Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle. – Paulo Coelho, Brazilian lyricist and novelist
As I write this, Wine Spectator just released its Top 100 Wines of 2015. There are a few typical names (Mount Eden Vineyards, Peter Michael, Orin Swift, Rhombauer), and then a few surprises. One that I know of and simply haven’t gotten around to ordering yet is Evening Land Pinot Noir 2012 out of Oregon (#3). You can bet that order will be placed and tasted by the time you are reading this article. Quilceda Creek (a perennial on the list) came in #2 with its Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this wine, but not the 2012.
Just last week at the Dubuque Food & Wine Festival, the first wine I tasted was the 2014 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, which happens to be #21 on the list. Another one you may recognize is the Meiomi Pinot Noir Monterey-Sonoma-Santa Barbara Counties, which came in at #19. Rombauer Chardonnay Carneros is listed at #35, and Bartolo Mascarello Barolo is #50.
If you want to see the entire list, go to www.winespectator.com and check it out. You can click on a wine and a window opens with a brief description and facts about that wine.
This is a great segue into my thoughts for January, with apologies to William Shakespeare. When you drink wine (to sip), how much thought do you give to how it tastes (perchance to taste)? Sure, I know, you swirl the wine in the glass like everyone else and take a nice whiff of the aromas, and then take a sip. But what then? Do you stop and think about if it tastes like it smells? How does it feel on the tongue? What is the mouthfeel – does it fill the mouth or just pass by as you swallow. Let’s take some time to think about drinking wine and really tasting and enjoying the flavors.
Hopefully you’re at home, because I’m going to suggest that you put this magazine down and go pour yourself a glass of wine. Let me know when you’re back.
Okay, good, let’s go on. Everything you do from here on, before you take a sip of the wine, prepares you for how it is going to taste to you.
Take a look at the wine – the color, the clarity, and the body. The color of a wine changes as it ages. An older wine will have shades of brown or brick tones around the edges. What about clarity? Wines should be clear and bright with no cloudiness. Murky wine is not a good sign. But don’t confuse sediment with cloudiness. Sediment can be filtered out and is often present in older wines. Murkiness is a warning sign.
To discover the body of a wine, swirl the glass and look at the legs. Wine legs or tears of wine are the droplets that form in a ring on the glass above the surface of a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage. A dryer wine will have thin legs where a heavier bodied wine will have solid looking legs.
We all know that smell is one of the most powerful senses. I remember a day just a few years ago when running in Salt Lake City. The scent of lilacs came over me and instantaneously I was transported to Conklin, NY where I spent my early childhood. I was on Leslie Ave. going to visit Christine Barba with a handful of lilacs. The same can happen when you swirl then stick your nose in a glass of wine. Close your eyes and “see” what you smell. This single step will affect what you are about to taste.
Take your glass of wine and give it a swirl to release the bouquet. Now, place your nose into the glass and inhale softly with your eyes closed. What is it you see when you smell the wine? Can you see berries, or a grassy meadow with flowers? Does it seem like you are in a barn or maybe you’ve just had a spoonful of cranberry relish? Do you pick up woody or spicy smells? Take your time with this step because all this information gets stored for later reference.
Now we are ready to take a sip, but only a small one. Let the wine rest in your mouth for a moment then swish it around to expose all your taste buds. Inhale gently through your mouth to excite the lining and heighten your awareness of the flavors. Now swallow. Be aware of all the sensations that take place. What happens to the flavor? Does it linger and tease you to take another sip, or has it disappeared. What about the flavors? Were they the same as what you smelled, or different?
Can you tell that sweetness and dryness are both sensed at the tip of your tongue? Acidity, or sourness are revealed along the sides of your tongue and bitterness, or the tannin sense, is picked up toward the back of the tongue and somewhat on the sides of your cheeks.
What did you discover with that first sip? Did the wine taste like you thought it would? Did the aroma prepare you for how the wine tasted? How did the wine feel in your mouth? Keeping track of this information can be fun. When you have a chance, try wines from the same grape, but from different regions. Pour a bit of each wine into a glass and go through this process to see similarities as well as differences. Is one from a warmer climate than the other, and if so, how are the wines different? Once you get proficient tasting wines, then a wine tasting event such as the Dubuque Food and Wine Festival or Galena’s Wine Lovers Weekend’s Friday Night Tasting gives you a chance to test yourself, and likely find some new favorite wines. Rather than simply trying all the wines, approach a table, ask for a red or white, and see if you can guess what kind of grape it is from. Can you tell if it is a domestic or foreign wine? Can you learn to tell if the grapes were grown with a terroir and plenty of sun or with cool breezes and shady days?
Start learning and don’t be afraid to experiment. With practice, your knowledge and appreciation of wine will grow, and so may your preferences.
A quick note about what’s ahead for 2016.
Last year I took you on an educational journey acquainting you with the grapes most accepted as Noble Grapes. This year I plan to take you on a trip to various countries and discover some lesser-known grapes and the wines they produce. I’m going to work with local retailers so if I write about the wines of Croatia, Portugal, or even Macedonia, you (hopefully) can go out and find a bottle from that country. That’s the plan, anyway. On that note, if you have a favorite country or have personal knowledge of a smaller wine country that you’d like to share, send me a note and let’s talk about it.
Wines I recently tasted
2005 Helix Sangiovese – Reininger Winery, Walla Walla, WA
I renovated my kitchen and back porch into one space. I needed more room for cooking, baking, and entertaining. It turned out magnificently. For its unveiling party, I invited a bunch of friends, cooked up a bunch of things, and opened some wine. Looking for wines that would go with several dishes, I discovered a 2005 Helix Sangiovese in the lower level of one of my coolers. “Eek,” I said, “Is a ten-year-old Sangiovese going to be good?” It joined the selection along with another 2005, a Goose Ridge Sol Duc Meritage. I wasn’t as worried about the Meritage as it has a bit more body and tannins. It was the more delicate Sangiovese that had me concerned.
Oh, ye of little faith, I can hear you saying. To my delight, the 2005 was drop-over incredible! The nose was soft, red fruit with just a hint of coffee. The flavors were wonderfully balanced, with more red fruit, cranberry, and a flush of vanilla. The mouthfeel was round with a moderate body. A touch of anise snuck into the finish that lasted for a most pleasant time.
2013 The Big Sissy Chardonnay – Gorman Winery, Columbia Valley, WA
This wine is 100% Chardonnay from three different vineyards: 82% Conner Lee Vineyard, 14% Celilo Vineyard, and 5% Kestrel Old Vine (1972).
This wine opened my Thanksgiving dinner and it fulfilled the job perfectly. It was bright and crisp with plenty of white fruit on the palate, mellowing to a smooth mouthfeel on the finish. This is an enjoyable example of a Washington State Chardonnay. Available at Family Beer and Liquor.
Fess Parker 2011 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
This wine is 61% Rio Vista Vineyard, 23% Ashley’s Vineyard, and 10% Hayes Ranch Vineyard.
For my palate, this is about as good as it gets for a Pinot Noir in this price range. Sta. Rita Hills is just east of Santa Ynez in the Santa Barbara region. The cool ocean breezes and rocky sandy soil makes nearly perfect Pinot Noir growing conditions. I found this wine to have lovely color and an inviting nose of light fruit with a medium body, smooth mouthfeel, and complex flavors with a lingering finish. I got mine at Van’s Liquor.
Save the Date: Open That Bottle Night
Saturday, February 27, 2016
As the New Year begins, plans are beginning for Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) 2016. I’m going to be hosting a small gathering at my home and I encourage you to do the same. Remember, Open That Bottle Night is an event to celebrate stories about the wine, not so much about the wine quality, but a story about where you were, or who you were with, or how the bottle of wine came into your possession. It is an evening to gather with friends, open some bottles of wine while sharing stories and having a warm, wonderful time.
I’ll write more next month, but I wanted to give you a friendly alert to make your plans now and begin thinking about, not only who to invite, but which bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion will help you make OTBN 2016 special!