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The Art of Tasting Artfully: Taste Wine Like a Pro

Vinted on December 22, 2008 binned in commentary, wine appreciation, zen wine
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HiYa! If you're new here, you may want to Sign Up to get all the latest wine coolness delivered to your virtual doorstep. I've also got short, easily-digestible mini wine reviews and some educational, entertaining wine vids. If you're looking to up your wine tasting IQ, check out my book How to Taste Like a Wine Geek: A practical guide to tasting, enjoying, and learning about the world's greatest beverage. Cheers!

I advise you to taste wine like a Pro – a Pro at living, that is.

I was reading a nice little article about the Art of Living, by lifehack.org’s Dustin Wax, and it struck me that two of Dustin’s guidelines (“Pay Attention” and “Be Appreciative“) are applicable to wine appreciation as well as being a useful as a general approach to living.

Too many people that I meet either a) don’t give a sh*t about how to taste wine (i.e., they guzzle it) or b) are petrified that they are tasting wine the “wrong” way.

Neither approach will give you much true enjoyment when it comes to tasting wine.

These approaches both misuse the mechanics of wine tasting. You know the ones I’m talking about – Look, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Spit – they’re available all over the ‘net.

The mechanics are important, but they will no more help you to taste artfully than knowing how to hold a paintbrush will teach you how to express yourself through painting.

Really tasting wine is a bit of an art that is built upon the fundamentals of those mechanics. And it’s really no more difficult to taste artfully than it is to live artfully. The art of tasting really does come down to tasting with Attention and Gratitude.

  • Attention is simply being mindful of the wine in the glass. Every wine, even total plonk, is trying to tell you something. You need only “listen” to it, giving it as much natural concentration and focus as you can (even if this is only a few good seconds of real concentration). Connect with that glass of wine. Merge with it, give it a moment where it’s just the two of you in all the universe.

  • Gratitude is just that – be grateful for the moment you have with that wine. If it helps, tell it “thank you” (I’m not kidding). If you thank everything in your day to day life (even red lights!), you will be amazed at how your outlook starts to shift.

Attention & Gratitude – two great tastes that taste great together, at least when it comes to tasting wine. Try them out, and put a little art into your next wine & cheese party this holiday.

Cheers!
(images: flickr.com: jimmy-joe, cryptography.org )

Related 1WD articles you might enjoy:

Feel the Wine Blogging LUV, Baby!

Vinted on December 20, 2008 binned in wine bloggers conference

Just a quick update to let you know that I’m one of several wine bloggers who were interviewed by the irrepressible Kaz & Randy of WineBizRadio.com at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, CA.

The WBR folks have been doing a phenomenal job the last few weeks of capturing the events of the WBC, and they have just posted a segment where they interviewed a few of us wine bloggers.

These interviews were conducted after an “alternate” conference agenda item was added, which consisted of a growing number of wine bloggers playing hooky and drinking poolside at the conference center.

Anyway, if you want to hear how I sound when I’m very, very buzzed, have a listen here.

In my interview, I give props (of sorts) to Tom Wark, Gino Razzi, and Steve Heimoff, almost tear up as I recall the collective love of the wine blogging community (and experience the collective effects of several glasses of wine), and truly “connect” during a deeply emotional “moment” with an uncharacteristically cuddly Kaz and a characteristically cuddly Randy.

Cheers! (image: talkshoe.com, 1WineDude.com)

The Botanist, The Vintner, and The Politicos (Book Review)

Vinted on December 19, 2008 binned in book reviews, wine books

An alternative title to Christy Campbell’s The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved For The World might well be “How French Politicos Tried to Set Wine Science Back 200 Years, Putting All of the World’s Vineyards in Perilous Jeopardy, Yet Somehow Told Without Conveying Much Suspense.

To be fair, The Botanist and the Vintner is well-written, impeccably researched, and expertly manages to make the topic of the phylloxera epidemic interesting (even for non-history-buffs, and non-wine-geeks).

Campbell’s chapter explaining the strange reproductive cycle of the phylloxera louse alone is probably worth the purchase price of the book. It’s no wonder that the complicated sexual life of the pest confounded some of the greatest scientific minds of the late 1800s – any species whose short-lived male variant has no anus, no mouth, and no digestive system is so frighteningly bizarre, there’s no way you could dream that up something that odd.

And yet, I walked away from this book feeling oddly underwhelmed and a little unfulfilled.

If you’re a fan of wine, eventually you will come across mention of the tiny vineyard pest that came perilously close to wiping out the world’s supply of fine vinifera. In summary (and this is a very, very high-level summary), the little sucker feasts on the vine, and uses various parts of the vine as breeding ground.

The trouble for European vinifera is that it didn’t evolve with the louse as did the vines in North America, so when international travel and shipping became viable in the 1800s, the pest finally had a means to travel from its native land. Many American vines have rootstock that can recover from the scars left by feeding phylloxera – most European vines didn’t, and they began to die at an alarming rate as the louse spread across Europe. Because of its complex sex life, it took 19th Century scientists years to come to agreement on how to stop the pest (grafting onto American rootstock).

The Botanist and the Vintner takes you through this journey of vine destruction, and exposes you to the frustrating world of European politics (which, by most accounts sadly has made little appreciable progress since the 1800s), which delayed action on recognizing and then implementing the final root cause solution to the deadly invasion.

Not to mention the sizable financial prize that was due to those that found the real cure, most of which never got paid out by the French government (let’s not go there).

The book handles all of this well, but during the telling suggests a potentially dire future facing the vineyards of the present day that are grafted onto seemingly “safe” American rootstocks. It appears that some of those rootstocks are again becoming susceptible to an evolving phylloxera.

But after teasing us with the potential of another winemaking Dead Zone, The Botanist and the Vintner decides not to go there. Which is a shame, because the book starts there in its Prologue, which begins by describing an aerial surveillance of spreading phylloxera infestations in California in 1994. We are taken back to the present in the Postscript… to take a look at wine conisseurs chasing after wine from ungrafted viniferia vines as if they were the El Dorado treasure of the wine world.

No modern phylloxera update. Why start there if you’re not going to finish there? It felt like a bit of unrealized suspenseful potential to me.

So, if you’re looking for the history of the first world phylloxera louse epidemic, The Botanist and the Vintner is your book. Just don’t expect a full-circle treatise on the topic for modern times.


Cheers!
(images: amazon.com, avenuevine.com, calwineries.com)

The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

Vinted on December 17, 2008 binned in best of, Most Interesting Wines of the Year, wine review

Sure, it’s another cheesy end of year wrap-up post.

But you know what?

I dig these recaps – call it a guilty pleasure. It sure beats writing an entire new post and trying to come up with compelling content (hey, it’s the end of the year… I’m tired, man!).

Actually, there was nothing easy about compiling the list that I’m about to give to you, and I’m sure the inclusions and omissions will piss some people off somewhere. That isn’t my intention, and this is not a best-of list by any stretch of the imagination.

The following presents my Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008.

It is NOT a list of the best wines released in 2008. It is a list of wines that I tasted in 2008, and found the most interesting this year. They are presented with a synopsis of my tasting notes, and my reflections on why they were included in the list. Some of them I bought, some of them were media samples, others were tasted at events. No one gets special treatment once the pen hits the notebook that logs my tastings.

The list is not based on scores or any other numerical rating. The wines were chosen based on my tasting notes from all of the wines that I tasted and recorded in 2008. Bear in mind that I am not employed as a wine critic, and I do not taste thousands of wines per year. I did, however, taste well over 400 wines in 2008, which I think is probably more than the average bear. I will leave it to you whether or not the Lush designation is applicable in this context (I did spit… sometimes… at least twice…).

What I’m hoping to do here is clue you into something unique, different, or of exceptional quality for the price – as I see it in the wine world. Hopefully you will find it useful. Anyway, without further ado, here they are…

The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

10) 2006 Benton-Lane “First Class” Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley): Layers of strawberry jam, cherry cola & vanilla. Pure heaven with salmon cakes.

I agonized over the #10 spot in this list – as you can imagine, there were about 50 wines that could have gone into this first slot. I went with the Benton-Lane because,well, it surprised me. It surprised me in that it was one of the biggest, heftiest Willamette’s I’ve had in terms of structure, but still managed to exude a definite sense of place. Balance, baby, balance.

9) 2005 Opus One (Oakville): Supple, hedonistic & built for long haul. Mint leaf & spices floating over black fruit suggest great things to come.

Was the inclusion of this wine a reflection on my tour of Opus this year, and my frank and detailed discussions with their staff? Well…. duh. Of course it is (despite the fact that one visiting intern thought that I was Gary Vaynerchuk… I had the same reaction as you: “Uhm… What?!!??”).

And that’s okay, because wine is an experience and is influenced by the circumstances under which we drink it. But this wine is no slouch, and it had one of the best senses of balance I’ve tasted in a long time - between Old World & New World styles, between primary fruit and secondary aromas, and between early accessibility & ageing potential.

8) 2002 Penns Woods Ameritage Reserve (PA): Bord’x style blend from PA. YES, IT’S FROM PA. Fig, prune, cedar, probably their best vintage ever.

Anyone following 1WD will NOT be surprised by the inclusion of this one. This wine, for me, helped to redefine not only what PA wine is capable of, but what East Coast wine is capable of, and how well some areas of the U.S. can implement an Old World style of wine.

7) 2004 Sonoma-Cutrer “Les Pierres” (Sonoma Valley): When isn’t it a pleasure? Flint, lemon curd, citrus peel, roses, apples, cream. I could go on.

I’m including this wine in my list because I’m astounded at Sonoma-Cutrer’s consistency. This is probably my favorite U.S. Chardonnay, and to date is still my favorite Chard. globally, and I’m actually more partial to the Chablis style so if you can figure that one out please explain it to me so I don’t feel as though I’m going insane. Anyway, this wine has never disappointed me, and the `04 peels away layer after layer of complexity as you drink it.

6) 2001 Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive (Alsace): Viscous, loads of citrus, lychee, & autumn leaves. Holy Hannah it’s good! But not cheap.

As a wine geek, I like to think that I can appreciate a wine made for wine geeks. And this, my friends, is a wine geek’s viscous dream. I have a sweet tooth, and while this wine certainly delivers in its touch of sweetness, the slam dunk is how the sweetness and acidity are balanced by the intense fruit and the funk-a-junk-funkiness. It’s the kind of wine that makes some people say “Hmm… I’m not too sure about this one…,” but has the wine geeks licking their lips in delight. Score!

5) 2003 Vinoptima Gewurztraminer (Ormond, NZ): Yowza! Oil, lemons, honey, orange blossoms, spice. I could sniff this stuff for *days*…!

You know that you’re liking a wine when you realize, after 7 or 8 minutes of smelling it, that you love it but you’ve yet to even take your first sip. There is nothing shy about this Gewurz, and the only downside is that the booze might knock you out before you’ve gotten enough of this wine. Best dry Gewurz. I’ve tasted all year. And yes, that’s two Gewurz’s in a row. On purpose.

4) NV Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle (Champagne): Like fresh-baked almond bread with honey. A minor triumph of grace & strength. Excellent stuff.

I tasted this wine at an industry event, and it stood out for me above dozens & dozens of other wines that I tasted that night. Powerful, but graceful as well, it’s like… it’s like seeing a tamed pet panther wearing a diamond-studded collar. You’re not sure how they did it, but you’re damn interested!


3) 2005 Le Premier Pas Domaine Le Pas de l’Escalette (Cot. du Languedoc): Harmonious blend of S. Rhone grapes. French red without the shackles.

What do you get when you lift the AOC burden of varietals, blend percentages, and vinification and viticulture techniques from French winemakers? In the case of this wine, you get as much creativity as any New World wine, with a deliciously well-integrated result. Hey! France!! Give Us Free!!!

2) 2005 Volta Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): 1st vintage, limited run from Howell Mtn. fruit. Lush as all get-out, with lazer-focused tannins.

I have a soft-spot for Volta this year. They’re fans of the blog. They’re nice peeps. And I was the first to ever review their wine in the media. They’ve since gone on to accumulate an impressive array of accolades from palates much better and more influential than mine. And they deserve it, because this wine is a tour de force of just how good Howell Mountain fruit can be when you treat it right. To get it that right on the first try is quite an achievement.

And now… the #1 most interesting wine that I’ve tasted in 2008… (drumroll ensues)

1) 1999 Gutzler Vintage Riesling Sekt Extra Brut (Rheinhessen): Stellar trad. method bubbly with peach, apricot, & non-stop creamy yeastiness.

No, it’s not a typographical error. Yes, I did actually mean to list a sparkling German Riesling as my #1 most interesting wine tasted in 2008. Yes, I am sober as I type this.

No other wine in 2008 threw me for quite as high arcing of a loop as this one. What this wine did was prove to me beyond a doubt that Riesling is the noblest of all white wine grape varieties, with a purity of expression that, in the right hands, has the capacity to shine through in any format, whether it be dry, sweet, still, or bubbly. In the words of my main man Michael Broadbent:

“German wine-lovers may place Riesling first, but I place it second (to Cabernet Sauvignon) in the hierarchy of noble grape varieties. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, it has consistent strength of character which shows through even after transplanting.”

Number two, with a bullet!

There you have it. Now, back to my frantic holiday madness…

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, wineaccess.com, binendswine.com)

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