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Memories of the Oenophile

August 1, 2017 7 comments

If you search the Internet, you will find plenty of references to the medical benefits of the moderate wine consumption – for your heart, blood pressure, cholesterol level, and among other things, memory. It seems that jury is still out on the wine and memory – some say it helps, some say it works the opposite way – I guess it depends on who pays for the research and researcher’s personal view on alcohol – oops, let’s avoid the rant trap, and so let’s leave all the medical stuff aside.

Wine and memory are connected on many different levels. In the most direct terms, mastering the world of wine will greatly tax your memory. Yes, anything humans do connects to memory. But think about thousands and thousands of producers in each and every wine region – the more names you remember, the easier it is for you to make a choice at a restaurant or in the wine store. And this is a simple scenario, as we build this memory step by step when we drink different wines, one producer at a time.

And then there are those (very few) who have to know the names of about 6,000 German villages in order to pass the Master Sommelier exam – and this is something you simply have to memorize as there is no way for you to try the wines from all those villages to create some sort of mental connections.

Think about next level of connection between wine and memory – when you smell and taste the wine. Have you ever smelled the wine, looking for all those blueberries, baking spices and Chinese Cinnamon, so exquisitely described on the back label of the wine? In this case, you need to memorize smells, not the words and there is such a fine line between blueberries and wild blueberries, for instance – it is definitely not an easy task to recall all the aromas (a perception of?) which exist only in our heads, and no wonder most of us struggle so much trying to dissect those escaping flavors – excelling at the blind tasting is so much more difficult compared to memorizing wine regions and producers.

Beyond all the scientific and direct relationships between wine and memory lays something which is far more important than all the technical knowledge and abilities – our experiences. Wine is an ultimate connector and facilitator. It helps us to create memories which stay with us forever. It helps to retain those little moments which comprise life, and bring them back, one by one. Some of those little moments are very personable, often relating to the personal discoveries, especially as we are learning our ways in that vast world of wine. Some of them connect us with our friends and families.

I don’t have that “pivotal bottle experience” which was a starting point of journey for many oenophiles. Instead, I can relate to the singular learning experiences.

Growing up, the wine was never “a thing” in my family. We had some of the home made sweet plum wine, which I developed the taste for at the age of 14 or 15, taking random sips of the sweet liquid from time to time – but this was, of course, for the love of sugar and had nothing to do with learning about wine. In 1989, I was visiting the Czech Republic for work, and I brought back a bottle of white wine, Tokaji – we had it with friends and I thought that it was delicious (I don’t remember any details, but I think it was dry). Next year I visited Bulgaria and brought back the bottle of wine which had the same “Tokaji” written on the label. I still remember my grand disappointment after tasting that wine and finding it to be totally different (in a bad way) from the previous wine under seemingly the same name. The big question in my head was “how is that possible – same name, Tokaji, and such a different taste – what is wrong here???” Of course, I had no idea about regions, producers, vintages – wine was one monolithic “thing” – and that feeling of total surprise became an everlasting memory.

The absolute majority of my wine memories are happy memories – I guess this is how humans are wired, we don’t like to keep bad stuff around for too long. One of the worst memories for the oenophile probably connects to the faulty, spoiled bottles – corked, cooked, oxidized. I had my share of the spoiled wines, however – knock on wood, of course – not anywhere near some statistical averages, to the best of my knowledge. However, the majority of my corked wine experiences would involve a heated exchange with the service staff at the restaurant at the most, but no memories of high-end spoiled bottles (lucky, right?!).

But when it comes to the happy wine memories, the sky is the limit. The discovery of Amarone, tasting of magnificent 1964 Rioja for the first time. First encounter with Krug Vintage, Chateau Margaux, Vega Sicilia Unico and the wines of Lopez de Heredia. The list can go on and on, and on.

And then there are people experiences. Tasting freshly fermented Chenin Blanc at Paumanok winery with Ursula Massoud, right from the fermentation tank. Experiencing 1970 white port in the cellar at Quevedo Port house with Oscar Quevedo, poured directly from the barrel – the wine which most likely will never be bottled. Tasting magnificent Franciacorta sparkling wines right in the cellar, listening to Stefano Camilucci explaining the effect of music on the aging of the sparkling wines, talking to the passionate producers and seeing sparkling wine hitting the ceiling to demonstrate the effect of 6 atm of pressure in the bottle. Such experiences will stay forever with us, conveniently available at any time happy memory is desired.

I really had fun with this trip down the memory lane. How about you? What are you happiest wine moments?

Ahhh Long Island Wine Country

This post is an entry for the 34th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC34), with the theme of “Memory”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory, Obscure, Faith, Translation, Once Upon A Time

And if you really like this post, please vote for it here: #MWWC34

Translation – Implicit Virtue and Pain of Oenophile

April 25, 2017 5 comments

When you hear the word “translation”, what is the first thought which comes to the mind? Make no mistake – we will be talking about the wine here, but let’s leave that aside for now – we will connect the dots a bit later. So, how about that translation?

I would bet that your immediate thought was of a foreign language. This is where “translation” is typically invoked. Maybe you remember your French class in the high school; may be you have a vivid picture of your last trip to Italy – in either case, we see or hear the word (at least, we assume whatever we hear to be a word), and then we make an effort to understand what that word mean in our own language, and not just by itself, but also taking it in the context of conversation or a text we are reading.

When we speak and read in our mother tongue, the words typically create immediate associations. If you hear the word “door”, you have an instant mental image of the door – whatever the style is, but you know it is a door. If you will see or hear the word “porte”, unless you speak French and expect to see a French word, that word will cause no mental images to show up, despite the fact that “porte” simply means “door” in French.

You don’t have to travel or try to read Swiss newspaper in the morning to have a need to translate something. There are plenty of interesting words we encounter all the time, which need translation in order to achieve that comfortable mental image. Some of those words came from foreign languages, some are specific technical terms, some are just an urban jargon – either way we need to translate those word one way or the other in order to “get” them. Need examples? Let’s look at something as straightforward as steak. I’m sure the word “steak” generates an instant mental image (apologies to the vegetarian readers), of juicy, crusted goodness. But, without the help of Google, how many people do you think will be puzzled if asked if they would like to order steak Diane, chateaubriand or tournedos (okay, you can use Google now)? Steak is complicated, you say? No problems, let’s go even simpler here – how about some pasta? Easy, right? Okay, please describe to me croxetti, rachette or gigli. No? Yeah, sure, go ask Google.

You know what is important here? Rachette or gigli, but we know that it is pasta, and it is comfortable enough for us, so we can skip the translation. Our experience can replace the translation itself – not always, but often. Take a couple of trips to France, and you will not be reaching for the dictionary to understand “merci” or “bonjour”. We don’t even think about what those words mean, but we know where and how to use them, and that works. We do learn, and as we learn, we get comfortable. But we have to still remember that translation is all about little details.

You must be thirsty by now, so let’s talk wine. How often do we have to use translation skills around wine? If you said “all the time”, you are right. I’m not even talking about dealing with professional winemakers’ language (debourbage, remouage, Oechsle, anyone?). I’m not talking about translating from the crazy winespeak of some of the tasting notes (references to various exotic fruits are my “favorite” – how many people know how bilberry, jostaberry or a tayberry taste like? I’m sure we all can identify Satsuma plum and Castlebrite apricots, right?). Leaving all that aside, getting comfortable with wines requires a lot of learning – and translation.

Yes, we can skip translation and just learn by drinking the wines, it is easy – I like this wine, and I don’t like that wine. But this approach doesn’t scale – there are millions of wines in the world, it is not given that the exact wine we like will be available anywhere, any time we want it. So we need to start translating the “winespeak”, which is typically right in front of us on the wine label, into the “mental images” we can bring on at any time. When we start drinking wine, we probably start from the grape. We try one Cabernet Sauvignon, and we like it. Then the next, and the next, and then we know – we like Cabernet Sauvignon. But one day we try Cabernet Sauvignon and it might be nothing like the wine we like. What happened? Time to learn about the regions. We start stating “I like Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Until it is time to learn again – the label says “Cabernet Sauvignon”, the label says “Napa Valley”, but the wine is not that great – and this is when we might start learning about producers.

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Becjksrtoffer Dr Crane VineyardThere is not much translation in what I just described above – depending on where you live and what language you speak. Let’s not forget that Europe is still the most influential “wine region”, and so most of the wine drinkers will have to translate what they see, and pay attention to the “fine print”.

Okay, it is a wine label, not a legal document, but we still need to learn to translate, as the language we assumed to be our native is not universal. Remember we started our love of wine from the Cabernet Sauvignon? Unlike California, French wines typically list only the region and not the grapes the wine is made out of. It is now our job as oenophiles to translate Pomerol and Saint-Émilion into “predominantly Merlot-based wines”, and Pauillac and Margaux into “predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines”. Many French winemakers understand this Achilles hill and they put the name of the main grape directly on the label. This becomes a great thing for some wine drinkers, while some of us are getting on the offensive – “ahh, this French wine list the grape – it must be a cheap plonk made specifically for the export”. Nothing is perfect, right?

And then that fine print… As we keep translating, we learn that every little word is important, very important – but depending on the context. If you see the word “Reserve” on the bottle of California wine, it doesn’t translate into anything of any significance, as the use of the word “reserve” is not regulated in California. The word “Reserva” on the bottle of Chianti or Rioja, however,  can mean the world of difference in the taste of the wine, as the use of this word is tightly regulated and it also translates into the significant difference in taste.

Funny thing that when you think you have achieved your level of proficiency and can “translate” anything with the word “wine” in it, this is when there is a good chance you are going to make a mistake. Here is one of my favorite illustrations to this statement. A few years back, I was in Portugal with a group of colleagues. We stopped by a restaurant, and I ordered the bottle of wine which was absolutely delicious. I actually loved it so much that I bought two extra bottles at the restaurant to take home. A few days later, we visited the same restaurant again, and I ordered exact same wine. When the wine arrived at the table, I couldn’t believe that I liked that wine so much before. The wine was not spoiled, but it definitely lacked the depth and layers of flavor. For a while, I couldn’t understand what have happened – until I found the tiny difference – the second wine was lacking the word “Reserva” on the label…

I hope I didn’t lose you in translation, my friends. When translating, and we always do, we, oenophiles, should always pay attention – and enjoy the ride. Cheers!

This post is an entry for the 32nd Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC32), with the theme of “Translation”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory, Obscure, Faith

Obscure: Oenophile’s Pleasure

January 24, 2017 7 comments

Today, class, we will be talking about things obscure. Yes, things obscure, but not in the whole entire world, of course, but in the world of wine.

In your opinion, if we use the word “obscure” in conjunction with the word “wine”, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? For starters, let’s think about the meaning of the word itself. Here is how New Oxford American Dictionary defines “obscure”:

obscure
Well, yes, we could’ve done without the dictionary, as the word is simple enough – but dictionaries exist for something, so why not use one.

Now that we are clear on the meaning, let’s go back to our original question: “obscure + wine” – is it good or bad?

Reading wine’s description, have you ever come across the words “obscure grapes”? I’m not talking about the stuff you read on the back label, as there you will rather find the words “indigenous grapes”, “traditional grapes”, or maybe, “local grapes”. But if are reading blogs, or any of the “peer reviews”, I’m sure you’ve encountered the “obscure grapes”. I get it – “obscure” often implies that we got something to hide in a bad way – but not in this case. Referring to the definition we just saw, “obscure” here simply means “not discovered or known about”. Need examples? How about Trepat, Bobal, Gros Manseng, Khikhvi – heard of those grapes?

black_bottleMy favorite part is that obscure often translates into pleasure – lots of pleasure for the oenophile. Unlike most of the other food and drinks humans consume, wine taste is largely perceived. We have expectations for how Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay should taste, and when we don’t find that taste while drinking one of the “well known” wines, we often get disappointed. But when presented with the “obscure bottle”, all those preconceived notions are largely thrown out of the window, and we take wine for what it actually is – which gives us a great chance to enjoy something we wouldn’t otherwise.

It is not only wine drinkers who get more pleasure from the obscure grapes – when using those little-known grapes, winemakers are also not bound by any “customer expectations”, which gives them more freedom to express themselves. From the personal experience, I found that more often than not, I truly enjoy those obscure wines, and quite honestly, I like hunting down those unknown wines and grapes because of the pure mystery in the glass.

By the same token, lesser known wine regions (read: obscure) have the same advantage for both oenophiles and winemakers. What do you expect when you see Czech Republic, Georgian Republic, Mallorca or Valle d’Aosta written on the bottle? Most likely, you wouldn’t know what to expect, and thus you would take the wine for what it is. However, when you drink Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Spanish Rioja, you have a set of expectations in your head, and you always are ready to say “ahh, this doesn’t taste anything like Napa Cab”. Presented with the Czech Pinot Noir or Chinese Cabernet Sauvignon, you have no choice but to try it and decide whether you like it or not. Same as in the case of the obscure grapes, winemakers get an opportunity to freely create without the need to comply with a given set of expectations.

What we need to keep in mind though that the concept of “obscure” is very personal. For someone who lives in the Republic of Georgia, Georgian wines are very far from obscure. For someone who grew up in Conca de Barberà region in Catalonia in Spain, Trepat might be a perfectly familiar grape. But looking at the big picture, all of us, wine lovers, have our own, personal obscure territories – and this is where we might discover great pleasure. What makes it even more interesting is that the more we learn about the wine world, the more we understand how still little we know. And so we can keep on that road, shedding the light on obscure and making it (if we are lucky) dear and familiar, one discovery at a time.

I wish you all, oenophiles, lots of pleasant encounters with obscure sides of the wine world – as this is where the pleasure is hiding. Cheers!

This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC30), with the theme of “Obscure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory

Color of the Bubbles – Mine Were White, Grey and Black

September 13, 2016 6 comments

Champagne in the GlassMore than 3 years ago, an interesting tradition was born in the world of wine blogging (a brainchild of The Drunken Cyclist, with the help of the supporting cast of characters) – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Every month or so, wine bloggers en mass subject themselves to the masochistic practice of taking a random word and creating a soulful connection from that word to the beloved world of wine – all of it on a tight deadline.

Writing a post for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (MWWC for short), I always want to put out a regular post, and then at the end, simply state “and by the way, this was written for the MWWC, ha”- just to show how easy it was. Of course, this practically never happens – like today, with the theme of our epistolary exercise been “Bubbles“, and my writing taking place during the very last hour (sigh).

When oenophile hears the word “bubbles”, the first reaction it triggers is “Champagne!”.  It gives us such a pleasure to write about the world of “Sparklers” – the ingenuity of Dom Perignon, the resourcefulness of Widow Cliquot, the battles of I-was-the-first-to-make-my-wine-sparkle.

There are many other connections of the bubbles to the world of wines – think about bubbles you see on the surface of the juice during fermentation – those are some bubbles! Or think about simple, tiny bubbles of oxygen, making it through the cork and allowing the wines to age gently and gracefully – these bubbles are critical. And then there are maybe bubble issues for the wine collectors? Will that price of DRC or Petrus ever come down?

Yes, I will take my own, different course, and will not write about Champagne or Sparkling wines. For sure.

Do you believe me? Who said “no”? How did you guess?

Banal or not, but I have a good reason to write about sparkling wines – Prosecco, to be more precise. A few weeks ago, I was offered to review some Prosecco wines. At first, my reaction was “I’ll pass”. But reading the email more carefully, my interest piqued. I always thought of Prosecco wines made from 100% of grape called Glera (yes, there are few exceptions, like Bisol, but just a few). These three Prosecco wines were all blended – Processo DOC rules allow up to 15% of other grapes in the blend – and the blends were all unusual, so the intrigued brain said “why not”?

As we are talking about Prosecco, I need to share some fun facts with you – who doesn’t like statistics, right?

French Sparkling wine and then Champagne had been around for a bit less than 500 years. Prosecco’s history is only a bit longer than 100 years, and only in 1989 (27 years ago!) Prosecco made it for real outside of the Italy (here is the link to my post about it, in case you are interested in history). However, according to Nielsen report, Prosecco sales in US in 2015 grew by 36% (Champagne – 8%). In 2015, Italy produced its largest Prosecco crop ever with 467 million bottles – that is triple of only 7 years ago; out of this amount, 48 million bottles were exported to the US – and still US is only #3 importer of Prosecco behind UK and Germany.

Moving right along, let me decipher a cryptic title of this post for you (not that you cared much, right?).

zonin dress code prosecco

Zonin family got into the wine business in 1821, almost 200 years ago. Now in the 7th generation, the family manages about 5,000 acres of vineyards, mostly in Italy. Zonin had been making Prosecco for the very long time, but considering the ever growing interest, they decided to offer a new line of Prosecco wines, called “Dress Code”, suitable for different mood and a company. The “Dress Code” colors include white, grey and black, so you can wear a different color every day. Of course, these are only colors of the bottles, nobody added squid ink to the wines… yet? Hmmm, note to self…

Here are the notes for the wines I tasted:

Zonin Prosecco White Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 91% Glera and 9% Pinot Bianco cuvée): simple overall. On the nose, touch of white fruit. Good creaminess on the palate, touch of white fruit, very restrained, good acidity, but again, overall is a very muted expression. 7/7+, Decent everyday glass of bubbly.

Zonin Prosecco Grey Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 87% Glera and 13% Pinot Grigio cuvée): white stone fruit on the nose, white flowers. Palate: light, creamy, effervescent, refreshing, distant hint of sweetness, round, good acidity. 8-, nice upgrade from the “white”.

Zonin Prosecco Black Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 90% Glera and 10% Pinot Noir cuvée): promising touch of fruit with lemon and rocky minerality on the nose. Perfect acidity, elegance, finesse on the palate, touch of white stone fruit, lime and noticeable nutmeg. Most elegant out of three, a “little black dress” if you will. 8/8+, one of the most elegant Prosecco I ever had.

So, what color are your bubbles? My favorite was black. Cheers!

This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC27), with the theme of “Bubbles”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude

Solitude: In Quest for Unattainable?

July 19, 2016 8 comments

Solitude. An interesting word, isn’t it? Is it something good or is it something bad? Let’s see what the dictionaries think of solitude:

definitions of solitude

If we think of solitude as a feeling of isolation, this clearly doesn’t sound good. We, humans, are social creatures. We want to connect, communicate, love, laugh, interact. Feeling isolated is really opposite to feeling connected and engaged, so let’s leave it as that – feeling isolated is not what we want, so this is not the solitude we want to talk about.

Rock cairnLet’s then talk about solitude as the “state in which you are alone usually because you want to be“. Every once in a while, our connected sensors become overloaded. Too many things to do, too many tasks to finish. The new things which must be done arrive without any regard to the things which we are still doing. We are going somewhere all the time, without even understanding the direction, or what is even worse, without understanding of why we are going there.

Solitude is our way out. Have you ever been up in the mountains, where there are no other sounds outside of gentle murmur of leaves and muted whisper of wind? How does it feel? Or may be instead of the mountains, you prefer to stand by the ocean, listening to the dreamy sounds of the slowly pulsating waves? With every wave gently crawling up the sand line, the tension becomes less, the mind becomes clearer, and our energy replenished.

The challenge is that unless we are a lucky few, most of us can’t just magically happen to be by the ocean or up in the mountains when we need it the most. And to take things further to the dark side, most of us now live in the constant state of over-socializing. Think about all the tweets we have to respond to, facebook statuses and instagrams to like, snapchats and periscopes to watch. If we thought we were overloaded before, how can we describe our state now? The state of solitude, which we need for our own well-being, is more ephemeral than ever before. Yes, it is literally unattainable.

While we are talking about life, this is a wine blog after all. Tell me the truth – you knew that I will turn it all to the wine, didn’t you?

Vineyards

How does the wine relates to the solitude, you ask? To begin with, think about the wine while it is being made. We are seeking solitude by the ocean or up in the mountains – but have you ever stood between the rows vines on a quiet day, without talking or looking at your phone? Did you feel relaxed and restored just by standing there? wine cellar

Or have you ever stood in the middle of the dimly lit cellar, breathing the wine smell and admiring the silence, thinking about the wines, quietly and patiently laying there? The wines spend month and month in that perfect solitude, left to themselves, to age and mature, before they will see you again.

And then there is may be the best and easiest moment of solitude any wine lover can experience at any time. Yes, wine is meant to be shared, and it is wonderful when you are in the company of the people who share you passion. But think about that moment when you take a sip of wine, and for that exact moment, the world stops, it doesn’t go anywhere, it becomes quiet. You are left one on one with that wine. You ponder at it. You reflect. You are one on one with yourself, in your moment of solitude, brought to you by that sip of wine.

I remember being in the Rioja seminar, and listening to our guide talk about his experience sharing the bottle of 80 years old Rioja (from 1922) with the group of friends (also wine professionals). He said that they poured the wine and had a sip, and the table was quiet for the next 5 minutes. Nobody wanted to say anything. Everybody were transposed. And they were in their moment of solitude.

Let me leave you with that. Have you ever found your moment of solitude in the glass of wine? I hope you did, and if not – don’t worry, it will come. Just give it time.

This post is an entry for the 26th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC26), with the theme of “Solitude”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel

What Is A Good Wine?

April 19, 2016 11 comments

wine_in_a_glassLet’s say you are given a glass of wine. Can you tell if this is a good wine or not? Before you will jump on the obvious, let me clarify this question a bit – the wine is in the perfect condition – it is not corked, it is not cooked, it is not oxidized – there are no common faults of any kind, this is just a well made bottle of wine. So, is it good or not?

Is this question even makes sense? Can such a question be answered? Let’s talk about something more common first – food. Imagine you are in a restaurant for dinner, with friends and family. The dishes start arriving, and here is a side of french fries. There is a very good chance that if the fries are executed properly – good color, nice consistent cut, crispy and not soggy, with the right amount of salt, tasting fresh – everybody at the table would universally agree that “the fries are good”, and you can only hope that there were enough fries ordered for everybody to share. What  also important here is that nobody would be shy to slam these very french fries if something is not up to snuff – too much salt, fried in the old oil etc – everybody is confident in their ability to judge french fries to be universally good and tasty, or not.

Stepping up from the side dish, let’s take a look at the main dishes ordered around the table. Someone got steak, someone got lobster, someone is enjoying vegetarian lasagna. Now, it would be much harder to build taste consensus around the table for all these dishes. One person likes steak rare, and the other one only eats it well done – it will be very hard for these two to agree what is good and what is not. Someone might be allergic to a shellfish – there is no way they can even touch the sauce from that lobster dish to attest to your “this is sooo good” claim. So yes, it is hard to build a consensus here, but people are confident in their own right about the dishes they ordered to be able to judge good or not. If steak doesn’t have the right level of doneness, it will be sent back. If lobster is not seasoned right – well, not sure about “sent back”, but I’m sure the problem with the dish will be stated and discussed at the table.  And of course if one states that their dish is delicious, then the whole table must try at least a tiny bit to experience “the goodness” (at least this is how it works in our family).

Now, arriving at a wine, the situation is different, and often dramatically. Unlike french fries, the wine still has an aura of mystery, of a special knowledge required to be able to understand and appreciate it, and to claim if it is good or not. The same people who are very confident to send underdone or overly salty (to their personal taste!) steak back to the kitchen, will be very shy and even afraid to say anything if the wine is obviously corked – they will take it as their own inability to properly understand the wine, and therefore will not say anything. Of course the situation is not as consistently dramatic as I present it here – wine today is very popular, and increasing number of people feeling confident enough around it to state what they like and not; however, step out of the oenophile circle, and go dine with people who drink wine occasionally, and I guarantee you will hear “ahh, I don’t know anything about wine” as an answer to the question if they like the wine or not.

In reality, making a personal “good/not good” decision about the wine is as easy as in the case of french fries. I took the “Windows on the World” wine school back in the day, which was taught by Kevin Zraly – Kevin is single-handedly responsible for teaching tens of thousands of people to understand and appreciate the wine. Of course, the question “is this a good wine or not” was one of the most important questions people wanted to get an answer for in such a course. Kevin’s explanation was very simple: “Take a sip of this wine. If this wine gives you pleasure, it is a good wine”. You can look at it as overly simplistic, as there are many factors affecting the perceived taste of wine – where we are, who we are with, the label, the story behind the label, the temperature, the mood, yada, yada, yada. Of course this all matters. But still, for majority of the cases, we are looking for pleasure out of drinking the glass of wine – the way it smells, the way it tastes, with all the little discoveries we make as we let the wine open up and change in the glass (“ahh, I taste blueberries and chocolate now”) – all those little pleasant moments we experience with every sip, it gives us a pleasure of enjoying a glass of wine; if we are getting the pleasure, this is a good wine. Yep, I said it was simple.

Very often pleasure is simplistically associated with erotic and sex, or at least that would be the very first thing which will come to the mind of many once they hear the word “pleasure” – oh no, I see your condemning look, of course I’m not talking about you, you are wired differently. Meanwhile, we derive pleasure from everything which surrounds us, and from everything we do – and if we don’t, we work hard to fix it. Every waking moment of our day is a perfect illustration to this. If we start our day from a walk or maybe a meditation – it is a pleasure of being one on one with yourself, deep in your own thoughts. Think about the pleasure of hugging that morning cup of coffee or tea and smelling the aroma. We look at the watch on our hand – it doesn’t have to be the Rolex or Philippe Patek to be admired and to create a feeling of pleasure. We put on a shirt or a blouse, look in the mirror – and we are pleased with the way we look (okay, fine, we might not be – but again, then we get to work hard to fix it). After the day at work, we come home to be welcomed by a wagging tail and a scream “mommy is home” followed by a huge smile and a hug – tell me that this is not what defines pleasure. No, not everything we do gives us pleasure – but those little bits and pieces of pleasure are what we seek, every time, every day.

Wine is simply a complementing part of our lives. Today we are in the mood for the white shirt, tomorrow – for the blue with yellow stripes; similarly, today you might want the glass of Pinot Noir, tomorrow it can be Tempranillo. We are constantly changing, and so do the things which we will get the pleasure from. People go from carnivores to vegetarians to vegans and back to carnivores – as long as we find pleasure in the way we are at the moment, that is all that matters. No matter what is in your glass, if it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. It really doesn’t matter what the experts said about the wine you are drinking. It really doesn’t matter what your friends say. If this is White Zinfandel in your glass, and it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. If this is massive, brooding Barolo, and it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. If this is big, oaky, buttery California Chardonnay, and it gives you pleasure, this is a good wine – don’t let anyone who says that Chardonnay should be unoaked and acidic to persuade you otherwise. It is okay to have your own, individual taste – we do it with everything else, and wine shouldn’t be any different.

If the wine gives you pleasure, it is a good wine.

This post is an entry for the 24th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC24), with the theme of “Pleasure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New.

 

The Drama of Choice

September 4, 2015 13 comments

This post is an entry for the 19th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC19), with the theme of “Choice”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis.

MWWC_logoChoice. Simple word, isn’t it? But think about how powerful the concept of “choice” is. Or better yet, think about how scary the word actually is – think about times when simple phrase “this is your choice” sent chills down your spine? Yep, “choice” is an interesting word.

Choice is closely related to the concept of freedom. When you don’t have freedom, you usually have no choice – well, except may be one – to fight for your freedom or not. Surprising or not, but sometimes we prefer not to have that freedom of choice. Life becomes so much easier when the choice is already made for you. This might not be the best choice (it rarely is) but then a person is happy as the life seems simpler. Choice is hard, choice is difficult, choice is emotionally and intellectually draining. When choosing, we can not know if we are making the “right choice”, and that makes us wary, frustrated, tired and unhappy. It important to understand that “do nothing” is also a choice, not an absence of it. We are choosing it – “doing nothing” doesn’t happen by itself – this is what we decide, we “do nothing” by choice.

We make choices every day, from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. What to wear, what to eat, which book to read, which task requires our attention first, and which can wait. Most of the choices we make don’t have long term consequences – eggs Benedict versus scrambled eggs is important only for a few minutes you will enjoy your food. Black pants versus grey pants is not the matter as soon you step out of the house. But some of your choices can be extremely far reaching – taking or declining a job offer, going for the third child or not – these choices will shape your life and you will feel their effect for a long while.

a path forwward

Let’s now take a look at the winemaking. I would argue that a lot (most!) of choices made in the winemaking have long term consequences. The wine starts in the vineyard. Which grape to plant? Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc or Aglianico? Pinot Noir, you said? Which clone? Dijon (which one then exactly), Pommard, AS–2? Now you are growing the grapes with numerous choices regarding irrigation, pruning, canopy management, protection against insects. 5 years down the road your are ready to harvest grapes to make the wine. Harvest date? Hand versus machine? How to crush? Choice of fermentation temperature? Choice of yeast – natural or synthetic? If synthetic, which one of the thousands available in the catalog? Malolactic fermentation or not?

How to age – stainless steel, oak, ceramic, qvevri? For how long? New oak versus old, American versus French? What type of bottle should we use? Screw top, natural cork, synthetic? What is going to be on the label? Below is an example of choices made by the winemaker – captured in the format of the very informative back label – what grapes to use, how long to age, how to ferment – just a glimpse of all the choices which went into production of a bottle of wine…

Field Recordings Cabernet Franc Back LabelChoices, choices, choices… The effect of many choices will not be known for years, sometimes tens and tens of years, until someone will open a bottle of a 50 years old wine, take a sip and say “wow”. Only then we might know that we made right choice years back. Or not.

Yes, we face the drama of choice every day. You know what is important in dealing with this drama? Don’t look back. The choice is made, and it is a part of the past now. The worst thing you can do is to take yourself on the mesmerizing road of “what would’ve happen if I wouldn’t make that choice, if I would’ve chosen differently”. Here you have only one choice – to move forward. Yes, you can’t change or undo the past choices. But you can “do over” – it is always your choice. If you planted the wrong grape, you can replant vineyard with the new one. If you’ve chosen profession you are not happy with – make a choice to change that, learn something new and choose a new path.

You have no luxury of stopping. The very next moment, you will have to make a choice again. And again. And again. Life has an endless supply of the choices for us. Let’s embrace them. Cheers!

P.S. I will not be upset if you will find this post mumbling about nothing new or of substance. But I hope it will at least give ideas and will inspire  someone else to choose to write a post for the #MWWC19…

Wednesday’s Meritage: #MWWC19 Theme, Stumbling Upon and more

August 12, 2015 5 comments

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with the theme for the new round of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #19 (#MWWC19 for short). The winner of the previous round, Traveling Wine Chick, have chosen the theme, and it is (drum roll, please) … “Choice”. This theme sounds a lot simpler than many of the recent ones, such as “Crisis” or “Serendipity”, but there lies the challenge of making such a regular word a main element of the blog post. Well, good luck to all, and for all rules and regulations, please consult this post – most important is the submission deadline, which is September 14th, so you have enough time to get your creative juices flowing.

Vineyard and The Sky

Just for your viewing enjoyment – a picture from the recent trip to the vineyard – more details later

Next I want to mention that Wine Bloggers Conference 2015 (WBC15 for short) will be starting on Thursday, August 13th, and it is taking place in the Finger Lakes region. Lately, Finger Lakes wineries had been producing the wines of notice, moving past excellent whites into the world of reds. I’m sure that all the attendees will be into a treat and will find quite a few surprises, such as Saperavi wines – I heard that they are delicious, and wineries have a hard time to keep them around (sell out very quickly). I will not be attending, but I wish to all the bloggers to have a great time and taste a lot of great wines. And I’m really curious what the location of WBC16 will be – I hope it will be the Texas, as Texas wines are nothing short of phenomenal and it is time for the people to get to know them.

Now, let’s talk about an interesting subject – promotion of your blog. When it comes to the blogging, most of us write because we enjoy it – but we also want to be found and our writing to be enjoyed by others, and that is what “blog promotion” is all about. I recently came across an interesting article called 30 ways to promote your blog posts, which contains wealth of great advice. Among other tools, I saw a mention of Stumble Upon, which I heard before, but never used. I checked with some of Connecticut bloggers on Facebook, and many people find Stumble Upon a great tool, so I decided to add this capability for the blog post sharing. I learned that WordPress.com used to offer the Stumble Upon sharing button, but not anymore – but then I came across this post which provides detailed instructions on how Stumble Upon button can be added. Without talking about promotion, I found lots of interesting articles with the help of StumbleUpon – here is one example for you – “22 Foods You’ve Probably Been Eating The Wrong Way Until Now“. If you use Stumble Upon, I would like to know what is your take on it. And by the way, I don’t know if you are aware of the two pages I have in this blog, under the menu of Resources – one of them is called Best Blogging Tips and second one is Technical Tips for Bloggers – I use those pages to collect interesting articles and “how to” as it relates to the blogging – check them out.

Last for today, really a local update – I made changes to the page called Grapes of the World, to properly reflect all the grapes I tasted  so far in my Wine Century Club journey. Why is that important? Will tell you very soon.

And we are done here – the glass is empty – but the refill is on the way. Until the next time – cheers!

Is There an Epiphany For The Oenophile?

May 7, 2015 18 comments

MWWC_logoThis post is an entry for the 17th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC17), with the theme of “Epiphany”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish.

I have to admit – when it comes to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, I don’t have a straight record. I participated in many, but definitely not all. Of course lots of it has to do with the theme. Some of them I loved initially, only to find out that they are much harder than I thought (MWWC16 “finish” would be a perfect example). Then there were some which seemed difficult from the get go, and they didn’t disappoint (”devotion” would be my favorite example of an extremely difficult theme). But the key word here is “Challenge”, so let’s just roll with the punches, shall we?

Epiphany is definitely a very difficult theme. Hold your horses – I’m not generalizing, I’m talking about myself. It is a very difficult theme because the word epiphany is not a part of my vocabulary. I don’t think I consciously used the word even once. To me, it has strictly a religious connotation, and I have to honestly admit that I’m not a very religious person. Yes, it is a difficult word for me.

So when the going get tough… one reaches out for the dictionary – sorry, I already played that card before, with the equally difficult theme, “devotion” – but I don’t have a lot of choice. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Epiphany is defined as:

Epiphany

Okay, so we are not going to talk about the first and second meanings – not in this blog for sure. That leaves us with with the range of options in the meaning #3. I feel good about discovery, realization, revelation, sudden perception – still, the epiphany has too grandiose of a meaning for me to be able comfortably use it.

My forming journey as an oenophile was full of discoveries, revelations and realizations, but was the epiphany hiding somewhere along the way? I’m not so sure. Let’s take a look.

My serious introduction into the world of wine happened about 10 years ago, when I took Windows on the World Wine course thought by one of the best wine educators out there – Kevin Zraly. My first major discovery in that class was Amarone, 1997 La Ragose. Amazing dried fruit and raisins on the nose, promising a sweet wine – and then dry, perfectly balanced and well structured wine on the palate. This experience became engraved in my memory, for the good and for the bad. What is bad about it, you ask? Absolute majority (with a very few exceptions) of Amarone I tasted since, including the other vintages of La Ragose, didn’t measure up to that first experience. I keep claiming Amarone to be my favorite wine, which typically only leads to disappointments.

The next memorable moment was during the class on Champagne and sparkling wines. Three or four wines were served blind, and Kevin asked to see a show of hands as to who liked what wine. There was somewhat of an even spread among few wines to be the favorites, and there was also practically a uniformed dislike of one of the wines. Right before the wines were revealed, Kevin said something which again became forever engrained in that same memory of mine. He said “this is why, people, you shouldn’t drink the vintage Champagne”. The wine everybody disliked (myself included) was 1996 Dom Pérignon, one of the very best vintage champagnes ever. Vintage Champagne is an acquired taste – majority of the people have to really get there before they can claim that they like it. I’m really curious how many people never said the truth about that sip of highly acclaimed Champagne, often synonymized with success (if you care to step forward, just do it – you will not be judged, for sure not in this blog). I gradually moved up through the Champagne taste ladder to honestly claim my love for the heavy, yeasty, complex vintage Champagnes, but believe me, it’s totally okay to be indifferent to them.

Many of my other wine discoveries relate to the wonderful wine store in the New York City, PJ Wine. I mentioned that store many times in the different posts in this blog – in my opinion, the store deserves all the praise it can get. In 2009 I attended PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in New York, and the wines which were presented in that event were nothing short of amazing. This is where I was mesmerized by Krug, both vintage and Grand Cuveé, Château Margaux and Château Léoville-Las Cases, both from the legendary 2000 vintage, 1999 Vega Sicilia Unico, 1922 D’Oliveira Madeira – all of those wines created lasting memories. I remember keep coming again and again for another glass of that Vintage Krug – most surprisingly, it was available for a while. Epiphany? I’m still not sure. Boy, what I do truly regret now that I really didn’t start blogging at that time (but I should’ve!).

The year later, I discovered Spanish Rioja. Again with the help of the PJ Wine. The store offered a Rioja tasting seminar on Saturday, it was free, and I decided – why not? The very first taste of the young Viña Real (2004 or 2005), 6 other Rioja wines in between and the last taste of the mature, but still bright and vibrant 1964 Pagos de Viña Real turned my wine world upside down and squarely put Rioja on top of it.

The year after, at a Spanish wine festival organized by … yes, you guessed it – PJ Wine, I tasted 1993 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco and 2000 Viña Tondonia Rosado – again, a revelation. Complex and vibrant white of tender 18 years of age, and still fresh Rosé of 11? Truly impressive.

Are you tired yet? There were more, lots more. How about 48 years old wine, mature, but yet delicious? No, not Hermitage, not Bordeaux, not Burgundy. 1966 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir from Napa Valley. The wine which was just honestly made, without any expectations of longevity – yet a beautiful wine, still bringing a lot of pleasure? Was drinking this wine an epiphany? I don’t know – to me, it was simply a stunning and memorable experience. Then there was 1947 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja – how can the wine much older than me be so alive and beautiful? Fiction by Field Recordings – the wine which transports you to the blooming summer meadows on the first smell – should that be called an epiphany? Or the Antica Terra Phantasi from Oregon, the white wine with pungent, savory aromatics which taught me that there are white wines which taste amazing at the room temperature (many Roussanne and Marsanne wines do).

You are not going to stop me now. There was Rozès Over 40 Years Old Porto – the fragrant, effervescent, uplifting wine, sip of which says “nirvana” – nope, still no epiphany though. My first taste of the wine directly from the tank – cloudy, still an “ugly duckling”, but delicious Chenin Blanc at Paumanok winery on Long Island – may be? The Merlot grape juice, dripping right from the sorting table with just harvested grapes – was that it? Or may be it was the wine which most likely will never be bottled – a 1970 White Port right from the tank, right in the cellar of Quevedo winery in Douro?

Let’s draw the line here – that memory lane is getting longer and longer. Was there an epiphany in any or all of what I told you? I don’t know. There were a lot of amazing discoveries, revelations, special moments and memories – what is even more important, these special moments continuing – it is really easy to get me excited with the good wine. I will have to let you decide if there is an epiphany for the oenophile – best if you would write your own post. And for me? Can I please have another glass of Vintage Krug? Cheers!

P.S. I would like to thank John The Wine Raconteur , the winner of the #MWWC16, for the great theme which facilitated this highly enjoyable memory trip for me.

Finish Versus The World

April 18, 2015 17 comments