The Heat is…ON! (cue the cheesy sax line!)
I know it’s still technically Spring, but if I’ve got my preschool memories sorted out correctly (hey, a lot of brain cells have been killed off by alcohol at this point), for the Northern Hemisphere that means Summer ought to be coming forthwith. And forth-with it, the Summer edition of Publix Grape Magazine, in which I’ve again penned the In Focus section (among some other things).
This time around, the subject is the effect of heat on grape ripening, and what that means for the resulting juice in the finished wine bottle (for those new to this gig, I’ve been penning In Focus for Publix’s wine pub for a several quarters, and have developed a sort of niche in which I take potentially complex wine topics like oak, yeasts, sugar, etc., and try to distill them into learnings digestible by non-wine-geeky people).
To help me, I asked for an assist by the simultaneously geeky-talented-cool Napa Valley winemaker Janet Meyers, who heads up the production at both Franciscan and Mt. Veeder wineries (see this now-ancient video interview with Janet to get a feel for her awesomeness).
So… go subscribe already so that you can read it! What you’ll learn, in a nutshell, is that the Summertime is a hell of a lot more chill-axing for you than it is for winemakers and ripening grape clusters…
Despite the simple title, I did, in fact, have serious reservations about the subject of today’s featured juice. After all, technically I tasted it while being “on the clock” for a paying gig with Wines of Rioja (now ended), which had me wondering just how impartial of a judgment I could make about it.
But there are tasting moments so formative, so elemental, that sometimes you have to go with your gut and trust in the intelligence and goodwill of the Global Interwebs to forgive you if you stray into a gray-ish, conflict-of-interest no-man’s land. Also, now that the gig is several weeks behind me, I felt we had enough “distance” to give this thing a proper airing here.
The vino causing me such temporary consternation was the clean-up hitter of the trade panel tasting I moderated as part of the recent sold-out series of Rioja Week events in New York. We had a great group of winemaker panelists, and tasted some fascinating juice (including a rare look at a nearly extinct Spanish grape, Maturana, given a bold, modern treatment by Dinastia Vivanco). I think most of you appreciate the fact that I call things as I see them, and would tell you (despite the paycheck) if the wines were under-performing, but in this case we had easy jobs on the stage that day; everything in the tasting lineup was showing nicely.
Including that clean-up hitter, which happened to be a spry fifty years young…
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I try (but don’t always manage – I claim SAHD status!) to answer just about every piece of email that gets sent over to 1WD HQ. Usually these messages are of the “I found some older wine in a relative’s basement and I’m not sure what to do with it,” or “what wine should I buy for [ insert occasion here ]” varieties, but lately I’ve been receiving a disproportionate amount of requests asking “how can I become a wine [ taster / certified-type-person / critic / whatever ].” I’m guessing this volume had something to do with me spilling the beans on how I’m now able to pursue my dream job professionally, and a few folks starting to wonder if doing something along similar lines is possible for them, too.
Those latter emails I’ve yet to answer (apologies if one of them is yours!), mostly because the topic is so complex that I’ve had trouble trying to determine where it’d best to begin when writing about it. Really, it’s almost like asking “why drink wine?” – the answers depend on both where you’re starting, and where you want to end up.
So here’s my attempt at answering those too-long-neglected requests, in the hopes that it will be helpful to at least a handful of you lushes intrepid wine-loving folk.
Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that you’re asking because you want to end up somewhere professional (sommelier / writer / critic / beverage director / whatever) with this, in which case my first inclination is to tell you not to bother…
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