Thursday, October 22, 2009

Other Than Gruner

Just walking into the Washington Club I felt like I was walking into somewhere important. Then inside the event space, chairs were set at the tables with 10 wines in front of them with a placemat that said Institute of Masters of Wine - Austrian Wine Seminar. The Masters of Wine crest was on the placemat as well. I was definitely in the presence of great wine minds.

'Master of Wine' is both a qualification and a title, usually abbreviated to 'MW' following a member's name. Anybody who uses these letters has passed the rigorous Master of Wine exam that tests both practical and theoretical understanding of the wines of the world.The Institute of Masters of Wine was officially formed in 1955 but gave their 1st exam in 1953 to 22 students. Only 6 passed. The first woman didn't pass until 1970, and there are only 278 worldwide. Goes to show how serious this thing is! The presentation was given by Joel Butler, MW who was the 1st American to pass this rigorous exam. 2 Austrian wine makers also spoke to their specific wines and the Austrian-style of winemaking.

While I am familiar with the main grape variety of Austria, Gruner Veltliner, I have not had the opportunity to taste and compare/contrast many other Austrian varietals. This tasting provided that opportunity in that the seminar discussed everything but Gruner. The 5 whites we tasted were Weissburgunder, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler (2007), Zierfandler (2003), and Sauvignon Blanc. Good thing I still have my tasting sheet because there is now way I would have been able to spell the 1st 3 correctly! Which is also helpful since rotgipfler is a new fav I'm adding to my list. The 2007 Stadlmann Rotgipfler Tagelsteiner from the Thermenregion is made from 40-50 yr old vines that are grown at high altitudes. The high altitudes lead to a riper grape because of longer contact with the sun during growing season. The increased contact delivers a much fuller, riper and more aromatic wine. Strong nose of flowers, baked apple, ripe pear with hints of red pepper and spice. And spices, herbs and the baked apple were on the palate as well. While fairly high in acidity, this wine exhibited a long smooth finish. This is a very exclusive and rare grape with only about 250 acres planted in all of Austria.

The 5 reds were St Laurent, Blaufrankisch (3 examples), and Gabarinza (a Zwiegelt blend). I've had blaufrankisch before in my WSET courses and am definitely a fan of it. So being able to taste the differences between 3 of them from 3 different regions in Austria was amazing. It's amazing the differences that you can taste in the wine based on climate, altitude, soil and wine making techniques between the different vineyards. The 2006 Iby "Chevalier", Mittelburgenland DAC Reserve was my fav of the 3. Its rich deep red fruit and berry flavors were in perfect harmony with the oak and smoke from the fermentation in oak barrels. Another wine of note from this tasting was the St Laurent which was said to be a descendant of Pinot Noir. The 2006 Rosi Schuster Sankt Laurent Reserve Zagersdorf, Burgenland was a very well-crafted and balanced wine. Shows a delicate structure of black cherry and sweet spice with a slightly chalky finish on the palate. With deep tannins and high acidity, I think this one could also age a little while in the bottle for an even richer and smoother taste.

The tasting after the seminar gave an even deeper look into the wines of Austria. Especially since this was a self-serve wine tasting. I mean just pick up a glass and the wines are sitting out on the table. Not that I make a habit of looking in spit buckets at wine tastings…but when I went to use them, I did notice that they weren't too full ;-). I tasted a few more st laurents and blaufrankischs and even tried a few Austrian Rieslings. Not too bad, but I think my palate is more accustomed to the German and Alsatian styles. Although I was impressed by the sparkling riesling.

A great event and a phenomenal learning experience. To attend a seminar offered by a MW is definitely a seminar worth attending. Joel Butler, MW was a wealth of knowledge and even assisted the tasting attendees with aroma and tasting notes. I definitely have a greater appreciation for Austrian grape varietals and their winemaking techniques. Another country to add to my cellar. But just a small note to the organizers of this event: please offer some type of water during the tastings, please.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Eat This, Drink That!

After all the events attended, speeches given and wines sipped, I finally got my tasting club together and we had our first meeting! I only mean 'my' in the sense that I do most of the talking, good thing they seemed to like me! We held our first The GrapeVine Tasting Club meeting at the beautiful Intown Uptown Inn in Washington, DC. There were about 15 guests there that are now official GrapeVine Tasting Club members. And all were excited and eager to learn and taste, and eat!

As the members entered, we checked them in and poured glasses of California champagne (they'll probably get a letter from the real Champagne about that later) for their enjoyment as we waited for other members to arrive. Once most of the members had checked in, they were seated in the tasting room and I began our meeting. Our main topic was food and wine pairings that work, hence the title, 'Eat This, Drink That!' I wanted to give a few basic 'rules' for food & wine pairings and also give some pairings that worked no matter what. We had Chef Raiford on hand that prepared Italian and Mediterranean dishes for us to enjoy with the wines. And with October being Virginia wine month, all the wines we tasted were from Carafe WineMakers in Alexandria, VA.

Starting with whites, we tasted a Pinot Grigio and White Fusion which is a house blend of Gewurtztraminer and Riesling. Paired with the fruit, the pinot grigio stood up well and brought its natural crisp acidity forward on the palate. The White Fusion was great on its own, members loved it and were asking for larger pours. We obliged since we were headed into the food break between the whites and reds.

Chef Raiford brought out the food and explained his rationale behind the food selections after our discussion of the wines that would be served. He also made the point that wine is 'very personable' it's all about what you like. While there are some great match made in heaven the end of the day it's all about what you like to drink and what you eat. Chef prepared small plates of several dishes and dips so that members would be able to sample all the foods with all of the wines and also learn a few tricks for when they host their own events. The members would be able to serve a wide variety of wines to get something that everyone will like and there will be food to go with all the wines. Members dined on kiwi, pineapple and strawberries with blue cheese and peppercorn encrusted goat cheese. Roasted red pepper dip and a spicy hummus with pita chips. A cured meat platter was next to the olives and roasted garlic. Brie en croute with red & white raspberries finished off the meal. I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it all!!

I tried to look for empty glasses or a lull in conversation before starting with the reds, but I didn't see either. I just had to start anyway because I really wanted people to taste the roasted red pepper dip with the syrah that I was serving. Very peppery and spicy in nature but still having flavors of dark fruit on the palate, the syrah was definitely a crowd pleaser. And for those
that still had a little of the roasted red pepper dip or the peppercorn goat cheese, they got an extra treat because they loved the flavors that the wine brought out in the food and vice versa. The last red was Midnight Cabernet Sauvignon modeled after the Chilean style of cabernet. Very smoky on the nose with pepper, meat and hints of blackberry on the palate. Perfect for pairing with the cured meats, the smoke for smoke match was fantastic. We finished up with a vidal blanc for dessert. For those that didn't particularly care for sweet wines but wanted a little something for dessert, this was for them. Very honeyed and peachy on the palate, the finish wasn't the syrupy sweet taste that is present in some dessert wines. I was fortunate enough to snag a glass of this to pair with the brie en croute. The raspberries and the cheese wrapped in the pastry were perfect!

After the tasting, with wine glasses in hand, most went on a tour of the Inn. Everyone loved the designs of each room and the comfy French country style feel of the inn. And they can't wait to return next month to learn about a new set of wines. I can't wait to do my research ;-)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Vino Italiano

The day was rainy and dreary, as it had been for the past few days...but how could I be dreary when I had an Italian wine tasting to prepare for and host! This idea of exploring the wines of Italy actually came from the client. She had an Italian wine at a restaurant and fell in love with it (the wine was Montepulciano, I'm glad she wrote it down :-) When it comes to Italian wines, most people just think Chianti and Pinot Grigio. But Italy has over 500 documented grape varieties and 20 wine regions. Clearly we have missed a few. Since my client wanted to learn more about Italian wines and maybe even discover some new ones that she loved, I figured I would pick some popular Italian varietals that Americans may not be too familiar with. So, on with the tasting.

Since it was raining and cold, I figured that people would be a bit tardy so I started off with Verdi Spumante for guests to sip on as they arrived and got situated. This spumante is made from the moscato grape using the 'champagne method'. It's pretty sweet, labelled 'demi-sec' which is about 33-50 grams of sugar per liter. I knew my audience though, and the Verdi was a hit.

The 1st white served was Marchesini Frascati Superiore which is a blend of trebbiano and malvasia grapes. The Frascati had a slightly honeyed flavor with a bitter herbal finish. Very light in body, this went very well with some of the light appetizers that were served. While this was a new wine for many of the guests, not too sure if they're interested in buying it by the bottle. Although, one guest did say that if she was somewhere it was being served, she would definitely drink a couple of glasses.

Since pinot grigio is one of Italy's most popular wines, and one that most people have tasted, I figured I should have it at the tasting but maybe just in a different way. Antica Corte's blend of pinot grigio and garganega fit the bill. Very smooth with light acidity the garganega added a bit of apple and pear flavors to blend with the typical citrus taste of pinot grigio. Slight acidity and minerality were also found on the palate. A nice alternative to your straight pinot grigio and very good as an aperitif or salads and chicken...or chicken salad!

At an in-store wine tasting I tasted and enjoyed the Mormoraia Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Made from the vernaccia grape (San Gimignano is the town it originates from) it was the 1st white wine to gain DOCG status in Italy. This particular style of Vernaccia di San Gimignano was aged in stainless steel for 4 months before bottling, lending to a very crisp flavor and a bit of strong acidity on the palate. Slightly almond-y and floral on the nose, but fruity citrus flavors like grapefruit were on the palate. Most of the guests liked this medium-bodied white and thought it would taste great with shrimp or a light fish.

We took a short break at this point to clean our glasses and our palates before we started with the reds. There were smoked meats available, olives, pizza, and pasta. All the perfect Italian foods to pair with the Italian wines. Guests asked various questions about general food and wine pairings, wine know, the kind of stuff that people always want to know but are afraid to ask. Glad they felt comfortable enough with me to ask.

First red wine, Azelia Barbera d'Alba from Piedmont, Italy. The barbera grape is the 2nd most widely planted red grape, sangiovese (used for the popular Chianti is 1st). A very smooth example of barbera, this wine had very good acidity to balance with the medium tannins making for a velvety mouthfeel. Refreshing fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry were present on the palate with a spicy finish. Barbera most closely matches pinot noir in terms of flavors and style of wine. While of course you can pair Barbera d'Alba with any food with red or tomato sauces, this would also go well with salmon and light red meats.

Wine Enthusiast had an article in their October issue about Ripasso so I thought that I put one into the mix for this wine tasting. The Ripasso process is essentially the union of 2 wines: Vapolicella, a base wine made from fresh grapes, is poured over the skins, seeds, and pulp of dried, fermented grapes previously used to make Amarone. This combo undergoes a 2nd fermentation which results in Ripasso which actually means, 'passed over twice'. The resulting wine from Villa Mafei's Valpolicella Ripasso was a rich cinnamon and spice flavor with hints of cherry and almonds. The crowd loved the slightly oaky taste on the finish, definitely a crowd favorite. Paired with the salami and prosciutto the wine tasted even richer. Not too bad I might add for a bottle that was under $20.

Saving the host's request for last (so she could taste and assess the other wines with an open mind) we tasted the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Abruzzi, Italy. Similar in style to Zinfandel, this medium-bodied but heavily tannic wine showed strong ripe notes of cherry and crushed blackberries on the palate fading into a spicy vanilla finish. Great with olives, antipasto and just foods in red sauce in general. As the saying goes: "If it grows together, it goes together", and boy does this stuff grow and go together!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Joie De Vivre

Once again I had the pleasure of attending the French Wine Society (FWS) annual conference. Last year I was a guest, or student shall I say...and this year I volunteered as a wine pourer. Two entirely different experiences but I can definitely say that I was still able to hear the presentations and participate in the wine tastings as a volunteer. There is always so much information being presented, so much to learn, and so many wines to taste!

This year's approach was a little different than last year, instead of covering a little bit about every region of France, this year the FWS highlighted a few regions and the speakers were able to cover them in greater detail. For example, the speaker on the Burgundy region didn't just talk about the wines themselves, he went into a detailed discussion of how the wines achieve their Grand or Premier Cru status and can we, the consumers, tell the difference. Of course there were a few people that thought they could tell the difference. But the majority were honest and thought that while the history and geology of how the status is gained is interesting and honorable, the system is old and doesn't really allow entry for new winemakers. The Bordeaux speaker also spoke to the same topic. Extraordinary presentation from him! Dr Benjamin Lewin, MW wrote the book, "What Price Bordeaux" and presented wines from 1st and 2nd growths and posed questions about why the pricing of Bordeauxs can be so outrageous and how pricing is determined. Some attendees said the presentation was controversial but very informative. I agree with the later.

A couple of the lesser known regions were also covered like Jura and Cahors. The wines were delish, and I even got to take a couple of the leftovers home (a perk of being a volunteer). Only problem is that wines from those regions aren't readily available is most wine shops in this area. The organizers of the conference even had trouble getting some of those wines in the country. If the French themselves can't get the wines...we have no chance, LOL!

Another new feature at the conference was the French Wine Scholar exam and regional exams for the Rhone and Provence. Each exam consisted of a blind tasting, a regional map, and theory. After seeing the study guides and then witnessing students taking the exam, this is serious business. My Burgundy certification exam was pretty much enough for me for the year!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cheryl & Her Girls

It's so much fun to host wine tastings, and even more fun when you host one for friends. I hosted a wine tasting for one of my girlfriends, with the help of another wine professional in her circle of friends. We came up with the idea of doing a blind tasting in order for everyone to be more open-minded about what wines they were drinking. When the guests arrived we poured Marquis de Monistrol Cava (a pleasant and affordable alternative to Champagne) for casually sipping as we mingled and got to know the other guests.

For the blind tasting, we had 3 whites and 3 reds wrapped up like Christmas presents with red and gold tissue paper and bows around the necks. Figure that is a little nicer than a wino paper bag, LOL! Everyone was provided with a note sheet and an aroma/flavor sheet, so once we started tasting the wine, they would have a frame of reference for aromas and somewhere to write down their notes and guesses of the wines. Out of the 6 wines, one person got 2 correct and another got 1 correct. They both received prizes as a token of our appreciation for their participation. Funny thing was that several of the girls mentioned that Chenin Blanc was their favorite wine, but they couldn't pick that one out of the lineup! Can't fault them though, it was a South African Chenin Blanc (Kanu) which has different flavors then the French Vouvray I'm sure they're used to. And the white wine drinkers were very impressed with the California Zinfandel (Gnarled Vines). I always love blind tastings because people will taste the wine and assess it based on the flavors of the wine, not what they may or may not already know or think they know about it.

After we revealed the wines to everyone, the other half of our wine team spoke about wine & cheese pairings. She was great! She had a chart to match the wines and cheeses and also gave us some great tips on selecting cheese to pair with wine. But she had me anyway when she brought my fav, epoisses, for the cheese plate. We also got full glasses of wine and tasted them with the cheeses that were available to note the differences in the flavors when paired with different wines. Trial and error is always so much easier when at a wine tasting rather than at home when you've invested in several bottles and several cheeses that aren't good matches.

At the end, we took questions and invited everyone to enjoy full glasses of the wines they loved. Everyone seemed to truly enjoy the event and most even said they learned something new. I guess we did our job!