Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Sauvignon Blanc - 2010 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin

I recent reviewed the 2008 Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling, really loved it - and have already added a couple of bottles to our stash. Based on that wine,  I wanted to try out the Villa Maria treatment of the grape I associate more closely with New Zealand - Sauvignon Blanc.

Wine: 2010 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin
Region: Marlborough, New Zealand
Grape Varieties: Sauvignon Blanc
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $12.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Screw Top - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear with a very light straw color in the center, with a water white rim.
Aroma: Very nice aromas of lemon, lemon zest, grapefruit and pineapple. Mouthwatering just to smell it!  Also a smell I can only describe as gooseberry (not something we find fresh here in the USA that I know of, but you can find gooseberry jam - it's a bit like a white raisin, but not very strong)  plus a bit of Sauvignon Blanc's telltale fresh cut grass. The nose has a lot going on!
Taste: The citrus aromas carries forward into the taste, with a nice finish that includes fruit flavors plus minerals.  A very acidic but balanced wine - very refreshing, a nice wine for a hot day. 

The Grade: I give this one an A+. Just like the Villa Maria Riesling, I think this Sauvignon Blanc is a stellar wine for $12. It would pair nicely with fresh seafood.  I believe this winery makes several other white wines from other varietals, and I am definitely going to look for them - oh yeah, and get some more of this stuff as well.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Complex Drinking Tour - The Steps to Tasting Wine - Part II

In last week’s post, The Complex Drinking Tour - The Steps to Tasting Wine - Part I,  I addressed the initial steps of the tasting process.  Now the waiting is over and we can finally get to the really good parts of the process - let's taste!!! When we left off, we were just giving our wine a nice swirl after a pre-swirl sniff.
Let's Taste!
Sniff #2 - Post Swirl. After a nice swirl - give the wine another sniff. Again you want to see if anything smells off - possibly the wet cardboard smell of a corked bottle, but you also want to smell what "good" aromas the wine has to offer. 

One of the most difficult things in my study of wines has been the process of identifying aromas in wines, when tasting a glass of wine blind (not knowing anything but what you see in the glass). Identifying aromas can help you identify the grape variety and other information about the wine such as the wine region where it was made.  

I found myself recognizing that an aroma was familiar, but it was tough for me to identify what it was. To add to the complexity, wines have a mingling of different types of aromas (primary and secondary aromas) as I’ll go into in a bit.  I now find myself taking the time to smell different fruits, mushrooms, vegetables, etc so that I can better remember how a boysenberry smells different than a blackberry and a raspberry without the benefit of looking at what I’m smelling. (This is why my wife no longer goes with me to the grocery store or farmers market.) You may not have the desire to identify specifically what you are smelling in the wine, and its perfectly OK to just get a sense it is a pleasant aroma, and just classify as it as fruity vs another aroma.

Some of the Stuff Lurking in your Wine's Aromas

If you are interested in attempting to identify the aromas in your wines, there are a couple of different types of aromas that you will want to try and detect.  You wine will contain some amount of both of these categories of aromas:
  • Primary Aromas. These aromas come from the grape variety or varieties used to make the wine.  These types of aromas are typically fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers.  Primary aromas are also referred to as the wine's "nose". Some examples:
    • Chardonnay Primary Aromas: Apple, Lemon, Melon, Peach, Pear, Pineapple.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon Primary Aromas: Blackberry, Raspberry, Cherry, Plum, Green Olive, Mint.
  • Secondary Aromas. These aromas are introduced into the wine by the winemaking and barrel aging process. These aromas come from both chemical reactions in the wines as it ferments, plus aromas imparted by aging the wine in oak barrels. Secondary aromas are also referred to as the wine's "bouquet". Some examples:
    • Chardonnay Secondary Aromas: Butter, Yeast, Bread Dough, Oak.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon Secondary Aromas: Pencil Shavings, Cigar Box, Vanilla, Smoke.
I usually try to start by identifying the primary, more fruit and vegetable aromas first (the "nose"). Next I attempt to push those aside in my mind and focus on the aromas besides the fruits and veggies - the secondary aromas (the "bouquet").

Just do the best you can with identifying aromas, and don’t get too hung up on it - you will improve with practice.  I was terrible at it for a long time, but slowly began to improve.  I also find that if I don't stay in practice, it does become tougher - so do your homework!!! When you read wine reviews that have super specific aroma identifications (like dried black currants or pencil shavings from a number 2 pencil with yellow paint) don’t be intimidated - some people's noses are better than others, but even the best noses are not that good and they are just making educated guesses sometimes!  The pros know what types of aromas should be in a certain type of wine - so they may be cheating a bit and coming up with fancy names just to impress us.
"I detect a hint of Damson and a flutter of Chokeberry"...REALLY???
Sip. You’ve used only your senses of sight and smell to this point, and now FINALLY it’s time to take a taste! Take a generous sip of wine, but not a huge mouthful as you’re going to need some room to maneuver the wine around in your mouth. Hold on - no swallowing yet!

First you want to make sure that the wine gets to all the areas of your taste receptors, and you want to introduce some aeration to help the wine release aromas. Remember - your mouth can only detect five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, tart, and umami (savory flavor like soy sauce), but when you introduce smell you then are able to experience thousands of possible flavors
Areas of Taste Specialty in the Tongue (Your Results May Very)
Slightly open your lips and draw some air in and picture trying to draw/slurp the wine across your tongue.  Yes - this is the pursing of the lips and swishing sounds you may have mocked in other wine geeks, but you’re about to join the geek club!!! Really though, if you want  to get the most out of tasting your wine - this part of the process is a must.  With practice you can get to a point where you can do the aeration and slurping thing without offending those around you at dinner or a party (unless you're not worried about that!). You can even practice with water (nothing carbonated though!) to get used to the process before tackling it with wine.  Once your wine has taken a good tour around the inside of your mouth -  you can either swallow it, or spit the wine into a spit bucket (I reserve this only for wine classes or a day very full of wine tasting at wineries - the choice is yours). 

Now that you’ve tasted it, it’s time to see what the wine has going on.  Here are some things to look for during your initial taste, which will be used in your judgement of the wine in the following “Savor” section:
  • Flavors. How do the flavors in the wine stack up against the aromas you detected? Flavors can come in a range of fruity and earthy types, and you may or may not detect flavors that line up exactly with the aromas you detected.  Lucky for us, those wines that have barnyard, cat pee, fresh cut grass, pencil shavings, petroleum, latex etc. aromas, don’t necessarily taste like any of those things! 
  • Acidity.  How acidic is the wine? Acidity gives wine it’s sharpness, and is experienced as a mouthwatering feel when you taste the wine. Think of the mouth sensation of tasting a fresh lemon - not all acids are that strong, but the a similar mouthwatering impact is what you are experiencing from the acid in the wine.
  • Tannins. How tannic is the wine?  Tannins are the mouth drying/puckering substances that are detected by those taste buds sensitive to bitterness. Tannins are often felt more than tasted, but are an important part of the balance of the wine and the ability of the wine to age. Tannins are introduced by grape seeds (pips), stems, and by barrel aging, so mostly occur in red wines. However, there may be a trace of tannins in a barrel aged white like a chardonnay.  Tannins can range from silky to harsh, with the harsher variety likely signaling a wine needing more bottle aging to mellow.
  • Sweetness. Sweetness in wine comes from residual sugar left over after the fermentation process converts sugars to alcohol. Wines that are very fruity can seem sweet, but it is not from residual sugar, but just the fruit flavor of the wine.  True sweetness in wine will mostly be perceived as a taste on the tip of the tongue, while a fruity flavor will come mostly from the aromas of the wine.  All wine will have some amount of residual sugar, but the amount will determine how the wine will taste, and the level of sweetness: dry, off-dry, or sweet.
Savor. The “Savor” component of wine tasting consists of contemplating and judging the quality of the wine after you’ve either swallowed it or (if you must!) dispatched it to the spit bucket. The good news is that you get to define quality based on what you like!:
  • Body. The body of the wine refers to how light or heavy a feeling it leaves in your mouth.  Think of the difference between tasting skim milk, whole milk, and cream.  The wine will not be physically thicker like cream is compared to skim milk, but alcohol, tannins, and sugar in the wine team up to leave somewhere between a light-bodied and a full-bodied sensation in your mouth. Light reds would include Pinot Noir (the skim milk), while a Cabernet Sauvignon would be medium bodies (the whole milk), and a Port would be full bodied (the cream).
When is Wine Like Milk?
  • Balance.  The balance of the wine is all about how the components of taste and flavor interact together.  A certain harmony amongst the alcohol, tannins, sugar, and acidity helps to make for a pleasurable tasting wine.  The definition of “balance” will vary, as a Sauvignon Blanc is a wine that will be high in acidity, while a Gewurtztraminer can be quite low in acid by nature. The question of balance is how the elements play together for the tasting.
We Seek Balance!
Finish.  The finish of the wine is how long the aftertaste of the wine remains, and what are the characteristics of the after taste? Did the wine’s flavor dissipate quickly, or did it last for quite a few seconds after you swallowed? With some wines, you literally have a finish thatyou may detect on different parts of your tongue - for instance you may experience an aftertaste on the tip and back of your tongue, but the middle of the tongue may be void of taste.  A long finish that remains in balance (e.g. the fruit flavor doesn’t disappear leaving only mouth puckering tannins) is a good thing. Lack of a long finish does not mean a bad wine - especially in acidic white wines where the acid helps to clean your palate.
Ultimately the goal of the “Savor” step is for your to determine if this is a wine you like and want to drink again, or if it's one that you wouldn’t gift to your worst enemy. Does it taste good to just tip back a glass and enjoy, or would it be a good wine to have with a meal? 
Not so Good - Maybe More Bottle Aging?
With time and practice, you will start to more easily identify those wines that may need some additional aging (e.g. a red wine with harsh tannins), a wine that would benefit by pairing with food, and those that just seem to fall flat or seem out of balance and neither time nor food are going to help.  You will also find that your tastes will evolve as you get to try different types of wine, and you will detect patterns of things you like, and things you tend not to like.  Do me a favor and please always keep trying new things - you never know when a new favorite may cross your wine glass!

Repeat. No big explanation needed here - just swirl, sniff, sip, and savor to your heart’s content (responsibly of course!).  Take time to appreciate each wine you drink, you never know when you will find a gem that could become one of your go-to favorites.

A two part blog series is a lot of information about how to drink a beverage, but it gives you a look into the complexity of wines aromas, tastes, and flavors. I wanted to share with you each step of the entire process, but ultimately just remember to enjoy your wine, because that really is the main purpose of wine anyway!!!  When you do attend a more formal wine tasting or a tasting at a winery - take the time to go through the steps - you will not regret it!

Keep Calm, Wine On, and Enjoy!!!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wine Tip of the Week - Food Pairing Champion: Pinot Noir

Looking for a wine that is versatile to pair with food and may even convert some of your white wine only friends or family to enjoy the wonders of red wine? Let me introduce (or perhaps reintroduce) you to Pinot Noir.  A good Pinot is fruity, high in acid (great for food pairing, think of adding lemon juice to food to kick up the flavor), and has only a moderate level of alcohol - making it über-versatile in pairing with food.
There aren't many foods Pinot Noir doesn't make at least a decent pairing with - just avoid hot and spicy dishes (however other spices like cumin, cinnamon, ginger are fine) and strong dishes, such as gamey venison (unless you've got a nice earthy Burgundy that might take on gamier dishes nicely).
Dishes that do very well with Pinot include: Lamb, beef, fish (less "fishy" varieties such as salmon, tuna, and swordfish), chicken (especially Thomas Keller's roast chicken), quail. Simpler versions of pasta and even pizza can go well with Pinot Noir's high acidity level.  Pinot goes nicely with many cheeses as well - including very acidic soft goat cheeses, which can be challenge to other red wines. Super strong cheeses may overwhelm a delicate Pinot Noir, and some do not care for Pinot and Blue Cheese (I, however love the pairing!).  To include most of the food pyramid - Pinot also goes nicely with vegetables and with mushrooms - just avoid dishes with thick, creamy, buttery sauces.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Malbec - 2010 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir

In honor of Dennis Rodman's pilgrimage to North Korea (not really, just a coincidence), we are having a weekend of Korean inspired dishes. One night is Korean Flank Steak with Jasmine Rice and the other will be Korean Short Ribs with an Asian Cole Slaw. For the Korean Flank Steak (which we have at least every 3 weeks or so) - I picked this Malbec from Argentina.  Not sure what the entire name is supposed to mean but  it basically translates to high or tall ants. I'm guessing the vineyard had some ant residents that may have led to the name.  I am hopeful that the ants were not any part of the winemaking process, although I guess they would have added some healthy protein to the wine.

Wine: 2010 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir
Region: Valle do Oco Mendoza, Argentina
Grape Varieties: Malbec
Obtained from: Purchased at Ultimate Wine Shop
Price: $14.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Composite Cork (made from scrap pieces of cork after real corks are cut out)  - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear with a dark red core color and a water-white rim.
Aroma: I had trouble coaxing much in the way of aromas out of this one.  Some dark fruit like blackberry plus a hint of minerals.
Taste: Very restrained compared to more fruit forward Malbecs I am used to.  I had paired this with a slightly spicy Korean Flank Steak, and the lack of fruit did not play nicely with the Srirachi Sauce in the steak marinade.  Almost more of an old world/French style to the wine with less emphasis on fruit.  A bit of a lean wine, however it does have a nice balance of acidity and soft tannins.

The Grade: I give this one a B-.  My choice for food pairing with this wine was a definite miss, but if you are looking for a Malbec that is less of a fruit bomb than many others - this could be a good choice.  For me I count on my Argentinian Malbecs to be nice and fruity - so I will skip this one in the future.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Complex Drinking Tour - The Steps to Tasting Wine - Part I

This post was one of the first I considered writing, but then thought better of it since there are oodles of posts on this exact subject.  Also, every wine book I’ve ever seen devotes a section to the topic of wine tasting.  
Now What?
But as I write about visiting wineries for wine tasting and write wine reviews for this blog, I can’t help but wonder if a little more information on each step of wine tasting (and why the heck you should do each step) might be helpful.  I hope I'm right - as this will be the first of a two part tome on the wine tasting process.
Mmmm... Wine
There is absolutely no requirement to go through the whole tasting process to drink and enjoy your wine. Just filling up a glass, sitting back and sipping is perfectly acceptable.  In fact in social settings where you are hanging out with friends at a party, or when you are having dinner with your significant other or with friends is probably not the best time to go through an über-structured wine tasting process. If you do you may find your invites to such occasions greatly diminishing!  I will also say that I go through these steps in some degree for all the wine I drink, but try to do it more subtly, and without whipping out my notebook to take notes, in more social situations.

When you are visiting a winery, attending a wine tasting, or enjoying a bottle with like-minded winos who relish the thought of following the tasting process and discussing their impressions about each and every facet of a wine - do take the time to go through all the steps.  I hope to explain the value of each step in this post, so you have a good reason to go to the trouble and are not just submitting to peer pressure from all us other winos! 

Taking a bit of time to understand and perform each step will reap benefits in evaluating and enjoying your wine. Each step is designed to help you experience what the wine has to offer, and also to determine if there are any faults or issues with a particular bottle.  A bad bottle of wine doesn’t necessarily mean a bad wine. Something may have happened to a particular bottle, but another bottle of the same wine and vintage may be just fantastic. 

Alright then, enough delay - now on with the steps!  The process below is suitable for red and whites wines.  Sparkling and sweet wines are tasted basically the same, just some other things to look for - but we'll tackle that topic another day.

The “S”s of wine tasting (my variation at least) are the following:
  • Sight
  • Sniff #1 - Pre-Swirl
  • Swirl
  • Sniff #2 - Post-Swirl
  • Sip
  • Savor
  • .....and.... Repeat! (Not an “S” I know, but a good step and my favorite step so I made an exception).
Sight.  Start off by taking a look at the wine in the glass preferably against a white background so you can see the wine clearly. Your goal here is to look for clarity and color - just like a diamond, but hopefully better tasting! 

Clarity. Evaluating clarity is a matter of checking if the wine is cloudy or hazy - think of bottled apple juice vs apple cider. A cloudy or hazy wine is not necessarily a bad thing if the wine was bottled “unfiltered” (typically identified on the wine label), but if not unfiltered it may be a sign of a problem with the wine. A very hazy/cloudy wine may be from a wine bottle that was exposed to too much heat or had something go wrong in the fermentation process. The only way to know if there is an issue is to forge ahead with the tasting steps - any issues will be obvious in the smell and/or taste of the wine.

Color. Now take a look at the color of the wine. Tilt the glass to about 45 degrees and look at the color through the side of the glass (vs. looking at it from above). Note the color of the wine at the center or “core” as well as the color of the wine at the outer edge or “rim” of the wine.  
Tilt Your Glass to Get a Good Look at the Color of the Wine
The color of a wine can give hints to its age, grape variety, and other aspects of its origin and the winemaking methods. All wines will start to turn more brown with age, in fact if left to age long enough (and way past the point of being drinkable) white and red wines would both end up the same basic brown color.  

The Evolution of Wine Color from Aging - Reds Get Paler in Color, Whites Deepen in Color - and Everybody Ends up Brown!

For red wines, a vibrant red or inky purple color in the “core” with a water-white rim denotes a young wine, while a wine with a more brick-like  color (red mixed with brown) and a more yellow rim denotes a wine with some age.  Ruby/orange highlights in a red wine often denote a high level of acidity, while blackish blue highlights can denote a low level of acidity. As you start gazing into more wines, you will start to notice the different colors and intensities based on the grape variety. Pinot Noir wines are reddish and somewhat transparent, while Syrah wines are often deep  purple and opaque.
Younger Wine (Left): Bright Color, Water White Rim...Older Wine (Right): Less Bright, Yellowing Rim 
With white wines very pale colors and hints of green denote young wines or wines made in cool grower regions where the grapes may not reach full ripeness (e.g. some German Rieslings).  Deeper, more golden colors can denote a white wine with some age, a younger white from a warmer region where the grapes get nice and ripe, and even a wine that has spent some time barrel aging (e.g. a barrel aged Chardonnay).

A Younger White
An Older White

Sniff #1 - Pre Swirl. Swirling your wine will help to release its aromas (compounds called esters), but if I also like to sniff the wine prior to the swirl (I’m just wild that way). I like to get a sense of the intensity of the wine's aromas, and what specific aromas are present before any aeration from swirling.  Put your nose right down into the glass and inhale deeply, but not like you are going to hold your breath. You will find that our nose will tire quickly and not be able to detect subtle aromas. At some wine bars you may see coffee beans - smelling them are a good way to reset your nose so you can better detect aroma. If you find your nose has tired, just give it a rest for a couple of minutes and try again.

If there is not much happening with the wine’s aroma, I know I need to get my proper swirl on to try and coax the aromas out.  A bit of time investing in the initial swirling can provide a better taste experience with your wine. 

This “Pre Swirl” sniff is also a chance to look for any signs of problems with the wine. If your wine smells like wet cardboard or a damp basement, your wine may be “corked” by a substance introduced to the wine by the cork. At one of the first formal wine tastings I attended, the host opened a fresh bottle of wine for the table I was at, and we were the last table to get our wine.  As the host sniffed her glass and described aromas of fresh strawberries and cherries, all those seated at the table with my wife and I looked at each other puzzled. To me, it smelled just like I stuck my head in a wet cardboard box. Someone at our table was brave enough to share “Hey, this smells like my grandmother’s basement!.” Our host took a sniff of his glass and said “Wow, that bottle was definitely corked!”  I have seen stats that nearly one bottle out of 12 have some impact of cork taint - which may or may not be strong enough to be perceptible.

The Evil Cork!
Wine Myth Busted #1 - Smell the Cork.  Other than validating that your cork smells like a cork - smelling the cork from a wine bottle won’t do anything for you.  I like to look at the cork to verify it is in good shape - but even when handed a cork at a restaurant from a bottle you’ve purchased, don’t worry about smelling it. After all, how many goods things in life happen after some says to you “Here, smell this”??? I do sometimes like to sniff a good screw top cap - but I do not recommend it for anyone else.  

Swirl. OK - you’ve gazed longingly at your wine, you’ve given it a quick “pre-swirl” sniffy and now you are ready to help coax out more of its aromas and flavors by giving it good swirl. If your pre-swirl sniff didn’t have much in the way of aroma, you may need to swirl for a couple of minutes to really get things going.  Beginners should keep the base of the glass on the table or bar while brave souls (or those with some Oxyclean handy) can pick up the glass to swirl. I don’t usually share such personal details, but about 95% of my swirls are on a table or bar, I seldom choose mid air swirls.

Wine Myth Busted #2 -  Nice Legs.  Ever heard the someone talk about a wine with “Nice Legs” or the legs of a wine?  The legs of a wine are the streams of wine that drop down the side of the inside of the glass after swirling (also referred to as wine “tears”).  The appearance of the legs, and the speed that the drops head back toward the bottom of your glass are impacted by alcohol and sugar level in the wine - but in no way can be used to judge the quality of a wine.
It's Got Legs!
Please stay tuned next week for The Complex Drinking Tour - The Steps to Tasting Wine - Part II.  In the mean time you are only allowed to look at, sniff, and swirl your wine!  OK, you can drink - but please proceed with caution!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Weekly Wine Review - Mencia - 2010 Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo Pétalos

Bierzo is a relatively new Spanish wine region (since 1989) in the northwest part of Spain, near Galacia (home of the Spanish white wine Albariño) and the border with Portugal. The key red grape here is Mencia, a grape you are very unlikely to see anywhere but in a Spanish wine from this region.

Wine: 2010 Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo Pétalos
Region: Bierzo, Spain
Grape Varieties: Mencia
Obtained from: Purchased at Ultimate Wine Shop
Price: $18.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.
Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear, dark red at the core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Nice aromas of black cherry and cola, with a nice hint of oak.  Some reviews I have read mention licorice, but I did not get any - too bad, I love licorice!
Taste: Nice acidity with nicely balanced tannins.  The aftertaste is a balance of fruit with minerality, very delicious.

The Grade: I give this one an A.  Clearly the winemakers in Bierzo are trying to make a name for themselves amongst the well established wine regions elsewhere in Spain. I am already a big fan of Rioja, Priorat, Ribera del Duero and other Spanish wines, and I will definitely try more wines from this area and may be adding Bierzo to my favorites list! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Belly Up to the (Wine) Bar - Tips for Wine Tasting at a Winery (Part II)

In my last post Belly Up to the (Wine) Bar - Tips for Wine Tasting at a Winery (Part I),  I provided some wine vacation/winery tasting recommendations including putting together a plan of attack, having a budget in mind, and doing some research to pick out some familiar and some new wineries to visit.  Now, finally, let’s chat about some tips for getting the most out of your visit to a winery for wine tasting.
Some of you may already be winery tasting pros, so there may not be much here for you to learn - but read on - you never know! If you do have some additional suggestions (or disagree with any of my recommendations) please share with the group by commenting to join the conversation.

So... it is finally wine tasting day, and you are well rested and ready to go and experience the wonders that the wineries have to offer. I always leave my Aqua Velva and Old Spice at home for these trips, as any perfume, cologne or even strong deodorant smells do interfere with the wine tasting experience for you and others around you at the winery. Today your day will be filled only with the wonderful aromas of the wines you are going to taste! You know to hit the popular places early or risk waiting around watching other enjoy wine tasting, and you’ve got you list of wineries you want to try. Please remember to arrive on time if you have an appointment for a tour, and if you are going to be late, please give the winery as much notice as possible. 

At the Winery - Time to Sip, Savor, and Learn. 

OK, so your GPS or Google Maps have guided you (or your designated driver) to your destination. Follow the signs to the Tasting Room, and let the experience begin! Here are some considerations and recommendations for you tasting experience:
  • Types of Tastings. Some wineries offer just one wine tasting choice, while others may offer options that focus on either reds or whites, focus on different varietals, or they may even offer a “reserve tasting” that features their very best stuff.  The first question you may be asked by your host is “What Type of Wine do You Like” - as they may be looking to point you toward a certain wine tasting. Just answer to the best of your ability, there is no wrong answer! My answer is usually - “All types, but especially big reds!”. 
  • Fee or Free? Some wineries offer free tasting, but many will charge a tasting fee that they may apply to a wine purchase (your friendly winery host will explain this all to you - if not please ask). Please be understanding if smaller wineries do not credit your tasting fee toward a purchase - support the small guys!  The reserve tastings will be more expensive, but often worth it.  I tend to go with the Reserve Tasting to try the best wines that a winery has to offer - and typically if you want to try a sip or two from the non-Reserve tasting, you will get the chance.  If the winery does charge a fee, you can expect to pay as little as five bucks for a regular tasting and as much as twenty dollars or more for a reserve tasting.  Some wineries, especially the biggest ones may ask for the fee up front, while many others collect at the end of the tasting.
  • To Share or Not to Share. If you are looking for a way to reduce costs a bit, or just a way to cut down a bit on the wine consumption during a full day of wine tasting - you can share one tasting with a loved one (at least loved enough to drink from the same glass). My wife and I often share a tasting, especially a more expensive reserve tasting.
  • Time to Pour it On. The winery will have sequenced the wine tasting in the best way to enjoy each one.  The sequence will depend on the wines in the tasting - but here is a general sequence:
    • Sparkling Wines
    • Lighter Bodied White Wines
    • Fuller Bodied White Wines
    • Rosé Wines (don’t be afraid - there are awesome Rosé wines out there that aren’t White Zin!)
    • Lighter Bodied Red Wines
    • Fuller Bodied Red Wines
    • Sweet White Wines
    • Sweet Red Wines
  • Be Adventurous. There may be types of wine you’ve never heard of - but what better opportunity to try some new things. You never know, you may be one sip away from your new favorite type of wine! <+>
  • Get your Proper Swirl On.  Take your time and enjoy the experience of tasting the wine. Go through the process: See (is the wine clear, what color is it in the center and on the rim of the wine), Smell (before swirling - what are you able to identify in the aroma, is it subtle or strong?), Swirl (get some air into the wine to help release the aromas), Smell (after swirling - what do you smell now? How much did it change from before you swirled?), Sip (what flavors do you detect? acidity? tannins? sweetness?), Savor (do you like the wine? if you are unsure...then...), Repeat!. You may hear some slurping sounds that would have drawn the wrath of your mother at the dinner table when you were growing up, but the slurping action actually helps aerate the wine in the mouth, and distribute the wine throughout the mouth so that all the flavor receptors get a little taste. Consider bringing a notebook to take notes of what you liked and didn’t for future reference. <+>
  • Chat Them Up. The smiling, friendly soul pouring you glass after glass of wine may be the winemaker (happens more than you would think), a family member, or a winery employee. In any case, find out who they are, their connection to the winery and how long they have been  working there. Winemakers and long-time employees will have tons of information, and are more than happy to talk about the wines, where they grow the grapes, their wine-making process - basically anything you want to know about. If your host using a term you don’t recognize, like maybe “malolactic fermentation” - just ask them to  Expressing interest by chatting about the wines does two important things: 1) it gives you a chance to learn more about wines in general, and the wineries offerings in particular and 2) once your host realizes that you are there for more than just to tip a few back, you will often find yourself invited to taste some additional wines.  Let your host know what you like, or if there is something in their offering that you have never tried, and sit back and enjoy the hospitality.  At wine tastings I have been at, only the very biggest wineries will stick to the tasting list only. I have enjoyed anywhere from one or two extras, all the way up to two or three times the numbers of wines on the tasting list.  Also, my bio on this blog talks about how one statement about one wine led to an afternoon of barrel tasting. I can’t promise that will happen to you - but you never know!
  • It’s OK to Spit or Dump. Yes!! - and you can quote me on this!!! The wine bar will have some type of spit bucket available. If you take a sip and don’t care for the wine, or if you are the designated driver - feel free to spit out and dump out any wine you do not want to finish. Please don’t openly shriek or make any gagging sounds to illustrate your displeasure - if you are asked you can just say “That one is not for me.”
  • To Rinse or Not to Rinse. There will be pitchers of water on the tasting bar to allow you to rise your glass and dump into the spit bucket. Rinsing your glass will actually leave water in the glass and dilute the taste of your next wine. These are small 1 oz - 3 oz pours at tasting, so even a little water will make a difference. The pro sommeliers will sometimes prepare a decanter by putting another wine in, giving it a swish and dumping out the wine, so I follow this example and skip the rinse.
  • Can’t They Do Better than Plain Crackers? - I’m Hungry! The bread or crackers you will see on the bar are there to help you refresh your palate. After tasting a few wines, your senses can get overwhelmed, and a neutral tasting snack like a plain water cracker will help reset your senses so you are better able to smell and taste the next wine.
  • Hit me Again - A Re-Taste. Often at the end of your tasting, your host will ask if there is anything you want to re-taste. If you enjoyed the wine and are up to try some more of a particular one, ask for a re-taste. It can also give you a chance to step away from the tasting bar and stroll around the  and see the sights of the winery, and give some thought to if you want to spend any of your wine purchase budget on something you just tasted at the winery.
  • Let’s Make a Deal. Do not feel obligated to buy any wine if it is not to your liking, or not in your budget. But if you do then the winery may have a setup where you can grab your own bottles, or your host may help you with a purchase. Some wineries offer discount for a case of wine (12 bottles), and they typically do not have to be of the same type of wine (i.e. mix and match cases).  There are some (not many) wines where the winery may only let you you buy a certain number of bottles, as they want to be able to offer a limited availability wine to as many people as possible. If you will need the winery to ship wines back to you, you will need to make sure they can ship to your State. Living in Arizona, it’s about a 50/50 chance that a particular winery will be able to ship to us.  Also, keep in mind what the weather will be like as your wine is riding around in your UPS guy’s truck.
Taste On - but Reember to Take a Break and Enjoy a Little Lunch

Lots of recommendations here, but ultimately all that really matters is that you have a good time and enjoy the experience. If you end up enjoying wine tasting as part of a vacation, then each time you go you may hone your skills on researching places to go, and finding wines you like. 

Some other things to keep in mind during your wine tasting:

Drink water. Keep drinking water along with your wine throughout the day. Keeping hydrated will help keep you going throughout the day, and help you avoid a “mini” hangover later in the evening.  Down at least a small bottle of water as you travel between each winery.

Protect your Investment. If you purchase wine to take with you during your day of wine tasting, don’t leave the bottles in a hot car. The heat will impact your wine by first dulling the aroma and flavors, and after prolonged heat will develop aromas of nuts, sherry, cooked fruit, and who knows what else. Be careful at any temperature above 80 degrees since the inside of your car will get much hotter than the outside temperature. You may be able to leave your wine at the winery to pick up another day, bring along a cooler and some ice packs, or just let the winery ship the wine home for you.

Ring the Lunch Bell. Having some lunch to break up a day of wine tasting is a great way to give your palate a break, plus areas that make great wine tend to have restaurants that make great food. Many wineries have picnic areas where you can grab some goodies at a local grocery store and enjoy a meal with a beautiful view.  If you have more tasting to do later in the day, consider skipping alcohol and having water or sparkling water with lunch so nothing interferes with your enjoyment of your afternoon of tasting.

Bring on the Night - The Night After the Afternoon Before
Especially after a full day of wine tasting - you will be feeling the intoxicating effects and will have a bit of a burned out and overwhelmed palate. Just keep in mind that it may not be the best night to plan a wine pairing dinner at the local find dining restaurant. Consider enjoying a bottle you bought during the day with some cheese, or a more casual dinner. Save the wine pairing dinner for another night - there are likely some spectacular ones available!

Have a favorite memory of wine tasting or a wine vacation? - share with us in the comments section below!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wine Tip: Pizza and Beer is Great - but Wine is Better!

Pairing a wine with a Pizza doesn’t at first seem to be a big challenge, but when you stop to look at the taste and flavor components of your simple pepperoni pizza it does get a bit complex.  From the bottom up, each bite is chock full of bready/yeasty flavors from the crust, sweet and acidic tastes from the tomato sauce, salt and oil from the cheese, and spice and more oil from the pepperoni.  Wow - that is an awful lot going on flavor-wise to tackle in a wine pairing.

Sometimes though, the answer is fairly straightforward - how about a Chianti? Chianti is a wine from Tuscany, Italy made from the Sangiovese grape.  Following an adage I learned early on in my quest for wino-dom - “When you eat the Italian food, drink the Italian wine”, Chianti is a fantastic pairing for pizza.  In this case you don’t want an expensive example, you are looking for a simple, traditional Chianti.  The natural acidity of wine made from Sangiovese will help with the oil and salt, while the fruitiness of the wine will help highlight the flavors of the tomato and pepperoni. 
I would not opt for the legendary straw covered bottles that have adorned many a table at Italian restaurants, but just have your favorite wine store helper point you to something inexpensive, but tasty.  Banfi is always a good go-to brand name that is widely available - for Chianti or Chianti Classico.

Want to try something new? Dolcetto D'Alba is an Italian red wine from the Piedmont region that is also high in acidity and makes a nice match to pizza for the same reasons as Chianti.

Just keep in mind any other toppings that you add may provide additional challenges to finding a good wine, especially anything spicy like jalapeños or super sweet like pineapple.  However, feel free to add other types of meat (minus any spicy variations), plus onions and mushrooms - just hold the green peppers.

Enjoy and invite me!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Great Wine Quotes - Horace

Wine brings to light the hidden secrets of the soul, gives being to our hopes, bids the coward flight, drives dull care away, and teaches new means for the accomplishment of our wishes. 
- Horace

Have a Great Weekend!!! 
- Me

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wanna Try Some Wine? Wine Spectator Grand Tour.

Want a chance to sample any of literally hundreds of wines from all over the world and chat with representatives from the wineries? Look into the Wine Spectator Grand Tour.


These are held each year in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Chicago.  My wife and I will be attending our fifth one in Vegas at the end of April - and I cannot wait!!!!  The venue has moved from the Venetian to the Mirage, and although the Venetian is a great casino and hotel, the venue at the Mirage is much bigger - giving you room to roam.  All the wine you want to sample, a buffet of snacks, and a unique opportunity to try more wines that you can imagine. I highly recommend you check it out!

Weekly Wine Review - Red Blend - 2009 Callabriga Dao Red

Portugal, historically known more for super sweet, fortified Port wines also produces some great dry red wines that provide great value for the money. Similar to Spanish wines, they tend to be food friendly and ready to drink. The grape names are less familiar to many of us, but they are some of the same grape varieties that are used to make great Port.  This week's wine includes a grape I've never heard of - Alfrocheiro Preto, but I do recognize the other two as typical Port wine grapes - Tinta Roriz (the Portuguese name for Tempranillo, as in Spanish Rioja) and Touriga Nacional (one of Portugal's most important wine grape varieties). On with the tasting!

Wine: 2009 Callabriga Dao Red
Region: Dao, Portugal
Grape Varieties: Alfrocheiro Preto, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $16.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: The wine has a dark purple color in its core with a water white rim.
Aroma: Nice aroma right out of the bottle. Nice fruit - mostly boysenberry, baking spices, and a bit of sage.
Taste: Very big and fruity and surprisingly tannic - but I'm not that familiar with Portuguese wine outside of sweet Port wine. A nice peppery aftertaste as well. Really nice overall.

The Grade: I give this one an A.  This one is a really nice wine for $16. Could stand to age for a bit to tone down the tannins, but I think this would be great with a steak or other hearty chow. Also great just to sip if you're like me and go for the big reds!  I did not expect the tannins - but I will have more of this and will put it in a decanter a bit next time.  Very exciting - I am going to look at trying more Portuguese wine in the very near future!!!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Great Wine Quotes

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”
― Galileo Galilei

Wine Tip - Sometimes Pairing is All About the Sauce

When trying to pair a wine with a lighter meat such as pork, veal, or even chicken - your best best is to base your pairing on the sauce rather than the meat.  The sauce will set the flavor profile of the dish more than these lighter meats, so this is where you will want to focus for pairing.

If the meat is served with a cream-based sauce,  a Chardonnay (either unoaked or subtlety oaked) is a good bet.  Want to try something new - switch to a Gavi - an Italian wine from the Piedmont area.

For tomato based sauces, you should try a red wine with some acid to stand up - an Italian Dolcetto, a Pinot Noir, a Chianti, or a Rioja.

Often pork may be served with a sauce containing apples as a riff on the classic "Pork Chops & Applesauce". A Riesling with a bit of sweetness (Germany, Australia, Washington State will all work great) is a great pairing.

If you are going sauceless, roast meats like pork, chicken, and veal go nicely with fruity red wines - try Zinfandel (one that's not too big and tannic), a Pinot Noir, Merlot or a Malbec.  If you want a white wine - Torrontes from South America or Albariño from Spain are whites that are super versatile to go with many dishes.

If you want a suggestion for a specific dish - just let me know!