though, it is the flute style glass that helps to enhance the longevity of all those fantastic bubbles!

Of all the ways to enjoy a bottle of sparkling wine though, it was Marilyn Monroe who I thought had the most original attack of filling her bath tub with over 350 bottles of the stuff. Talk about two great tastes that taste great together! Also, a standard bottle of champagne is said to contain approximately 45 million bubbles. That would mean that Marilyn's tub contained 1.54 trillion air pearls.

Here are a few of my favorite Champagne Houses:

-Krug Grande Cuvee MV, Anything by Krug is a safe bet but in the rare experience you get to delve into the "Clos du Mesnil", it will be life altering.

-Salon Blanc de Blancs "Le Mesnil" Vintage, Power and Finesse all in one package.

-Bollinger Special Cuvee NV, Hey, if its good enough for 007, then its good enough for me.

-Ruinart Rose NV, I would choose this over a dozen roses for my date any day of the week.

-Billecart-Salmon Rose NV, Hardly gets more elegant.

"I drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I Drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
-Madam Lilly Bollinger

In my personal and professional opinion, there is no better way to begin or end anything in life other than a glass of bubbles in hand.