My Top 10 Wine Moments of 2019

It’s that time again – when we reflect back on a year that’s almost over. What was so special about the 2019 vintage?  For me, there were several things that made 2019 memorable . . .

Retweet by Eric Asimov

I peaked early this year – January 22nd to be exact – when I was retweeted by New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov.  His first monthly “wine school” column of 2019 focused on three big brand, readily available, supermarket wines.  These wine selections of his caused quite the uproar on Twitter.  While some wine enthusiasts applauded his efforts to understand what appeals to the masses – others accused him of promoting these wines.

Eric Asimov retweet

This was Eric’s first “wine school” that I’d actively participated in and I wrote a post about the “assignment.”.  The results weren’t all that surprising to me, but his retweet of my post WAS.  This was my first real lesson in the power of social media – his single retweet led to a huge uptick in visits to my site (thank you Eric!)  Unfortunately, this didn’t translate to an increase in subscribers . . . I guess his wine school crowd isn’t particularly interested in outlines on the 1855 Classification or WSET Diploma study tips.

And interestingly, at least to me anyway, this was not my most viewed blog post of 2019 . ..

Stepping Into the Instagram Influencer Fray

For the first few months of 2019, I sat on the sidelines watching a longtime Instagrammer (aka Amarone) vent with regularity about the rise of “wine influencers.”  I understood his frustration, but disagreed with his methods – which consisted primarily of snarky memes and posts mocking these “influencers” (mostly attractive, younger women).  However, when Amarone decided to take a shot at me (together with my dead yellow Lab), well . . . the result led to my most viewed blog post of 2019.

Instagram

In fact, an entire hashtag movement was actually spawned because of Amarone and a few others (to be clear, not because of my post). #youcansipwithus is still going strong, but thankfully, the antagonists appear to have backed off a bit. I might revisit this issue sometime next year – to see what progress has been made (or not made).

Personally though, I made some progress in 2019 . . .

Finding My Groove on Instagram

In 2019, I found my Instagram niche.  I finally determined who my target audience was: people wanting to learn more about wine – including both serious wine students and curious consumers.  And also who my target audience was not: Jimmy Bigcellars with trophy bottles as well as the ChardonnYAY crowd.

Based on this, I decided to focus my content on wine studies and education – but I wanted to do this in a fun and engaging way.  So I started creating Instagram wine quizzes.  I’m a wine geek at heart (I mean, I prepare outlines on wine for shit’s sake!) and I genuinely enjoy producing this type of content.  Not only do the quizzes help me retain information better, but I’ve also connected with wine students from all over the world (Mumbai, Cape Town, London) – and have met several in person!  I really do get a tremendous amount of satisfaction hearing from other wine people that my quizzes or outlines have helped in some small part with their studies.

In addition to finding my own groove this year, I was also able to assist others with theirs as well . . .

Supporting Other Endeavors

I have a pact with myself to never agree to write about a product, class, person, wine, whatever that I don’t believe in.  For me, this means turning down certain collaborations – even if they’re offering payment.  However, there were a few opportunities that I jumped at the chance to participate in this year. Not surprisingly, they each had an element of wine education to them:

Cristie Norman launched a unique online wine course for beginners that is both highly educational and entertaining.  Wine Masters released two seasons of their documentary series focusing on winemaking families of France and Italy.  Snooth Media hosted a virtual wine tasting of Sweet Bordeaux wines. And I was thrilled to support each of these ventures – they were all genuinely educational and incredibly well-done.

Completing Half of the WSET Diploma

This past year I completed my third exam for the WSET Diploma – so I’m officially halfway done!  I have the Fortified Exam in less than one month (eek!) and then it’s complete focus on the dreaded Unit 3 Exam for the next five months.  And finally, the research paper which is due at the end of July.  So if all goes well, I should have the Diploma completed by August.

I had hoped to have 4 of the 6 units completed by now, but due to a change in scheduling at my school this didn’t happen.  The Tracy Flick in me was initially annoyed AF, but this WSET Diploma break actually turned out to be a good thing because it allowed me to pursue other things like:

Becoming an Italian Wine Scholar IWS certificate

I completed the Italian Wine Scholar course and passed with Highest Honors!  As I mentioned in a prior blog post, this venture took me quite a bit longer than anticipated, but was well worth the time and effort.  Not only do I have a much better grasp on Italy and its 20 different wine regions and umpteenthousand different grape varieties, but since I passed with such a high mark I also qualified to teach the course!  Which I started to do in 2019 . . .

Teaching Wine Courses

I have two of wonderful mentors up in the Pacific Northwest who gave me some incredible teaching opportunities this past year: Mimi Martin and Tanya Morningstar Darling.  I got my feet wet by leading sections of the Italian Wine Scholar course and WSET Level 2 – and have plans to wade in a bit further in 2020.  I still believe wine education is the direction I’m heading with my future wine career, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be certification courses only – because consumer focused classes are just as enjoyable . . .

Presenting Wine and World Views Seminar

Last year, Hubs was in a major bind when he was hosting a wine event at a fancy schmancy SoCal restaurant for some clients when the sommelier at the restaurant resigned just a few days prior to the event.  He asked me to fill-in at the last minute to speak about the wines being served and to lead the discussion with about 50 well traveled wine enthusiasts.

True confession: I’m not overly confident about my public speaking abilities – I get jittery and tend to talk too fast.  (Ok – truer confession: I sweat when I’m nervous!!).  Yes, I know this is ironic since I’m leaning towards wine education which requires speaking in front of others to some degree.  However, for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of (maybe my daily meditation practice, or gaining more confidence in my knowledge) – I really did nail this presentation.  And you know what else – I had a hell of a lot of fun doing it!  Maybe that’s the key: have fun and don’t worry so much about getting every little fact correct.  Give Tracy Flick the night off. 😉

I still have a ways to go before I get truly comfortable speaking in public – but thankfully, I’ve got a couple of very good examples to learn from . . .

Attending Master Classes with Masters

I’m fortunate to be taking my WSET Diploma classes from a Master Sommelier and auditing the French Wine Scholar course from a Master of Wine.  While they’re both incredibly knowledgeable individuals, they also have very different ways of approaching wine studies.  By learning from both of them, I feel like I’m getting the best blend of education and gaining a more thorough understanding of the wine world.

Master WinesThey each teach certification courses, but also focused tasting classes.  And since I have yet to find a tasting group in SoCal (a goal for 2020 – send me a note if you’ve got a lead for me!!), I attended as many of these Master Classes as I possibly could last year – including Brunello, Bollinger, aged Rieslings, Northern Rhône and Vintage Port.  I’m soaking up as much information as I can from these Masters – and some pretty damn good wine too.  Speaking of damn good wine . . .

Traveling to Walla Walla

This last “top wine moment of 2019” hasn’t actually happened yet, and I normally avoid setting my expectations too high but I think in this instance I’m safe.  Hubs and I are on our way to one of my favorite wine regions in the world – Walla Walla.  We’ll be spending my birthday and New Years Eve and Day there, partaking in some wine tasting, and … looking at some property while we are there.

While I’m not sure exactly what Walla Walla has in store for us this visit, I know that at least some part of this adventure will be a highlight of the year.  And, well, perhaps for many years to come!

Happy New Year to All!

 

 

 

The Party Bus: Something to Beware . . . or Behold?

Anyone who has ever worked in a winery tasting room knows the drill.  A big ol’ party bus pulls up outside, a pile of people (let’s be honest – usually women) who have been imbibing all day stumble off, laughing raucously, snapping selfies or asking the driver to take yet another “quick picture” by the winery sign.  As the group approaches – the tasting room staff concocts excuses like “I gotta go run inventory” or “I think the Riesling needs another racking today.”  Anything that will get them out of the tasting room ASAP.

Beware the party bus.

I get it.  I empathize with tasting room staff when it comes to party busses.  Often these groups are loud, take up a lot of room, don’t listen when you’re describing the oak aging regime of your reserve Chardonnay, and if you haven’t been drinking with them all day – they’re pretty fucking annoying.  (Come to think of it – even if you HAVE been drinking with them all day you might feel this way).

Party Bus 1
I spy a party bus!

Instagram is full of snarky memes mocking these groups – how they all dress alike, traipse through vineyards or sit on barrels for “content”, and know next to nothing about wine. But before you write them all off as obnoxious wine newbies who just want free tastings – allow me to give you a little insight inside the bus.

Splits on the party bus
I might have regretted this later

Once a year for the past fifteen years, I’ve been a member of one such party bus.  I have engaged in typical party bus behavior like doing splits in my jeans while listening to Neneh Cherry’s ‘Buffalo Stance’ and making smoochy faces to countless winery dogs (this IS typical – isn’t it?).  I have also partaken in some not-so-typical party bus behavior like talking with tasting room staff about concrete fermentation, the recent spread of phylloxera in my Beloved Washington state and pending AVA applications.

Me with Bud Cooper
Bud is thrilled to see me!

Now, I realize that there are some party bus groups that try to get out of paying tasting fees, or steal glassware, or puke in the dump bucket.  However, I think of these groups like corked wine.  They don’t occur regularly (maybe between 2-5% of the time) and you wouldn’t write off all wine just because you had one that was flawed – would you?

If we’re going to stick with wine analogies (Hubs hates these!) – my party bus is a mixed case.  While the other gals are not nearly as nerdy about wine as I am, many are better traveled (Mendoza, Sicily – two wine regions on my bucket list!).  One can pronounce French labelling terms like nobody’s business.  And some own easily twice as many bottles as I do – and belong to a lot more wine clubs as well.

My most recent Gals Wine Weekend trip took us to one of my favorite wine regions – Walla Walla.  This year, I kept a close eye on how we were treated by tasting room staff. For the most part I was pleasantly surprised – there were a number of wineries who behold the party bus!  Two in particular are worth a quick mention . . .

Neil Patrick Harris Sleight of Hand Cellars
NPH – wine label model and wine club member!

It’s almost not fair to compare other wineries to Sleight of Hand Cellars.  They are a Grand Cru of fun tasting rooms – I mean, they have a magician for fuck’s sake!  They were our first stop of the day and Traci and her tasting room staff set the bar pretty high – they were welcoming and FUN.  Where else can you select an old-school, vinyl album to be played during your tasting, get your picture taken in a photo booth, all under the watchful eye of Neil Patrick Harris (his face graces the label of their Bordeaux style blend).  Just like their eclectic album selection, Sleight of Hand’s wines are a wide range – from a zippy Riesling to a funky Syrah.

Our last stop of the day was The Walls who were welcoming and waiting for us. (I usually feel for the staff at our last stop because we are past our peak by this point.)  We sipped through several of their wines – favorites were ‘Lip Stinger’ white Rhone blend and Gaspard Syrah.  Our host gave us the entertaining backstory on the name of the winery (a play on the Washington State Penitentiary located a few miles away) as well as their ever-prevalent cartoon illustration – Stanley Groovy.  One of the students in the first WSET class I taught is currently the hospitality manager and we all got in on this lovely photo together before walking out with several cases. Party Bus 2

It Pays to Behold the Party Bus – Literally.

According to a recent wine industry report, Direct to Consumer (DTC) sales account for over 60% of an average family winery’s revenue.  The biggest DTC channels are wine clubs and tasting rooms.  And unfortunately, consumers are visiting fewer tasting rooms when they travel to wine country – often seeking out just a couple of their favorite spots, or wineries providing the best experiences.

Tip for tasting room staff: honestly, with party bus groups, often it’s not about how good your wine is – it’s how you treat us.  Over the years we’ve had a number of awesome experiences at wineries who produce good, but not mind-blowing, wines.  However – because of how fantastic the staff were to us and their welcoming attitude – we’ve bought bottles, signed up for club memberships, recommended them to others, put them on our social media, and been repeat visitors.

On the other hand, if we’re treated condescendingly or there’s an unwelcome attitude – we don’t buy.  Even if the wine is good.  This happened only once on our most recent trip, and interestingly it was a winery whose wines I really enjoy.  Unfortunately, the staff didn’t crack a smile our entire visit, gave an incredibly curt answer to the common question “how did [insert winery] get its name?” and made us feel like we were an imposition in his fairly empty tasting room. Not surprisingly – we walked out empty handed.

I’ve worked at a wine store, and I know that sometimes you just don’t feel like dealing with a large, boisterous group of wine tasters.  But as a member of a party bus, I also know that we’re not usually asking for much.  Your wine doesn’t have to have a big score, or win a bunch of local awards, or be certified and blessed by any organic or biodynamic organization.  We will not remember these things!  But we WILL remember Susie at Two Mountain Winery and Neil (and Bud!) at Cooper Wine Company because they were excited to have us in their tasting room and went above and beyond to make us feel welcome.

And on a personal note, since I moved away from my Beloved Washington state last year – I’ve come to realize how important this party bus group is to me.  It’s hard to find women who support each other, who cheer each other on instead of compete with one another, and with whom you can just be your silly-ass self.  Like I said – this group is 15 years strong.  I hope we keep going . . . because I plan on attempting my splits well into my 60s.  Won’t THAT be something to be behold? 😉

Party Bus 6
Party Bus – Vintage 2019

 

Stalking and Shaming of Wine Influencers on Instagram: Has This Become Normal Behavior?

Recently, something disturbing came to light in the wine social media world. Dynamo wine writer Marissa Ross disclosed that someone had been harassing and stalking her for over two years on social media.  And she put his posts out there for all to see.

If you’re not familiar with Marissa, she’s an outspoken voice in wine media, a fierce proponent of natural wine, inventor of the “Ross Test” and author of “Wine. All the Time.”  She has a loyal following of supporters, as well as a number of individuals who disagree with her – which she openly discusses on her Instagram stories and Twitter.  However, her stalker went way beyond disagreeing with her natural wine fervor and Ross Testing. His comments were cruel, threatening and scary.

Thankfully, the wine community came together en masse to support her – including those who normally tend to dismiss her antics (she often refers to them as the “old guard”). It was encouraging to see everyone put aside their differences and agree that this type of behavior was not to be tolerated – on social media or anywhere.  As of now, Instagram has banned the individual (the least they could do IMO).

As I was reading through the hundreds of supportive comments on Marissa’s page, one of them jumped out at me. It was from a wine related (perhaps some would call it an “influencer”) account and she said she’d had “similar things happen to me.”  She wrote that a “certain individual” and small group of men in the industry had been shaming her, her photos and women in wine in general.  I’ll refer to her as Dolcetto.  I knew which “certain individual” Dolcetto was referring to because I follow that account – which I’ll refer to as Amarone.

But before I go any further, let me take a step back and see if I can kinda sorta explain where Amarone was coming from.  At least initially . . .

The Rise of the Wine “Influencer.”

In the wine world, there have been several articles recently regarding the increasing number of wine “influencers.” For that matter, influencers have risen in recognition across all of social media endorsing products and – the theory goes – holding sway over their thousands, and sometimes millions, of followers.  This article is particularly well written and helps explain why the word is sometimes used in quotations (hint: it’s because some of these individuals aren’t truly influencing anyone.)

Unfortunately, wine seems to be one of a growing number of subjects that an individual can “influence” and have minimum actual knowledge about it.  Snap a ton of pictures with wine bottles and smile, make sure to comment constantly and generically on others posts (something like “That looks like some good wine!” or “I’ll have to try that!”), join multiple pods, and boom – you’re on your way to being an influencer.  For those in the wine industry, some of these influencer accounts can be exasperating since they tend to focus way more on engagement as opposed to actual wine education or experience.  In order to be a true “wine influencer” – shouldn’t an individual ideally have some combination of all three?

(Please note: this is not saying that all wine influencers are frauds, or that none of them have any wine knowledge or experience.  There are plenty of legitimate, intelligent and genuinely engaging wine influencers out there.  This would actually be a great subject for a future blog post!)

The Shaming of Wine “Influencers.”

Originally, Amarone’s account poked fun at the wine “influencer” group as a whole.  There was a generic jab at those who constantly post about “National Anything Day” (every day is a National “Something” Day – and it is admittedly annoying as fuck…even though I’m guilty of participating in some).  He’d call out wine reviews that were a complete cut and paste of the winery’s tech sheets with no individual thought whatsoever on the part of the “influencer”.  Or lament the rise of the IG pod, which often results in skewed engagement metrics because it’s basically the same people commenting on each others posts – over and over again. Months ago, someone on Twitter called pods the “IG circle jerk” – which is a colorful, and not altogether inaccurate, description.

Sometime around the beginning of this year, the tone of many of Amarone’s posts changed. They became more mean spirited and targeted at specific individuals. Often, the focus was attractive women in their 20s and 30s who post about wine – a group he started referring to as the “girl gang.”

These gals have carefully curated IG feeds with beautifully composed, even professionally taken, photos.  Many of their posts aren’t about wine per se, but rather enjoying life, drinking wine and being with your friends and family. And seeing as how most of their accounts have over 10,000 followers, clearly there are many people interested in this type of content.  (True confessions: I follow several of them and the vast majority of their posts are refreshingly light and upbeat – like if Beaujolais Nouveau had an IG account).

So, instead of the usual generically humorous memes, Amarone’s account started copying photos directly from some of these ladies IG accounts. Everything from what they wore, to how they held a wine bottle, to their WSET credentials, was mocked.  I’m guessing this is what Dolcetto is referring to when she mentions “shaming” behavior.  And I get what she’s saying, because I noticed this the other week . . .

IG Dead Pet Meme

This photo on Amarone’s account was followed by the comment “You couldn’t manufacture these kinds of metrics if you TRIED.” After seeing this post on IG, I immediately thought something had happened to Marissa’s sweet old dog, Zissou.  After scrolling through her feed and finding nothing, I started wracking my brain as to who else has pets that they post about on IG.  And then I thought HOLY FUCK . . . this is about ME.

I initially took this pic of me “kissing” Luke and sent it to Hubs and then realized – “hey, I don’t look godawful in this photo!”  So, I decided to post this shot of me on IG, and one of Luke, because I’d had a WSET Diploma exam that day and wore my lucky necklace – which is made from Luke’s ashes.  Honestly though, I rarely post personal photos on IG because: (a) my account is focused on learning about wine, and (b) I take incredibly crappy pictures.

Did I post about my “dead pet” specifically to get likes or “manufacture” metrics?  No.  Did it happen to get more engagement than my usual posts – which are typically bottle shots or wine tasting notes?  Yes.  So, maybe there is something to be said about including a bit of your personal self on your feed – you’ll get more engagement, but also leave yourself open for someone to make snarky comments.

(Sidenote: I’m guessing that many members of the “girl gang” have blocked Amarone on IG because he’s really scraping the bottom of the “influencer” barrel if he’s taking a shot at me with my barely 1,000 followers. FTR – his main account, the non-parody one, has over 32,000 followers.)

Shaming Isn’t Stalking – but it’s still Shitty Behavior.

Most people can agree that trolls and haters are an unfortunate part of social media.  And, while incredibly annoying, their behavior usually doesn’t rise to the level of stalking or threatening.  It’s misleading to equate the two and I’m not doing so here.

However, shaming someone is still shitty – and what’s the point?  Particularly when you’re over the age of 13 and should have better things to do with your time and energy?  Yet even as I write this post I’m bracing myself for the snarky comments which I’m sure will be forthcoming.  Funny, I didn’t feel this way when I wrote about Chenin Blanc or the Italian Wine Scholar exam.

This recent increase in shaming behavior has made me take a second look as to how I feel about wine “influencers.”  I understand the wine community’s concern if these individuals are purchasing followers, or not disclosing that they’re being paid to endorse whatever wine or product they’re posting about.  That’s dishonest and the latter is actually against FTC regulations.  And I totally feel the frustration of wine academics who cringe when an “influencer” posts something massively incorrect or misleading about wine – like when Drew Barrymore said that Rosé is made from peeled grapes.

But otherwise – what harm are they doing?  Is their presence taking away from your number of followers or engagement?  Highly doubtful.  Are you even interested in the same type of followers?  Probably not.  My point is: there’s room for everyone in the IG sandbox – and it would be awesome if we could all play in it a bit more nicely.

Don’t get me wrong, after all this ranting about IG – I actually really do enjoy it. I’ve gotten to know a number of amazing people in the wine community through IG and am hoping to meet many more of them in person – including Amarone and Dolcetto.  He’s incredibly knowledgeable about wine and it would be awesome to pick his brain on which out of the way California wineries to visit.  And I’d love to get her recommendations for spots in Napa – and, well, perhaps a few pointers on how to take better pictures.

Great pic of me

 

 

 

Brunello di Montalcino: the Rembrandt of my Wine World

Early during the first quarter of my freshman year at college, I decided I wanted to major in art history.  I was a couple months into an Art History 101 class and could clearly envision my future as curator for some fabulous museum or gallery, or possibly work for one of the big auction houses like Christie’s.  Even though this was my first ever art history class – I just knew that this was what I was destined for.  I excitedly called my Dad to inform him of my plans – and after our brief discussion, I hightailed it to the business office to declare my major in Business Administration.

To this day, my art history classes remain some of my most favorite.  They made me look at the world like I hadn’t before – and in a way I haven’t since.  Starting with ancient art – from ornate Egyptian tombs to Greek architecture to Roman marble sculpture.  Then the Renaissance with the David and Mona Lisa.  Next came the utterly fascinating, over-the-top religious works of Bosch and El Greco.  My art history course worked its way through each era and I found myself in awe of them all . . . and then we got to the work of Rembrandt and – well, I didn’t like it.

Was his work groundbreaking?  Was he able to capture people in their daily lives like no artist had before? Was his work influential to countless others?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Is he considered by many to be the best painter that ever lived?  Absolutely.

I’m not debating these assertions – all I’m saying is that I personally didn’t care for his work.  (And for the record – I still don’t).  I thought it was dark and dreary.  He did a lot of self portraits that all ran together in my mind.  Nothing about his work spoke to me.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t want his work hanging in my house (Hubs Note:  Yeah…..that was never an option in the first place).  I’d rather have a calming Monet landscape or fun and colorful Matisse:

Right about now you might be asking “That’s all well and good, but WTF does Rembrandt have to do with Brunello di Montalcino?”

Patience . . . I’m getting there.

In the vast world of wine, there are certain wines that are considered to be “classics” or “benchmarks” of their respective varieties.  Wines such as Burgundy (Pinot Noir), Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc), Barolo (Nebbiolo),  and Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese).

Brunello di Montalcino (hereinafter “BdM”) is considered by many to be the highest quality and most pure expression of Sangiovese.  It’s been called Tuscany’s grandest wine zone by Jancis Robinson. It was one of Italy’s first DOCs (1966) and later one of its first DOCGs (1980).  To qualify as a DOC/DOCG, several hoops must be jumped through – such as establishing geographical boundaries, permitted grape varieties grown, and limitations on yields.  For a more detailed explanation of these terms – read this short article by a Master of Wine.

Unlike many other Tuscan wines, BdM is not a blend – it is made from 100% Sangiovese.  Specifically, the Brunello clone that is grown exclusively in the region.  BdM has the longest aging requirements in all of Italy: a minimum of four years (2 years in oak, 4 months in bottle) before it can be released to the public.  These wines are full bodied with high tannins and acidity, and very long lived.

BdM is held in high regard by enthusiasts, critics, students and collectors alike.  When a classic BdM is served – words like “majestic”, “elegant” and “oh holy shit this is the best thing I’ve ever tasted!” fall off tongues.  Except for mine – because I don’t like BdM (insert blasphemous gasps here).

Now before you members of the Brunello Brigade come after me with pitchforks, let me explain.  Like with Rembrandt, I’m NOT claiming that BdM is crap nor am I saying that I cannot appreciate BdM. What I am saying is that I, subjectively, don’t care for it.  I would love to find a BdM that changes my mind.  Believe me, I’ve tried!  Over the years, I’ve tasted many – particularly during my studies for the Italian Wine Scholar and at the recent Master class I attended led by Master Sommelier Peter Neptune  where we tasted 11 different BdMs.

Valdicava 1997That evening, the wines tasted ranged from a 2013 Camigliano BdM to a 1997 Valdicava BdM.  There were BdM from 2001 and 2010 – both highly rated vintages.  All 11 wines tasted were very high quality and from top producers such as Altesino, Donatella Cinelli Colombini and Salvioni.  I appreciated these wines, and was particularly amazed at how their structure held up over the years.

But did I like them?  No, not really.  Why?  Well, for starters the tannins were overwhelming.  They usually dominate in a BdM’s youth, but are still over prevalent (for me) in an aged BdM.  And even if I can get past the Hoover suctioning tannins, I don’t particularly enjoy the taste of BdM.  While I’m definitely not a juicy fruit bomb lover, the orange peel/medicinal cherry/tea leaf flavors I find in BdM aren’t appealing to me either.

And it’s not that I don’t like Italian wines.  I love Barbera, Aglianico, and Etna Rosso.  And I actually really enjoy Rosso di Montalcino – more than most Brunellos in fact.  Even though Rossos are usually from younger or “lesser” vineyards, have few restrictions on production (no oak aging required!) and are way less expensive.  I know this is like saying I’d prefer to wear Tory Burch shoes as opposed to Manolo Blahniks, or that I’d rather drive a Chevy truck than a Tesla – but both of these examples are also true (Hubs Note:  She drove a Chevy truck for a decade).

However, like a Rembrandt painting that I don’t want in my house, I don’t want a BdM in my glass.  I’d rather have a dozen other wines instead.  And on that note, I’m going to go pour myself a non-BdM and leave you with this awesome outline on Montalcino.

 

2019 Wine Goals: Now THESE are Resolutions I can Keep!

In addition to being timely – which I still clearly need to work on – I made several resolutions for 2019. Not surprisingly, many are wine related. And while these might be more enjoyable to accomplish than my other annual goals (such as running “x” miles by year end, eating more greens, and limiting my screen time) they are by no means a slam dunk.

Find more daily drinkers. I want to find more (enjoyable!) wines in the $20 and under range.  So, this means purchasing less Champagne, Oregon Pinot and Northern Rhône Syrah – and more from undervalued wine regions like the Loire Valley, Chile and Portugal. It also means exploring some obscure varietals that don’t command the prices of many popular, international varieties – so hello Pinotage, Zweigelt, and Godello!

rosso di montalcinoA producer’s entry level or a region’s “second wine” can also be great daily drinker values.  I recently had a Rosso di Montalcino – considered to be the first example of a “second wine” concept in Italy.  The Rosso di Montalcino zone of production is exactly the same as the more prestigious Brunello di Montalcino.  However, Rosso di Montalcino is released earlier – so these wines are more fruit forward, easygoing and approachable than Brunello.  There is also no mandatory oak aging requirement and the price tag is usually much lower.  This one was full of floral and bright red fruit aromas, paired deliciously with lasagna and was under $20.

Stop waiting for special occasions to open up the good stuff! While I don’t have too many “daily drinkers” in my collection at the moment, I do have a number of bottles that I feel warrant some type of major event in order to justify opening them.  By no means am I bottle-bragging – I’ll never have that type of cellar – but bottles like Gramercy Reserve Cabernets and Syrahs, Quilceda Creek, Tignanello, Sassicaia, and wines from our travels to the Rhône and Burgundy have a more special place in my heart.  Oh yeah, and I would probably add to that list the Pol Roger ‘Winston Churchill’ that I might have just ordered.

These wines aren’t something I usually open on a Tuesday night to pair with my comfort food dishes . . . but – why not? Why not make a mundane Tuesday eve (sorry Tuesdays, I honestly don’t mean to pick on you) a little less so? What exactly am I waiting for?  I plan to change this in the coming year and open some of these “special occasion” wines when it is in fact NOT a special occasion.  Because as Maya said to Miles in the movie Sideways: the day you open a ‘61 Cheval Blanc… that’s the special occasion.

Keep up the Studying.  As I’ve said before, I’m not pursuing wine certifications so that I can end up having an alphabet soup of letters after my name.  I simply love learning about wine and am more disciplined about it if I have some structure .  Otherwise, I tend to dive deep into a series of rabbit holes that I struggle to get out of – such as trying to figure out the 65 soil types of the Ancient Lakes AVA and who are the 80+ owners of Vougeot.  You know, important need-to-know shit.

wset logo
I love that the WSET logo is a female!

In 2019, I’m hoping to obtain my Italian Wine Scholar certification (results expected in February!), get through at least 4 of the 6 Units of the WSET Diploma, and perhaps pursue another Wine Scholar Guild Master Level Course.  I’m leaning towards their Bordeaux course since this region is quickly replacing Italy as my “Achilles’ heel.” (Sidenote: I know that I will be afflicted with this “ailment” throughout my entire wine studying life . . . which is one of the reasons I love doing what I do.  There will ALWAYS be something to learn!)

Improve my tasting notes.  I think of this goal as kind of a “mindful drinking” type of thing. Basically, I need to pay more attention to what’s in my glass.  Sitting down and focusing on a wine’s aromas, structure, and quality helps immensely with the whole study process.  And as I continue to pursue the WSET Diploma, I should get to the level where I’m able to write a tasting note that meets an examiner’s criteria in my sleep.

I’m not a huge fan of publishing tasting notes – I think they’re boring and ubiquitous, so I won’t be doing that (did I just hear a collective sigh of relief?).  But I do have a beautiful tasting notebook for me to keep track of my thoughts.  I just need to bring it out more often – at least a couple times a week.

tasting notebooks
My tasting notebooks over the years

Have FUN with wine.  If I allow it to, studying wine can dominate my life.  It’s currently the focus of my school, upcoming travels, and honestly, quite a bit of my social activity.  I don’t want to get so caught up in the study of wine that I forget to enjoy it. Sometimes, I need to just have a glass and drink it – not analyze it (fortunately, this is Hubs’ strong suit!).

So on THAT note, I’m going to sign off, finish that daily drinker bottle of Rosso di Montalcino and binge watch last season’s Better Call Saul!

Cheers to a delicious 2019!!

 

 

 

 

My Wine “Best Of” 2018 – With Nary a Bottle in Sight

As 2018 comes to an end, many wine enthusiasts/geeks/bloggers put together their “Top Bottles I Drank this Year” lists.  While I do enjoy reading these posts, when I personally think back to my year in wine what comes to mind first isn’t the bottles that I drank, but my wine experiences: the places I’ve traveled, people I’ve met, events I’ve attended.  To me, these are more memorable then the wine I’ve consumed – and that includes the (purported) DRC.  I suppose this train of thought is keeping in line with me attributing my wine “a-ha” moment to a person as opposed to a bottle. 🙂

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 wine experiences of 2018:

My First Sabrage.  This “top moment” wasn’t so much about the actual sabering itself, but the fact that it occurred at my work goodbye party just before moving down to Southern California.  I’d been an employee of Capri Cellars for almost four years – it was my first job in the wine industry and will always hold a special place in my heart.  As a going away present, the owner and staff gave me a gorgeous saber and a bottle of Blanquette de Limoux (a sign perhaps?) to try it out on.  For my first attempt – I think I did quite well!

Starting the WSET Diploma.  Shortly after moving down to Southern California, I started my WSET Diploma studies at Neptune School of Wine.  (Oddly enough, even if we hadn’t moved here I was still planning on taking my classes at Neptune since there wasn’t anywhere in the Pacific Northwest that taught Diploma).  Over the past several months, I feel like I’ve become exponentially more well versed in Viticulture, Winemaking and Sparkling Wines having taken and passed Unit 2 (with distinction) and taken (and hopefully passed!) Unit 5.  I’ve likely got a couple more years before completing the entire program, and after that . . . who knows?

Joining The Vintner Project.  I discovered The Vintner Project (TVP) after seeing their post highlighting a winemaking couple in my hometown.  It’s not too often that something crosses my Instagram feed with the hashtag #Richland, so needless to say I was intrigued.  The goal of TVP is to focus on the stories and people behind the wine as opposed to scores or ubiquitous tasting notes.  Since these are the types of stories that I’d like to focus on myself, in May I joined The Vintner Project as a contributing writer.

Meeting Online Wine Peeps – In Person.  This was definitely a highlight of 2018 – and one I hope to add more names to in 2019!  I met several online wine people face-to-face this year, but two in particular stand out for me:

I followed Winetravel on Instagram for quite awhile before realizing that she lived in Orange County (where I was moving to) and was originally from my beloved Washington state (where I was moving from).  Since relocating, we’ve gotten together several times and have become fast friends – bonding over wine and travel (her online name obviously suits her).  We live close enough to one another that I could probably walk to her house in an hour . . . less if I knew she was opening a bottle of wine from her recent trip to Italy.

I can’t recall the first time I came across Spitbucket – it might’ve been the “60 Second Wine Review” she did on one of my favorite Washington wines: Gramercy Cellars’ Picpoul.  In any case, we discovered that we’d both been students at Northwest Wine Academy, and although we knew many of the same people, our paths hadn’t crossed yet.  I finally met her at the Wine Bloggers Conference in October and immediately knew we were members of the same wine tribe – she is equally as passionate and geeky about wine as I am!  Even though we’re not within walking distance, I’m hoping that our paths continue to cross – because she’s pretty damn awesome.

Buty WineryAuction of Washington Wines.  You know that feeling when you come home for Christmas break after your first year away at college?  That’s how I felt attending the Auction of Washington Wines this year four months after moving to California.  I ran into so many familiar faces: my old neighbors, Capri Cellars customers, people Hubs used to work with, my favorite wine photographer, and a couple that I see annually at this event – where we usually end up competing for the same wines!  This year was no different – we all fell in love with a new release from Buty Winery: Rockgarden Estate Grenache.  I left the evening one of the winning bidders on a case of this lovely wine – as did my favorite competing couple.  Who says you can’t go home again?

Trip to the Finger Lakes.  I’d heard a lot about the Finger Lakes wine region (also known as FLX) over the past few years, so I was excited to visit this past summer.  And who better to go with then my Best Galfriend with whom I could have fun in a cardboard box with.  Now, I’m not equating FLX with a cardboard box – but it IS rural (and I’m FROM rural).  So if you’re thinking you’ll catch an Uber to scoot out to dinner – learn from our mistake, and think again.  Nonetheless, the region’s reputation for delicious Rieslings is well founded – FLX is absolutely knocking it out of the park with this variety.  Hubs and I have already plowed through every bottle that I brought home.

Linus and IWSPassing the Italian Wine Scholar Exam – Part 1.  After months of studying, with some major time-outs for moving and WSET, I finally took and passed the first part of my Italian Wine Scholar exam.  For Part 2 (Central & Southern Italy), I’m doing a weekend intensive class next month in Portland (taught by two of my favorite wine instructors!) and am scheduled to take the exam in early February.  Although Italian wines will always be more challenging for me to wrap my brain and palate around than French wines, I’ve learned a ton through this program.  And more importantly, I have a better appreciation for Italian wine.

Becoming a San Diego Chevalier.  Shortly before we moved, I joined the Seattle chapter of La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.  This was a fun bunch of Burgundy wine lovers and I was disappointed to be leaving them before I really had a chance to experience what the group had to offer.  Fortunately, I connected with (and joined!) the San Diego Chevaliers chapter and attended a fantastic Paulée earlier this year with my 1998 Vosne-Romanée in tow.  The next Chevaliers event is in a couple of months (it’s white tie – don’t tell Hubs or he’ll find an excuse not to come with me!) so I’ll be sure to post how that event goes.  And maybe with pictures this time. 😉

Learning From a Master of Wine.  It’s often said that in order to become better at something, you need to practice with, and learn from, someone who is much better at that “something” than you are.  A few months ago, I signed up for a series of blind tasting classes with Lindsay Pomeroy – a Master of Wine in San Diego.  In the short amount of time I’ve spent with her, I have learned so much more than I could have studying on my own with my nose in a book (or a glass).  She’s easygoing and friendly, but challenging. After I told her I was studying for the Diploma, she had higher expectations of me in her classes and would put me on the spot more often.  Which is good – because I usually don’t push myself outside of my comfort zone.  She’s giving me a level of confidence that I didn’t have before.

WBC remnantsAttending the Wine Bloggers Conference.  I know I said above that my Top 10 were in no particular order, but the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla was definitely my wine highlight this year.  It was my first year attending and it was incredible to be surrounded by so many other wine writing enthusiasts – especially in a wine region located just an hour away from where I grew up.  Bonus:  Hubs attended the entire conference with me and provided our wine “quote of the year”.

Next year’s location isn’t quite as close – the conference will be held in Hunter Valley, Australia.  However, it’s recently come to my attention (thanks Hubs!) that this can be my birthday present if I’d like it to be . . . and I think I might go for it. 🙂  And if I do, I have no doubt it will be at the top of my 2019 list!