This post was prompted by a Share and question posted on Facebook by my dear friend Kfir Pravda. He shared an article from The Art Of Life magazine titled “Some of the World’s Best Wines“. As I skimmed through the article, the very first feeling which came up was … anger. Anger is a very bad adviser, and in the most of the cases people regret the actions taken while angry. If you are angry, the best thing to do is to do NOTHING, and this is pretty much what I did – well, to be more precise, I promised to write a blog post on the subject, so here we go. Warning: this will be most likely long and mumbling post, more of thinking out loud in search for a truth which might not exist – if you are not in the mood for that, you should probably stop reading right now.
All the feeling aside, let me just explain what triggered the initial negative reaction. The article presents the list of “some of the best wines in the world” – all the wines cost in excess of $350 per bottle (with two exceptions), and many cost more than $1000 per bottle. All the wines except one come from France (one is from Germany). Last thing – I’m missing the logic behind the selection of the particular group of wines with designation of being “some of the best in the world” – if such claims are made, it is always good to see a logic behind it. With so many amazing and rare wines coming from all corners of the world, the top list must include the wines from Italy, Spain, Portugal, US and Australia, as a bare minimum.
Taking it one step further we can come up with an interesting question – is there a such thing as “best wine in the world”? Or even can there be such thing as “best wine in the world”? Yes, we like to designate objects to be “the best in the world”. Why is that done? I guess we need something to aspire to, something to adore, something to be moved by. It is also gives us something we want to experience – somehow, one day, yes, that would be great. When it comes to many “best in the world” things, such as art, architecture and places in general (like mount Everest), chances of “experience” are quite decent. We can experience such things ourselves – no, not own that Picasso painting, but to see it and to be as close to it as we want to at the art exhibit, for instance, or we can travel to Paris and take a tour of Eiffel Tower. If nothing else works, we can read a book or watch a movie – if good, this will bring us fullest possible experience of object of our desire, “the best in the world”.
When it comes to wine, it gets a little tricky. To begin with, I mentioned in a number of posts the definition of a good wine – in the words of Kevin Zraly, “the one which will give you pleasure”. How much pleasure can you get from reading the description of the wine, even if the wine is designated as best in the world and it is very expensive. Yes, from reading the description I can appreciate the fact that someone else thinks that this wine has a flavor of black currant, and that it costs more per bottle that trip to Paris to see Eiffel Tower, including cost of the meals – I don’t know about you, but I don’t get that much pleasure from reading about particular wine as from actually tasting it. Tasting of many “best in the world” wines will be difficult at best, due to the price and sheer availability of those wines. Therefore, the whole concept of “best in the world” is very challenging when it comes to wine (I’m sure it is true for the food in general). Let’s call the wine amazing, outrageous, unbelievable, divine, incredible, “to die for”, “a must try” (ok, enough, you got the point), but not “the best in the world”. Remember, the one which gives you pleasure – it is your own, personal, individual palate we are talking about. If we are to conduct wine tasting, with inclusion of the supposedly “best in the world” wines, but fully blind (you taste the wine without any information regarding what can it be), I wonder how “best in the world” wines would rate… I can bet that in a lot of cases they will not be even designated as “best in the tasting”, as tasting wines blind brings out ultimate truth – I mean your personal version of it.
So, what do you think, should the concept of “best in the world” be applicable to wine? I think the answer is no for the most of the cases (well, I will give it a benefit of a doubt, may be there one wine which is actually the best in the world, the one which I will never try…) For me, someone’s “favorite wines list” concept works a lot better – as long as I trust that “someone”. The someone can be magazine, like Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, wine store owner, a wine writer or a blogger or your friend – all you need to establish is how your palates align, and then you are on the road to have fun with every bottle you open. Or not – in which case let’s just hope that you didn’t pay the price of “best in the world wine”…
Well, now, please tell me – what wine is the best in your world?
It seems that I’m looking at a good prospects of visiting Finger Lakes region of New York quite often over the next four years ( my daughter just started a college there), so I’m gladly taking the opportunity to talk about food and wine in that beautiful part of the country. Finger Lakes region is well known for it’s multiple wine trails. For a long time, the region was mostly known for it’s Riesling wines, and then white wines, such as Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, now it is slowly changing with the grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Baco Noir producing interesting wines.
I have to admit that visiting wineries was not the main purpose of this trip, so with this post I would like to mostly share the experience around the food. Outside of Panera Bread which is consistently good no matter where you go ( I would personally go as far as declaring it the best implementation of “slow food” in the fast food setting), we visited two other places. First, we had a dinner at the restaurant at the Inn called Rogue’s Harbor Inn (it is Bed and Breakfast place). Overall all the food was consistently good, with focus on local ingredients. The only surprise ( in a bad way) was the smallest fried calamari appetizer I ever saw. All entrees were done very well, so here are some pictures:
Wild Mushroom Ravioli (great mushroom flavours):
Chevon sausage with greens ( local sausage):
Three cheese Chicken Parmesan:
Few notes about the wine: it was great to see a wine list fully composed of local wines – I think it is great when local food is complemented by the local wine. We chose Long Point Ciera Rose 2009, simple and pleasant wine, as it was working well with variety of dishes we ordered.
Another place we stopped at was Castel Grisch winery. Located in very picturesque place, the winery offers magnificent views of lake and surroundings. As we made it to the winery, of course I had to try the wines. I did try most of the wines, except the ice wines, and unfortunately I didn’t find anything I like, except Gewurztraminer 2007, which was actually done in Alsace style – dry wine with very nice floral and spice expressions. In addition to winery, Castel Grisch also operates a very nice restaurant, with good selection of sandwiches and hearty soups, such as Hungarian goulash soup. I would definitely come back there for the food, but most likely not for the wine.
This would effectively conclude the post. As we had good success with the food, I will make an effort to find good wines – I’m sure I will, as I have plenty of time… And until later – Cheers!
A few times lately I have come across blog posts talking about too many wines on the shelves of the stores and poor consumers being intimidated and having troubles to find what they want. Quite honestly, I find this annoying – I believe convincing consumers that they should be intimidated is the wrong thing to do. Why am I annoyed with this? Very simple. Today, you need a very few things to navigate the world of wine and feel comfortable. One is desire to learn (if someone doesn’t want to learn, it makes no sense to complain that one can not). Learning about wines simply means trying them and making an effort to remember what you like and what you don’t. Another helpful thing – finding a good wine store.
There are quite a few good wine stores where I live – I do plan to write a separate blog post (or may be a few) covering some of those in more detail. One of such good wine stores is Stew Leonard’s Wines in Norwalk, CT. What makes the wine store “good”? It is easy to navigate, it has helpful and knowledgeable personnel, and it is helping you to learn about wines. You got all of that at Stew Leonard’s Wines – easy to navigate, helpful staff and great education. What do I mean by education? When it comes to wines, education consist of learning about wines and tasting them. One of the ultimate forms of “education” then is when you can learn from the best and taste excellent wine – and did I mention that it is usually free? Yep, it is free and available, almost every Friday and Saturday, again, thanks to the folks at Stew Leonard’s Wines. Every Friday and and Saturday, you can come to the store for the wine tasting, and if you are lucky – you will also learn from the winemaker, as it was the case last Friday, September 24th , when Chester Osborn, winemaker of the famed Australian winery, d’Arenberg, was presenting his wines.
d’Arenberg produces quite a few different wines in the McLaren Vale region in the South Australia, of course with Shiraz being a star grape. Five different wines were presented at the tasting. First, Lightly Oaked Chardonnay – it is actually very nice and simple, with clear fruit and light oak expression. Then comes The Stump Jump 2008, which is also should be known at GSM. GSM stands for Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre, and it is a blend modeled after wines from Southern Rhone. It is also interesting to note that Friday, September 24th was the First International Grenache Day which was proudly stressed by Chester holding up the bottle of GSM. Stump Jump is a very nice and approachable wine with great and powerful fruit expression. The next wine was classic The Footbolt Shiraz 2007 (Footbolt actually was the name of the horse), nicely showing spicy bouquet of MacLaren Vale’s shiraz (need my rack of lamb wit that one). And then the flagship Dead Arm Shiraz 2006 – great wine which will need another 15-20 years to be enjoyed fully, very earthy and dense, drinkable now, but boy, will it evolve! In case anyone wonders, the Dead Arm has nothing to do with human body parts – the name is related to the grapevine disease, which can kill part of the plant, producing “dead arm”, or a “dead branch” – in this case the grapes on the surviving part have very high flavor concentration.
And last wine presented was Sticky Chardonnay – beautiful desert wine, made from Chardonnay grapes, exhibiting honey and white peaches notes, all with nice minerals, acidity and green apple bite. At $9.99, the wine of such quality is a pure steal. All in all, it was a pleasure meetings Chester d’Arenberg Osborn, learning from him and experiencing his wines.
To complete the story, I would like to include a picture of the great folks from Stew Leonard’s Wines, including Stew Leonard Jr. himself:
Going back to where we started – it is not difficult to learn about wines today – all you have to do is make an effort. As one of my teachers was saying, when the student is ready, the teacher will come…
So far I had being talking about wine and food in this blog. As this blog’s short description puts it, it is about “Wine, food and life”. Of course food and wine are definitely part of our daily lives, so the blog’s promise on “life” is fulfilled, more or less by itself. However, after I read a very interesting article sent to me by Kfir Pravda, it really stroke the chord, so here comes the blog post. A life prospective through the glass, if you will.
The article is called “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” (I really encourage everyone reading this blog to read the article – it definitely worth it). Money? Don’t worry – this blog is not changing into a financial publication. I don’t plan to give any financial advice, and I don’t know where the money tree is growing (if you know – can you please, please share with the rest of us?). The article itself is not talking about money or finances, it rather talks about happiness, and then looks at money as one of the popular means of achieving it (or not). Still don’t see a connection, with wine or with life? Just continue reading, please.
One of the first points of the article is “Buy experiences instead of things”. There is a great explanation on why it makes a lot of sense from point of view of achieving “happy” state and keeping it for longer. That concerns pretty much anything in life (two weeks trip through French country side will probably keep you happy much longer than having one tiny original French painting on your wall). Now, I hope you expect me to connect this to the wine. Quick question – can you experience Chateaux Margaux 2000 ($1000/bottle, try to find it), Vega Sicilia Unico 1968 ( about $1200/bottle, again good luck finding it), Krug Vintage 1996 ($300+, same good luck wish applies) and about hundred other wines, all without emptying your 401K ( like it’s not empty already)? If you said “yes”, you are correct. PJ Wine Grand Tasting in New York in the Fall of 2009 had all of those ( and many more) wines available for all the wine lovers. Ticket price – $144 per person. Paraphrasing MasterCard commercials, having long-lasting memory of tasting freshly made bread in the Krug or tremendous luscious layers of complexity in Chateaux Margaux – priceless. Yes, it is great to have that special bottle of wine in your own cellar. Considering realities of life and cost of college education ( sorry, personal pain point), it is not easy to have all the wines you want in the cellar – however, you can always find a solution. Going after experience can bring a lot more long-lasting happiness, especially comparing with owning THAT bottle of wine and having regrets about money spent as the main feeling every time you think about it. Or at least that what I think – and I would love to hear your opinion.
Another key point of the article, “Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones” also can be perfectly illustrated in the wine world. What would you rather have in your cellar? One bottle of Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006 at about $160 to $200, or 4-5 bottles of Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006 at about $40? I chose the pair for the simple reason – tasted both a week ago, and with all due respect to Insignia, having more bottles of Ladera Cabernet will provide for quite a bit more happy occasions. But when it comes to wine, this is definitely a very important point – there is a lot of choices, and you can use your money wisely and “stretch the happiness” quite a bit simply by finding the right value wines which will bring you a lot of pleasure and happy memories.
Last point from the article I want to touch on is stated as “Pay now and consume later”. The point is simple. When you own things which you can enjoy later, you get a lot of happy feelings all the way until you actually get to use whatever it is. Who can attest to this better than wine lover, whether you own a cellar or keep your wines in the closet? I’m not talking about collectible wines here, this is a category in its own. I’m talking about putting your wines aside and waiting for them to improve, or waiting for just the right moment to drink them. Just a thought about having particular wine in the future gives you a lot of pleasure, isn’t it? This is all which we are trying to achieve – to be in the happy state for longer, and I would say that wine lovers are the ultimate group which has almost an unfair advantage here – we can wait and be happy about it at the same time. I’m not sure that buying the new car and waiting for 3-4 years to drive it will put someone in the happy state of mind – but buying the few bottles of wine and giving it time to evolve is definitely great and pleasant experience.
As a conclusion, again, I would definitely encourage everyone to read the article – it really provides great analysis of our “state of happiness” and suggests a few tricks for achieving it. And while you will be reading this article, have a glass of wine – and experience happiness at the fullest. Cheers!