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Why Fruit Bombs Are OK (I am Here to Whet Some Palates!)

Vinted on February 18, 2008 under commentary, wine appreciation, wine tips, winemaking

(images: jacop.net, pocketpcmag.net)

Warning: If you consider yourself a wine snob, or are easily offended (or both), then I am about to lose you as a friend with this post.

Because I am here to tell you that “Fruit Bombs” (those wines made in a style that deliberately dials up the varietal fruit and shoves it right into your face) are OK.

No, really, I’m serious. They’re OK.

Yes, they really are. YES, they ARE.

Now, before I explain why Fruit Bombs are OK, I need to tell you a little about Jaco Pastorius (stick with me – this will all makes sense in a minute or two)…

Jaco Pastorius is widely considered to be the father of modern jazz bass playing. Often he is cited as the best jazz bassist to have ever lived (if not the best electric bassist ever, period). If, like me, you’re a bass player, then you have to be inspired at least a little bit by Jaco’s amazing playing and harmonious blend of musicality, technique, humor, and inventiveness – if not, you’d better have your pulse checked, ’cause you might be dead.

In the music biz, Jaco was just as famous for his quips as he was for his bass licks. Among his best: “women, children, and rhythm section first,” “it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up!” and my personal favorite, “I am not here to raise hippy consciousness, I am here to wet some panties.”

Artistic Harmony is Important (Especially in Wine)
The key to Jaco’s success was how well he blended all of the different elements of his musical abilities together into a coherent whole. You may not like jazz, but if you’re really listening, you can’t help but admire the genuineness and balance.

When I’m drinking wine, I’m looking for the same things: genuineness and balance. I may not like the style, but I will admire those elements, if they exist in the wine. Because a winemaker who is really trying will give you the most of those things that are possible given the winemaking conditions, raw materials/grapes, and other resources s/he has on command for that vintage.

Don’t Dis Based on Style – Dis Based on Lack of Harmony
Fruit Bombs are nothing more than a style of winemaking. Do I think many of them suck? Sure I do. Do I prefer them to more subtle-flavored wine choices? Usually not. But I don’t write them off on the whole any more than I would tell you that all country music sucks just because I’m not a fan of the genre in general.

Making a wine is a bit like fiddling with the EQ on your stereo. Crank up the bass and extreme treble all the way, and most of your music will sound like shit. And the bad, disingenuous music? That will sound even worse. In winemaking, if you crank up the fruit, you’d better make sure that you’re also cranking up the structure (acidity, tannin, oak, etc.) to some degree, so that you’re providing a balance and giving the disparate elements in the wine the best chance to come together as a cohesive whole. Or most likely your wine will taste like shit.

Wine is Music to Your Mouth
A wine, even an inexpensive one, should be like music to your palate – and the Brittany Spears of wine is inherently no better than Joni Mitchell of wine, depending on which one you’re most into.

So let’s not write off the fruit bombs, people. Let’s write off the disingenuous wines that don’t have internal harmony.

I am not here to raise wine consciousness, I am here to whet some palates!

Cheers!

How to Pass the CSW Exam: More Advice from the 1WineDude

Vinted on January 26, 2008 under commentary, wine how to

Dude’s been dabbling in the art of interpreting website traffic results, and noticed in the process that lots of folks are finding the 1WineDude blog while searching for advice on the CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) exam.

Well, Dude has passed this exam and he is here to help!

I’ve written before on this topic, offering CSW exam advice based on how I nearly totally screwed myself on the exam due to my poor prep. work. So I thought I’d offer some advice about the exam itself (without giving you any actual questions, of course… shame on you for thinking that!). I’m assuming that most of you out there contemplating the CSW are already wine lovers, or industry types who have opportunity to taste wine, and so you’re probably already cool with wine varietal taste profiles and the like. That’s good – because the exam will test you on your knowledge of those elements. But what else do you need to be an ‘A’ student? Cue the Sam Cooke tunes…

Don’t Know Much About History…
There’s a surprising amount of wine history that is fair game for inclusion on the exam. Unfortunately, this means that you will need to know some fairly obscure facts about wine-related names and dates. Concentrate on the people who were the “founding fathers” of modern wine cultivation and/or wine production in today’s major wine-producing areas (South Africa, California, etc.). Look at it this way: if nothing else, it’s an opportunity to impress party-goers at your next wine gathering, or get a leg up in a wine trivia drinking game.

Don’t Know Much About Geography…
You will need to be very comfortable with geography in order to do well on the exam. And because the Society of Wine Educators (SWE, who administer the exam) are based in the U.S., the CSW seemed to me to favor California geography questions over “Old World” (France, Germany, Italy) geography questions. You will need to know your CA wine geography. Having said that, remember that obscure the “Old World” geography questions are fair game, and other questions about varietals, styles, etc., are sometimes phrased in terms of geography (e.g., “a famous wine from the southern area of country X is…”).

…don’t ignore
the History, Geography and Chemistry of wine
for the CSW exam…

Don’t Know Much About a Science Book…
The most surprising aspect of the CSW exam, at least for me, was the healthy concentration of wine chemistry questions. Dude didn’t much care for Chemistry class when he was in high school, but he found the chemistry material in the on-line SWE Wine Academy to be fascinating. Good thing, too, because there will almost certainly be wine chemistry questions waiting for you on exam day (as there were for me). Some areas where it may help to concentrate your study time: Bacteria and wine faults, chemical composition of wine (both in the raw materials like grapes & skins, and in the finished product), and the uses of chemicals like sulfites in viniculture.

I hope this was a useful list for all of you CSW hopefuls out there. You can always contact the Dude if you’re looking for more advice. Good luck – and don’t forget your #2 pencils.

Cheers!

CSW Exam Don’ts

Vinted on January 3, 2008 under commentary, wine how to

Happy New Year and greetings from my “snowbird” vacation to southern FL!

I was recently contacted by Kathleen Lisson, a fellow Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Wine Century Club member. Kathleen has started a blog post about tips and approaches for studying for the challenging CSW exam, and asked me to participate by adding my studying tips.

I’ve written about the CSW and other wine certifications before, but had not really detailed my CSW experience. I nearly botched the approach to the CSW exam completely, so I thought I’d write a post in response to Kathleen’s request, so that any readers out there who are contemplating sitting the CSW exam have an idea of what not to do to pass it…

First, a bit of background: I put off the CSW exam for nearly a year. I had intended to sit the exam in Philadelphia in April, and life “got in the way” as they say. Because the Society of Wine Educators (who oversee the exam and certification) administer the exams throughout the U.S., I needed to wait until they sat another CSW exam close to home. That meant waiting until October to take the exam in D.C.

I never ordered the CSW study materials from the SWE. October was fast approaching, and I’d not studied consistently since April. I was definately setting the stage for being totally screwed on this exam.

At the 11th hour, I got a bit smarter about my approach: as a paid member in good standing of the SWE, I had access to their on-line wine academy, which has excellent information and practice exams for the CSW. I crammed, hitting the on-line wine academy hard, taking every pre- and post-test and the CSW practice exam. I took notes along the way and highlighted the areas that gave me trouble during the practice tests, and revisited those to make sure I was more comfortable with that material prior to the exam.

I had one other decent idea before the big exam day arrived: the weather forecast for D.C. was excellent, so I treated my wife to a stay in D.C. (using hotel points). We had dinner at the same restaurant where the CSW (and the more difficult Certified Wine Educator exam) was being held the next day, so I could get familiar with the exam area. So we were able to take a potentially stressful situation and have some fun with it, which dialed down the stress considerably for me.

Come exam day, I felt great, well-fed, and well-rested (being able to sleep just a block or two away at a nice hotel). Unfortunately, the exam started late due to a fire at the SWE building location, but thanks to my low stress level that didn’t phase me too much. When I received my exam results a few weeks later, I was flabbergasted – I did not just pass, but did really well.

I suppose the moral of this story is, if you’re going to sit the CSW:

  • Join the SWE (professional membership will run you about $125 per year) and take advantage of the on-line CSW prep. materials – they’re excellent and some of the exam questions were very, very close to the practice exam questions offered on the SWE on-line academy.
  • Those without any prior wine certifications should consider ordering the CSW study materials. Because the CSW exam questions are of similar difficulty to the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Advanced exam questions, I had a leg up having already sat the WSET exam. But if I’d not had that prior exam experience, I might not have passed the CSW.
  • Just as you would for any difficult test, prepare beforehand and relax the night before. Get a good night’s sleep, and you just might end up looking forward to the test (sort of) the next day!

Cheers!

A sad day in Beer Land… (Michael Jackson – 1942-2007)

Vinted on August 31, 2007 under commentary


Raise your glass of Belgian beer and have a moment of silence to remember the venerable Michael Jackson, esteemed English journalist, author, and critic of all things related to beer.

Michael was a frequent contributer to beer periodicals and to his Beer Hunter website, and he was the author of several successful beer tomes, including the long-running Pocket Guide to Beer and the thorough and excellent Beer Companion. It is not hyperbole to say that Michael was a key figure in ushering in the ‘new beer renaissance’, the effects of which are still being felt in the U.S. in its continued proliferation of excellent micro breweries and small craft-beer brewpubs.

My friends and I viewed Michael as a bit of a legend. As English Literature majors in undergrad, who also brewed beer… well, it doesn’t take a large stretch of the imagination to envision how important an influence this guy was on us.

Cheers, Michael!

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