Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WSET, Class 3

For the first time, I'm disappointed to say that I haven't been doing enough homework. My palette is still behind (or "on the short bus" as I like to say), but we all know I will continue to work on it. Plus, I found that side by side tastings seem to help because like so many other things, tasting is contextual (food, other wines and I swear, mood, can definitely change the taste).

Tonight we learned about the classic Burgundy grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We then tasted 2 Burgundy Chardonnays and a Burgundy Pinot Noir side by side with their California counterparts. Tasting the same type of grape from two very different climates intepreted in by two different winemakers was a great learning experience. The nose was so much easier to discern as were the flavors. I'm still not getting everything I could or should from the glass, but I'll somehow find a way to soldier on and study up.

Other than the side by side tastings, here are the other highlights:

-Chardonnay can grow almost anywhere and it can be made in several different regions. On the other hand, Pinot Noir is the most fragile, thin skinned grape. It ferments quickly, punctures easily and has to be handled with a great deal of care to be made into a good wine.

-When it comes to Burgundy wines, there are 4 levels beginning with Bourgogne Blance or Bourgogne Rouge (meaning the grapes are from anywhere in Burgundy), from there it goes to Villages and then the name of the town or area the grapes are from and the next level up is Premier Cru and then Grand Cru. Beyond that, I can't tell you a lot more about Burgundy because it's confusing as heck and well, I was drinking wine during class tonight.

-Malolactic fermentation happens naturally in the winemaking process and it's what happens when malic acid becomes lactic acid. Red wines always go through the process while white wines don't always complete the process. It all depends on how much lactic acid the winemaker wants in the white wine. The more lactic acid, the creamier the texture.

Until the next swirl, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

75 Great Years and 4 Great Wines

This past Saturday my family celebrated my dad's 75th birthday (I can only share his age because he doesn't look 75). My mom planned a dinner at one of my dad's favorite restaurants that also happens to be a great BYO. I had the pleasure of picking the wine.

As there were going to be 12 people and I didn't know everyone's palette or what they would be ordering, this proved to be a bit of a challenge. I decided to start with pinot noir. Not only does my dad love pinot noir, but it also pairs nicely with a wide variety of food.

My obvious choice - Merry Edwards. Merry Edwards' pinot has a classic nose and palette - lots of jam and pepper with a hint of spice.

From there, I decided to go a bit bolder and spicier and chose a few bottles of St. Supery's "Elu," which is their meritage. A meritage is what we Americans call our Bordeaxu style blends. The blend primarily consists of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and usually 5-10% of Petit Verdot and/or Malbec. I chose St. Supery's because it's always been a favorite of mine - it's spicy, but not overpowering and you still get a lot of fruit on the nose and in the glass. Plus, I had recently picked up a few bottles of 2000 that would be well aged and perfect for an occasion like this.

So that left the whites. My mom requested that we start with a toast so we needed some sparkling wine. I don't know a great deal about sparkling so I consulted my friends at Amanti Vino. They recommended Domaine Parigot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs. To round out the whites, I chose Bridlewood's Viognier. Viognier is a classic white grape from the Northern Rhone region. Since Bridlewood does a lovely job with Syrah, another classic Rhone grape, I assumed their Viognier would be quite good and it didn't disappoint.

All in all, the wine was a success. My parent's and their friends have an obvious bias, but they all told me I did a good job. Moreover, a few of them who "never drink champagne" really enjoyed the clean, crisp, acidic and slightly creamy Domaine Parigot. The Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, St. Supery Elu and Bridlewood Viognier were all enjoyed as well.
Then again, I don't think anything was enjoyed as much as the celebration as well as my dad's reading of the poem "Hmmm" from the book "I'm Too Young To Be Seventy: And Other Delusions."
Until my next swirl, sip or quaff (I'm thinking Wednesday's class),
Alli M.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

WSET, Class 2

Class #2 and just as fact filled and enjoyable as Class #1. Last night we learned about vineyard conditions and the impact of weather. We also learned about how wine is fermented as well as what some label designations mean. It was all somewhat technical but I was fascinated.

I suspect that not all of you are as wine geeky as me so, like last time, I'll stick to the highlights:

1) Way too many things can go wrong when making wine which is why I stick to studying it and drinking it. Kinda like how I was an Art History major in college - I can't draw for anything, but that didn't keep me from judging someone else's work!

2) More than anything else, the way a wine is harvested drives the cost of the wine. This is why there's no way an inexpensive red Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in actual oak. Most likely an oak flavor or oak chips were introduced to the wine. Makes you want to save up for the $50 bottle, right?!?

3) The word "cuvee" on a wine label means that the winemaker thinks that the wine is particularly special. This designation is made at the discretion of the winemaker. So hopefully the winemaker isn't an egotistical blowhard who thinks every wine he/she makes is a cuvee.

4) There's a difference between a wine that is oxidized and a wine that is "corked." I still can't explain the difference, but I do know a wine that has been oxidized smells like rotting prunes and raisins while a wine that has been corked smells tinny and metallic. I personally have a much easier time discerning an oxidized wine.

5) My palette is still way under-developed and I'm pretty sure I'm jealous of my classmates, David and Lynette, who seem to be able to pick out all the crazy smells like crab apple and green pepper and asparagus. I may struggle with getting asparagus out of a noseful of wine but at least I'm still quick with the snappy comment (and I'm glad that David and Lynette have such good senses of humor). I look forward to the day someone calls me out for picking up the scent of tar or lemon chiffon or fine Italian leather in my glass of wine.

Saturday night is my dad's 75th birthday and I'm "coordinating" the wine so you know I'll be talking about some yummy pinot noirs this weekend.


Alli M.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

WSET, Class 1

As some of you know, I had my first WSET class this evening. WSET stands for Wine & Spirit Education Trust and for the next 8 weeks I'll be working towards my Intermediate Certificate in wine and spirits. It doesn't really certify me to do anything but be a bigger wine snob. Obviously I've been looking forward to this class since I signed up weeks ago.

Boy do I have a long way to go! We started off the class by doing a tasting exercise where our instructor had doctored the wines so that we could pick out the key characteristic highlighted (Acid, Tannin or Alcohol). The wine tasted awful, but it was a great exercise - even if I guessed every wine wrong.

Without going through the entire two hour class, here are my key learnings:

1) My palette is a bit behind and it might require summer school or at the very least, lots of extra credit work (which I'm totally o.k. about).
2) Sweating mouth = Acidity

3) If you think a wine is sweet, pinch your nose while you're tasting it and if you still think it's sweet, it likely is a sweet wine.

4) Wedding cake usually doesn't taste good when eaten with champagne and champagne usually doesn't taste good when served with wedding cake. The reason is that most champagnes served are Bruts which means they're quite dry so when consumed with the cake, the champagne will be puckering and the cake will taste too sweet. So save the champagne for the toast and the appetizers.

5) There are over 1,000 grape varietals in Italy but I'm not going to have to learn all of them.

I'm not sure I can wait a week for class 2, but I'm sure I'll be "studying up" between now and then. I never thought I'd be so excited for homework.

Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,


Alli M.

Real Book Clubs Don't Drink Crap

In my last post I railed against Seven Daughters for their weak wine and their even weaker website. One of the aspects of their website that really annoyed me was targeting their wines to book clubs and "girls nights in." The irony is that I'm in two book clubs myself (one of which is coed) and in both clubs we take our wine (somewhat) seriously. In other words, we drink quality wine.

And tonight was no exception. My Hoboken book club got together at Joanna's to discuss our latest book "Julie and Julia." Naturally, Joanna (a phenomenol cook) made Bouef Bourguignon which meant we would be drinking a good red Burgundy (not to be confused with Ron Burgundy) and to contrast some Oregon Pinot Noir (pinot noir is the primary grape in red Burgundy wines).
Suffice it to say, I'd been looking forward to this evening since we scheduled it - but the best was yet to come. When I arrived at Joanna's, our resident new mom, Robin, was there along with her cute new baby. What a pleasant surprise to finally meet Robin's adorable baby girl. Moreover, Robin brought another surprise - a bottle of Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, one of my favorites. The five of us who were lucky to show up on time or early made quick work of the smooth and jammy Merry Edwards.
From there we moved on to a bottle of Four Graces pinot noir. A little tighter and oakier than the Merry Edwards, but still a nice, medium bodied, fruit forward pinot noir. Fruit forward sometimes gets a bad rap, but who doesn't like a little fruit in their wine?

Unfortunately, we didn't get to the bottle of Burgundy until after we were done with dinner, but it was still a lovely bottle. It was a ruby, dry, structured and somewhat smokey Drouhin Cote De Beaune. It wasn't as heavy as other wines from Burgundy I've had, but it worked well because it didn't shock the tongue after the more medium bodied wines we'd just had.
And it kept getting better because the coordinator of the group, Wendy, showed up with a kickass port - Taylor Fladgate 10 year. A few years ago I had the good fortune of visiting Taylor Fladgate and I've loved their ports ever since. Their 40 year old is like liquid silk melting down the back of your throat. Yes, it's that good. But the 10 year is pretty darn smooth, sweet and luscious itself. So, yes, it is totally justified to call it "kickass port." We had it with Joanna's "Reine De Saba," also known as Julia Child's awesome, yummy chocolate cake. O.k., it's not widely known as that but I'm thinking my book club would agree with my assessment.
All in all, it was a wonderful night filled with a little discussion, a lot of laughs and even more food. Most importantly, we drank good wine the way it is meant to be drunk - with good company.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the book - most seemed to like it though many found Julie to be annoying and a victim of TMI. I personally liked the movie better. Plus, I thought the discussion around what you would name a street was more interesting (one day I am determined to live on "Awesome Road" or "Dude Avenue").
Here's to next month's meeting! And if anyone has any advice on what pairs with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," I'm all ears....

Until tomorrow night's wine class,

Alli M.
p.s. Mousume - As always thanks for being a good sport while representing the entirety of the U.K.

Monday, September 14, 2009

One disappointment, One revelation

A few weeks ago I was perusing a wine store and came across a wine called "Seven Daughters," a red wine blend made from 7 different grapes. Seven Daughters red is 50% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet France and then 2-11% of 4 other grapes: Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane and Sangiovese. A classic Bordeaux blend is primarily made up of Merlot/Cab. Sauv./Cab. Franc. I love this blend and I had high hopes for "Seven Daughters."

I took the wine to a BYO with my afore-mentioned friend, Pam (afore-mentioned for those who have been reading my blog). Unfortunately my expectations weren't realized! The nose was weak and the wine didn't have a lot of flavor. After 30 minutes in the glass, the mid palette and finish were a bit smoother, but all in all this is not something I'd get again.

Plus, I checked their website this weekend and their brand positioning annoyed the crap out of me. I wasn't sure if they were trying to tout an interesting brand or trying to start their own book club. Really quite ridiculous. At the risk of actually helping promote them, please check out their website ( and let me know if you can figure out how a 750ml bottle of wine and "on the go" work together? It's like a website of horrible marketing buzz phrases meant to appeal to "today's modern woman." Except it reads like Don Draper's attempt at understanding a woman in 2009. And if you don't know who Don Draper is, please start tuning into "Mad Men" on Sundays at 10pm on AMC (a wonderful show I'm happy to promote).

On the other hand, after dinner, Pam and I made our way to our friend, Laura's, for a little "girl's get together" (no books or on the go accessories needed). Laura had recently returned from Milan and brought back a bottle of Pinot Nero, an Italian white wine I'd never tried. What a lovely surprise! The nose was pleasant, but did not give away the wonderful fruit that coated my mouth on my first sip. It was a beautiful, round, thicker than expected white with a lovely hit of pineapple on the finish. I will definitely be looking for this varietal again.

Of course I had to do a little research on Pinot Nero and what did I find? Wouldn't you know - it's the Italian version of Pinot Noir - one of my favorite varietals! It's found primarily in the Northern regions of Italy - Alto Adige, Venezia, Veneto and Friuli (I had to look these up - I can't name all the Itlaian wine regions). Apparently, like Pinot Noir, Pinot Nero is usually red, but it has been made into white wines as well as sparklers.

So, wine, like most things, is all about trial and error. Pinot Nero is one I'm looking forward to trying again.

Until the next sip*,

Alli M.

*The next sip will likely be this Wednesday, September 16th, when I start the Intermediate WSET wine course. I look forward to sharing my experiences with all of you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A good old standby with a good longstanding friend

I hope everyone (all 7 of you) had a relaxing and/or fun-filled and/or crazy Labor Day weekend. Mine was quite relaxing so it was good for my soul but not so much for my blog. However, I had one nice memorable wine moment to share.

Friday night I had dinner with my long, lost friend, Catherine, whom I had not seen since the birth of her son, Gabriel. The best thing about recently pregnant friends is that they're usually craving sushi as much as I am so off we went for our raw fish fix. Despite the upcoming long weekend, it had been a very busy week for me so I was really looking forward to enjoying a glass of wine with dinner. As soon as I saw the Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc on the menu, I was sold.

Cakebread used to be one of my favorite labels. I loved their Cabernet Sauvignon and though I'm not the biggest Chardonnay fan, I always found theirs to be nice, juicy and more restrained than most of the overoaked, buttery stuff coming out of Napa. However, in the past several years I think they've grown too big too fast. I now find their Chardonnay to be typically overoaked and overpriced and their Cabernet, while still good, is also a bit overpriced.

On the other hand, Cakebread's Sauvignon Blanc remains consistently good and a great value for the price (I've seen it in my local Costco for right around $20). Their Sauvignon Blanc is classic - a little citrus and grass on the nose and some grapefruit and melon on the palette. It's a lovely, light white wine with a little acidity and some nice fruit. It goes really well with fish - raw or otherwise. it too soon to eat sushi again? I wonder if we can convince some winemakers to find a grape or create a wine that reverses the effects of mercury....Just an idea!

Until the next glass, Cheers!

-Alli M.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Vino Volo Follow Up

A few weeks ago I wrote about my horrible day being stuck in the airport and referenced how I never visited the wine bar, Vino Volo.
My friend, Lisa, chimed in to give her own review and here's her take:

"I have hit a couple of the Vino Volo locations. In every spot I was impressed with the wine list, happy with the temperature of the wine I drank, and loved the atmosphere which was successfully separate from the rest of the airport. However, I found the people (young, blonde idiots) working there to be annoying in all three locales. The only thing they knew about wine was how to get drunk middle-aged men to buy more."

With this business model - good wine, young waitresses upselling wine - I'm guessing they'll be around for a long time. The next time you have some time, or get stuck, in an airport with a Vino Volo, it sounds like it's worth checking out.


Alli M.