I am not a fan of small producers in emerging wine regions bottling and selling a large array of varietal wines; almost everyone loves having choices, but too often the cumulative result in this case ends up feeling like a Zinfandel that’s been watered-down in a feeble attempt to get it under 16% abv – a diluted mess with a lack of focus (with even the worst results being pawned off at inflated prices to unsuspecting tasting room visitors).
Which is why meeting winemakers like Kirsty Harmon is more refreshing than a chilled Monticello Viognier on a steamy Virginia Summer Sunday. She’s the kind of person who, through their laser-like determination, make me eat my own virtual words!
Harmon is the driving force behind the wines of Virginia producer Blenheim Vineyards – a short, wavy-haired whirling dervish of a woman whose freckles belie a winemaking stance that is supremely mature in its simplicity: make wines for now, that are true to place, and make them as delicious as possible.
“I’m not a very patient person,” she told me when I (and several other wine bloggers) visited Blenheim as during the producer visits that were part of the recent 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville. “I try to make wines that are balanced and ready to go right out of the bottle.”
Focus is the friend of the emerging-region winemaker, as is talent. Harmon has both, and Right Coast wine producers would do well to focus on her… well, her focus. “Yummy” is usually a terrible descriptor to bandy about when you’re trying to relay the essence of a wine to someone else, but in the case of Blenheim’s bottlings the word just fits. Harmon makes yummy wines, and she makes them from several varieties – Syrah (peppery and bright), Chardonnay (peachy and solid), Viognier (floral and elegant), Merlot (herbal and hefty) and Cabernet Sauvignon (tangy and minty), to name a few – without any of them sucking…
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Chances are pretty high that, if you’re reading this (and you’re reading this), you are a wine geek.
And by “wine geek,” I mean that you are atop the U.S. wine consumer pyramid (that’s if you’re living in the U.S., of course – those of you outside the U.S. are just gonna have to play along on this one). As in, the tippy, tippy, holy-crap-it’s-a-looooong-way-down-from-here, tippy-top of the pyramid.
And it doesn’t even matter if you consider yourself an avid oenophile or not – simply by virtue of treating wine with any semblance of importance in your life, you’ve firmly entrenched yourself in wine-geek-out territory, at least when compared with the general consumer-going public in America.
And don’t worry about it…. because it’s okay.
In fact, I’m going to explain why that’s not only okay, but that you ought to revel in the fact that you are in the upper echelon of the wine-buying U.S. public. In fact, I’m going to explain why it’s downright awesome. After a bit of exposition, of course. C’mon, you think I’m gonna let this thing go under 1300 words? Are you nuts?
It all came to me after day one of the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, during a steamy, 8-billion degree, 5000% humidity evening in downtown Charlottesville (I might have exaggerated that last bit), in which a bleary-eyed (due to travel-, conference-, weather-, and wine-induced-fatigue) yours truly took part in an off-premise “fireside chat” on the topic of Wine & Tech, which eventually turned about as heated as the sweltering northern Virginia night.
The event was organized by wine industry think-tank group Vintank and Crushd (the team behind a newly-released iPhone wine-journaling app). Thankfully (since most of us were already melting through our clothing) there was no actual fire was lit at the host venue (Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar), and to assist (as if we needed it) getting our tongues wagging and opinions flowing, there were several interesting Rioja wines being poured courtesy of Vibrant Rioja (I can now attest personally to the tastiness of a well-chilled 2010 Marques de Caceres dry white Rioja on a stiflingly sultry Virginia Summer evening, by the way)…
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I fell back in love with food-and-wine pairing when I helped a friend (the irrepressible Tony “The Wine Chef” Lawrence) with an outdoor wine / cooking demo sponsored by the Pennsylvania regional chapter of the American Wine Society about two weeks ago (around the same time that the U.S. Congress was simultaneously “working” at raising both the debt ceiling limit and their own internal douchebag limit).
I don’t feel like I talk a lot about food and wine matches on 1WineDude.com, but I’ve certainly contributed my share of recommendations, particularly around holiday times, primarily because people ask me and I feel bad not telling them something when I’m asked. The trick, as the NYT’s Eric Asimov told me a couple of years ago, is to make the topic interesting and continually fresh – because readers do, in fact, want those recommendations.
But the food-matched-with-wine topic, generally, is tired. It’s tired because so many so-called rules proliferated in that space for so long, that the net effect seems to have been a general increase in how confusing wine is for the average Joe, a situation the wine industry needs like my daughter needs another plush dinosaur toy.
The most maddening thing about the pairing “rules” is this: of all the trained chefs that I know, none of them adhere to those rules. Not. One. Single. Chef. So I think the wine consumer can be forgiven for a hearty round of “WTF?” on that one. The flipside of this rule-breaking is the proliferation of the “drink whatever you like with your food, because your preferences are more important” school of advice. And I’ve come to think that this advice – which I’ve given myself quite often – may, in fact, be wrong.
Why? Because there are guidelines for food-and-wine pairing. And while they don’t trump the most steeped, stubborn, and obstinate of our personal tastes, they do in fact work for many, many people. Probably most people. The guidelines are based on your personal preferences, and are general enough to apply creatively without getting too specific.
And when done right, a food-and-wine pairing can elevate even some of the most pedestrian wines to surprising culinary heights…
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