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!!

 

 

 

 

She Said/Hubs Said: “Live” White & Rosé Wine Blogging

As mentioned in a previous post about the Wine Bloggers Conference, one of the highlights for me was the “Live” Blogging sessions.  Lately when I drink wine, I’m usually in full exam mode, so I sit down with my trusty notebook and – slowly and methodically – take notes via the WSET “systematic approach to tasting” method.  In other words, I take time to analyze every element of the wine – structure, aromas, flavors, finish, quality, etc.  WSET Grid 1

In contrast, the “Live” Blogging sessions pushed me outside of my wine tasting comfort zone since we had, at most, five minutes to hear about the wine directly from the winemaker, taste it, and make notes of our impressions.  I keep putting “Live” in quotes because, while I tweeted the Red Wine session in real time, for the Whites & Rosés Hubs and I waited and compared our notes afterwards.  We read them aloud to each other over a beer(s) and, after I heard some of his comments, decided we had to put together a post.  I love his notes because they are so damn entertaining, honest and unpretentious.  Just like him. 🙂

So without further ado, here are the unedited She said / Hubs said tasting notes from the White & Rosé speed dating event” (his phrasing, not mine)….

1. Otis Kenyon 2017 Roussanne, Columbia Valley, WashingtonOtis Kenyon Roussanne

  • She Said: Med+ bodied, ripe yellow fruits – apple, pear, longer spicy finish (with a bit of heat). A perfect, richer fall/winter white wine. This might even sway some “I only drink red wine” people. I am such a fan of Rhône whites and wish more of these varieties were planted in WA!
  • Hubs Said: White.   Not very complex.  Citrusy lemon/zest.  It’s hard to give my opinion when the wine pouring people are talking about it – I just want to write what they are saying and pass it off as my own.   Amazing story behind this wine.   I like it but wouldn’t seek it out.   Again, really cool story (look it up).  I would drink on a hot summer day but that’s about it.  Nothing really unique – other than an awesome story. If stories sell wine, this one has an amazing story.   Love the matchsticks.  I would drink this wine just to tell the story.  Have I mentioned the story?

2. L’Ecole 2016 Semillon, Columbia Valley, Washington

  • She Said: 86% Semillon/14% Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of honeysuckle on the nose with some white flowers. Viscous, oily texture – reminds me a bit of Viognier. Glad they put some SB in here for some acidity – might be rather flabby without it. Another richer/fuller bodied white perfect for fall/winter drinking. And at $15 this is incredibly priced.
  • Hubs Said: White / Golden.   I’ve heard this story about the L’Ecole schoolhouse at least a hundred times.  I don’t know shit about Semillon.   I like it.  Why?   Some heat/spice on the mouth afterwards.   Again, not super excited about this one.   OK – not bad.

3. Peter Yealands 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand

  • She Said: I’m not usually a New Zealand Sauv Blanc fan, and this one is no different. Very herbal and grassy. Loads of tropical fruit on the palate. Med+ acidity, v. grassy palate. Intense aromas and flavor – it’s really just too much in your face/over the top. Some people love this stuff though. Maybe pairing with a salad or veggies would calm it down a bit for me, although – I don’t eat a lot of veggies.
  • Hubs Said: This is SUPER fragrant.  Gas?   Reminds me of the stuff my parents drank when I was a kid.  WOW!   Crazy fragrant.  Non-normal fruit.  Not sure what I mean.   Melon?   Super unique.   Higher acidity.   I would have to get used to this type of wine – not an everyday drinker but I could see pairing it with something fun.  It sticks with you forever.   Crazy flavors.

4. Desert Wind 2017 Chardonnay, Wahluke Slope, Washington

  • She Said: Definitely smells like Chardonnay – vanilla, oak, baking spices. Fuller bodied, creamy texture (full Mal-O).  Smells like a Madeline sugar cookie. Medium length finish and then . . . I’m left with the oak. I know I’m a boob when it comes to oaked Chardonnay. But to me, this is a little unbalanced because the oak dominates and overpowers the other flavors.
  • Hubs Said: Pretty color.   Tough to follow the Sauv Blanc – that aroma is still there.   Nothing wrong with it.   Maybe some vanilla and citrus?   Medium acidity.   Nothing particular exciting – it’s Chardonnay – not bad, just kind of there.

    Live Blogging
    Noelle writing her “she said” tasting notes.

5. Bouza 2017 Albariño, Uruguay

  • She Said: Citrus and salty sea spray aromas. Seems a little fuller bodied for an Albariño – maybe the 6 month lees aging is a factor? Riper apple and pear, and more salinity on the palate, crisp acidity. Would be perfect with seafood. Not bad for my first foray into Uruguayan wine.
  • Hubs Said: Uruguan wine.   Effervescent.  Zippy.   Lemon zest.   Low/Med. acidity.  Poolside wine.  Summer wine.   Well balanced (I’m not sure what the hell that means, I think equally acid and tannins).  Happy mouth.   Would be awesome w/ shellfish.   Could I find Uruguay on a map?  No.   Stays on the mouth/palate for a really long time.

6. Hard Row to Hoe 2017 Riesling, Lake Chelan, Washington

  • She Said: OMG – beautiful aromatics! Floral and stone fruit (peach, apricot). If I had this blind, I don’t think I would’ve guessed it was a Riesling. Smells more like a Viognier. I really like it, but it lacks the zip I expect from this variety.
  • Hubs Said: Eggs.  Weird.   Rocks.   Not traditional Riesling.   Great / fun story (note the flags on the label) – naughty.   But what do I think?  I would go with other Rieslings.

7. Rodney Strong 2016 ‘Chalk Hill’ Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California

  • She Said: Like wine #4, there is no mistaking this for Chardonnay.  This one seems more fruit driven though – baked apple, pear. Seriously – I am totally getting spiced apple pie on the palate. And this is on the back label – YAY ME! I think Hubs just rolled his eyes at me. Not my particular style, but I prefer it to the WA Chardonnay. This one is more balanced between fruit and oak aromas, plus it has more acidity and a longer finish.
  • Hubs Said: A little bit of fuel smell on it (or am I still smelling that crazy Sauv Blanc?).  On first taste I thought it was boring, but it really gets more interesting.  A little heat on it for a Chardonnay.  Not a huge fan but that’s because I think it has more to do with the varietal.   Noelle just said it tastes like “apple pie”.   Fuck that.  She’s going to kill me at this exercise.   Upshot:  It’s fine.  I just don’t like Chardonnay unless it’s a butter bomb.   Sidenote:  Where the hell are the Rosés???  We haven’t had a single Rosé yet.
Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay
“Apple and pie spice aromas”! 🙂

8. Cadaretta ‘SBS’ 2016, Columbia Valley, Washington

  • She Said: 67% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon. Stainless steel fermentation. Herbal nose, citrus (lime skin) jalapeños, tropical fruit. Med bodied, med+ acidity, med+ finish. Grassy notes on the finish. I MUCH prefer w/the Semillon then the stand alone New Zealand Sauv Blanc. This is so much better balanced, easier to drink and refreshing.
  • Hubs Said: Melon + Petrol.   What the hell is the fruit I smell on these Sauv Blancs???    Blog idea:  Wine words I misspell the most (bordo, Semillon, sauvignon).   I imagine that the Semillon calms down the Sauv Blanc.   It has such a unique smell.   We need to go to the glass house.

9. Frank Family Vineyards 2016 Chardonnay, Carneros, California

  • She Said: Much more subtle on the nose than the other Chardonnays.  Getting evidence of lees here too – yeasty, rounder mouthfeel.  MalO textures. Hint of oak – vanilla, spice along with some apple and pineapple.  Overall, aromas are pretty medium – I’m not getting a ton.  On the palate to me its more about the texture then the flavors. Vanilla crème.
  • Hubs Said: WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE ROSÉS?????  THE AGENDA SAID WHITE AND ROSÉS!!!!  Gotta say it’s really a beautiful color.  Unique smell for a chardonnay.   Way more butter on this one.  Maybe some vanilla and spices.  That’s a general statement.  This is what I want my chardonnay to taste like.  I want to eat a bowl of popcorn with this and not share it with Noelle.   The tasting may be getting to me at this point.  I really like this one and it would be interesting to compare it to other Chards.

10. J. Bookwalter Winery 2016 ‘Double Plot’ Chardonnay, Columbia Valley

JBookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay
Winner of the White Wine Blogging!
  • She Said: Medium aromas of white flowers, apple, and ripe lemon.  Hint of vanilla.  This smells (& tastes!) like an Oregon Chardonnay.  The oak is so restrained.  This might be my favorite of the lineup. Best balanced of the Chards – oak and fruit compliment each other and there’s a nice dose of acidity that was lacking in the others. Yay – ending on a high note from a hometown winery!
  • Hubs Said: Light color.  A little more acidity on this chard.   Butter w/ some stone(?).  Apple.  I seem to describe every chardonnay on the “butter scale”.  The more butter, the more I like it.   Otherwise, Chardonnay is a total commodity to me – it’s all the same.   I need to work on this.    Or maybe I don’t.  I just don’t like Chard, it’s so boring.

So there you have it.   In the light of day, what I really liked about having done this with Hubs is that it shows how wine means different things to different people.  While his “tasting notes” (and I use that term incredibly loosely) made me laugh out loud, they also reminded me that there are no absolutes –  no “right answers”.   Wine means to you what YOU taste and feel.  I think that’s what makes wine such an amazing pursuit.

Now….where the fuck are those Rosés?!  

 

 

Chenin Blanc: Overlooked and Underappreciated in the Wine World

There are several significant milestones in a wine blogger’s early life:  The first time you hit the “publish” button and put your thoughts – and yourself – out there to the world.  The day you get a follower who isn’t a personal friend, or someone you’re related to. And then there’s the day you receive your first wine samples to review.  One year into my blogging adventure I have officially hit this particular milestone – and let me just say, it was worth the wait.

Tania and Vincent
Tania & Vincent Carême (photo credit: Cape Classics)

As one of their contributors, I’d been asked by The Vintner Project to write a piece on Vincent Carême and his wife, Tania – winemakers in both the Loire Valley and South Africa.  So, while I require a nap on most days, these two are busily making wine in two different hemispheres!  The primary focus of  their production in both regions is Chenin Blanc.  Now, I’m not overly familiar with Chenin Blanc – and while I don’t actively avoid it, I also don’t necessarily seek it out either.  Unfortunately, the majority of what I have had has been either underwhelming as a whole, or overwhelmingly full of that classic wet wool aroma that you can get in Loire Chenin Blancs.  (Which isn’t an altogether unpleasant aroma – but one that I’d usually prefer in my winter sweaters as opposed to my wine glass.)

So before I cracked open my samples, I did a little background research on Chenin Blanc with the hopes that I could understand (and appreciate) more of what I was tasting.

Chenin Blanc – The Grape.

Chenin Blanc originated in the Anjou region of France – which is located in the central portion of the Loire Valley.  The grape might have been cultivated as early as 845 A.D. – although the words “Chenin Blanc” don’t appear in print until 1534.  Today, France has just under 25,000 acres devoted to the grape.  And down in South Africa – it’s THE most planted variety at 46,000 acres. Chenin is also grown in Argentina, my beloved Washington state, as well as California.

Chenin Blanc is incredibly versatile and used to produce a wide range of wines from still, to sparkling (i.e. Crémant de Loire), to lusciously sweet wines (i.e. Quarts de Chaume) and even some fortified wines, particularly in South Africa.  As a still wine, Chenin is often quite high in acidity with aromas and flavors of citrus (tangerines, lemons), green or golden apples and honeysuckle . . . which is right in my wheelhouse of wines.  So, I have to ask myself: why aren’t I drinking more of this stuff??!  Chenin Blanc Unit 2

Unlike ubiquitous Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc isn’t very prevalent on restaurant wines lists or on wine store shelves.  It also isn’t a trendy grape like Assyrtiko or Grüner Veltliner (although it IS a helluva lot easier to pronounce!)  I mean – my WSET Unit 2 textbook even specifies that one of Chenin Blanc’s negative attributes is that it’s unfashionable! The fact is – I don’t drink a lot of Chenin Blanc because I don’t THINK about it.  It’s out of sight out of mind.  But a good producer can change all that . . .

Chenin Blanc – The Wines.

Onto the samples . . . and as always, all opinions and thoughts are my own…

Terre Brûlée 2017 ‘Le Blanc’ Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa. (13% abv)

  • Color: Pale lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Yellow apple, Meyer Lemon, faint honeysuckle, minerality (wet stone), there’s some herbal notes in here too
  • Palate: Medium- body, high acidity.  More tart on the palate than expected with additional flavors of green apple and unripe pear.
  • My Thoughts: Super-refreshing, crisp wine.  The acid is definitely at the forefront and while I like (and actually gravitate towards) acid bombs, it might be a wee bit much for some people.  If that’s the case – I’d recommend balancing it out by pairing with a light salad dressed with a snappy vinaigrette.
  • Technical Bits: The Terre Brûlée estate was established by Vincent and Tania in 2013.  Located about an hour north of Cape Town, the soils here are mostly shale and granite.  Grapes are hand harvested and whole bunch pressed.  Only natural, wild yeasts were used for fermentation.

Domain Vincent Carême 2017 ‘Spring’ Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (13% abv)

  • Color: Pale lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Slightly riper yellow fruits on the nose with this one – apples and pears, white flowers, hints of cheese and white mushrooms
  • Palate: Medium body, medium+ acidity. Picked up flavors of honeysuckle and chamomile.  Riper palate and creamier texture than the ‘Le Blanc.’
  • My Thoughts: This wine was a little more complex to me than the first.  The acidity was less linear/searing, making the wine feel more in balance.
  • Technical Bits: Chenin grapes for ‘Spring’ are outsourced from growers who have worked with Vincent for years and who allow him to provide input and assistance throughout the year.  Soils from these vineyards range from clay to flint to limestone.  Like his South African Chenin, grapes are hand harvested and whole bunch pressed – and native yeast fermentation is used here as well.

Domaine Vincent Carême 2015 ‘Le Clos’ Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (13.5% abv)

  • Color: Medium- lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Yellow apple (yet again!), honeysuckle, soft cheese, white mushroom and a slightly nutty quality
  • Palate: Medium body, medium+ acidity.  Long-ass finish.  Creamy texture here as well.  Flavors all over the board here with some tangerine, orange blossom, apricot and the beginnings of something marmalade-like.
  • My Thoughts: This wine is freakin’ delicious.  I love a wine that I can keep going back to and find something different on the nose or a different flavor.  The first night I had this wine without food, the second I paired with a chicken/mozzarella pasta – it was awesome both times.
  • Technical Bits: ‘Le Clos’ is a single vineyard wine from 50-70 year old bush trellised vines.  ‘Le Clos’ translates to “enclosed vineyard” and this six acre property is indeed enclosed by an ancient stone wall.  Soil here is the famous tuffeau – a chalky, fine grained type of limestone found only in the Loire Valley.  As with the other Chenins, the grapes here were also hand harvested and whole bunch pressed.  Native yeast fermentation was carried out partially in clay amphora followed by 12 months lees aging.

Careme wines

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with these samples and will seek out more Chenin Blanc at my favorite local wine store.  If any of these wines sound interesting to you – please visit Cape Classics for information on distribution in your area.  (And that’s not a paid advertisement – I just really liked their wines!) 🙂

My article on Tania and Vincent for The Vintner Project is forthcoming and I will have a link HERE when it’s up and running! In the meantime, if you’d like more information – here’s my outline on Chenin Blanc.

 

Rosé Roundup – Round 1

Many people associate Rosé wine with warm weather and plentiful sunshine.  Which means, for the most part, summertime.  I used to be one of these “many people.”  However, now that I’m living in SoCal – where temps have already reached close to triple digits and it’s only April! – I’m thinking that Rosé will be a go-to wine for me year-round now.  This definitely goes in the “pro” column for our move!

The 2017s are just starting to hit the store shelves and I’ve already scooped up several. Over the next several months, I’m going to do a series of “Rosé Roundups” in an effort to find my favorites. 🙂  And I’m going to do my best to branch out of my comfort zone of France and Washington State Rosés.

Here’s my first set of Rosés this season:

Margerum Wine Company 2017 ‘Roseraie’ Grenache Rosé, Santa Barbara County, CA.  (12.5% abv.)

Roseraie

This wine is all about sour cherries on the nose and palate – almost in a Sour Patch Kid candy kind of way.  There’s some under ripe raspberries in here too.  The back label says that a “touch of red Grenache from barrel” is added at bottling to add tannins and complexity.  I haven’t seen too many Rosés made this way – probably because it isn’t allowed in Europe (except for Rosé Champagne).  Here’s more information on various Rose Production Methods.

It is interesting to note that unlike prior vintages, the producer’s name (Margerum Wine Company) appears nowhere on the front label. And there’s no information about this particular Rosé on their website (however, there is info about another one they produce, Riviera Rosé, which sounds quite delicious!) Makes me wonder why Roseraie is absent. Are they not as “proud” of this one? Is it from less prestigious grapes? (I definitely believe so). Was it produced solely for Whole Foods (where I purchased it for $20)?

Whatever its mysterious existence might be, I’d put this wine in the “porch pounder” category.  It’s not very complex or interesting, but definitely goes down easily.

AIX 2017 Rosé, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, FR.  (13% abv)

Aix

This Rosé was more herbal and mineral driven compared to the Roseraie above.  Lots of yummy smelling rose aromatics as well.  Tasted like I was munching on dried lavender and herbs, with a slightly spicy finish.  AIX is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan and Syrah.

The region of Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence produces almost 2 million cases of wine a year.  And this particular wine is widely available (I found mine at Whole Food for $18).  AIX had a bit more going on for it than the Roseraie, and would be killer with summer salads.

 

San Agustin Vineyards 2014 ‘Rosé D’Luna’, San Diego County, CA.  (13% abv)

San AgustinWhen I purchased this at a local wine store, I didn’t notice that it was from 2014.  It’s a bit odd to have a 3+ year old Rosé on the shelves that isn’t from one of the more age-worthy wine regions like Tavel or Bandol.  In general, most Rosés are not meant to age and should ideally be consumed within a year of their vintage date. Or, if you’re me, within a few hours of bringing the bottle home. 🙂  However, it appears that 2014 is actually this producer’s latest Rosé release.  Which is also a bit odd.  What the heck has it been doing for 3 years?

This Rosé is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malvasia Bianca.  If you’re unfamiliar with the latter, it’s primarily grown in the Mediterranean area and usually produces sweet wines that are higher in alcohol.  I’m not a huge fan of off dry Rosés, and unfortunately this one was no different.  Hubs said he wished he didn’t see it before he tasted it because he was immediately turned off by it’s almost neon orange color (which is ironic since he’s a huge 80s fan).

Rose MilkOverall, this smelled and tasted like my Grandma’s Rose Milk lotion (anyone else remember this stuff?)  And yes, I did eat some of this as a child after sneaking into her bathroom because I thought something that smelled like this would taste good.  Turns out, not so much. I tried this wine over the course of 3 days hoping that my opinion might change . . . it didn’t.

Savage Grace 2017 Cabernet Franc Rose, Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley, WA.  (11.9% abv)

Ok, NOW we’re talking!  This was hands down my favorite Rosé of this first roundup .  Not a huge surprise since Savage Grace is one of my go-to Washington wineries.  I love his single varietal, single vineyard wines because you get a genuine expression of the grape and the land.  His 2017 Cabernet Franc Rosé was pink grapefruits, tart strawberries and raspberries and minerality.  I could drink this all day – with food or without. Savage Grace

I got my bottle from my good friend, Stacy.  But it’s available online here . . . and I might just have to order some more!

I’ve started a Rosé outline and will add to it as the season goes on.

What’s your favorite Rosé?  Let me know of any you think I should try! 🙂

Tasting Notes: Pinot Noir (Burgundy vs. Sonoma)

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written.  Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right?  But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.”

-Robin Williams to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting


I read a lot about wine – I mean, a lot. But learning about wine only by reading books reminds me of Robin Williams’s beautiful lakeside soliloquy in which he implores (a young) Matt Damon to go out and actually experience the world. And so it goes with wine – one of the best (and definitely most fun) ways to learn about wine is to taste it. However, this is a little different from drinking wine . . .

Tasting Notebook
Old Reliable: Tasting Notebook

To me, tasting wine means that I’m taking the time to actually evaluate it and assess all of its unique characteristics.  On the other hand, drinking wine means I’m just kicking back and enjoying it.  The differences between the two  are actually quite stark.  And while I do a good degree of both, when I’m really trying to expand my wine knowledge I sit down with my trusty tasting notebook and put pen to paper to capture my thoughts.

WSET Grid 1
WSET Level 3 Tasting Notes

Since I’ve been on the WSET path for the past year or so, my tasting notes generally follow their prescribed format – which I freely admit falls on the clinical side of evaluation. And while I completely agree with their premise that consistent and objective tasting notes are ideal for learning about wine, I’m never going to truly remember a wine based on notes like “medium+ acidity” or “clear, pale lemon.” For that reason I also like to add my own thoughts on the wine . . . where was I, what did it remind me of, what was I eating with it, etc.

When doing tastings at home, I often enlist Hubs to be my personal wine steward and set me up with a blind tasting. This way, I don’t have any preconceived notions about what I’m tasting and can just do some “mindful drinking” of what’s in the glass in front of me.  Ideally, I taste a couple of wines side by side because it’s much easier for me to pick up differences (or similarities) when comparing wines as opposed to just tasting one wine in a vacuum.  As an added bonus, I then have the benefit of having TWO bottles to choose from after I’m done with my tasting.  🙂  I should also add that while my tasting “goal” is not necessarily to accurately identify each of the wines tasted blindly, the truth is I always smile when I do get them right (I imagine that’s the same for everyone!).

Recently I did such a tasting with two distinct Pinot Noirs (Old World vs. New World) when deciding which would pair best with my mom-in-law’s delicious Coq a Vin that she was preparing for a family dinner.  Sitting in my in-laws sunny, lush Southern California backyard I was joined by my father-in-law, “T-Bone”, for the tasting.  Yes, my 75 year-old father-in-law’s nickname is “T-Bone”…and yes, he’s as awesome and quirky as you might imagine (he once informed me that he stopped drinking Merlot because it is “too purple”).

Domaine Gille 2012 Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru ‘Les Cailles’, Bourgogne. (13% abv)

  • Color: Pale ruby, tending towards garnet
  • Aromas: Roses that are just starting to wilt, cranberries, earthy cherries, fall leaves
  • Palate: Medium- body, medium+ acidity, medium- tannins.  Additional flavors of tea, spice and an almost cedar-like note.
  • My Thoughts: Very delicate wine – honestly, borderline too thin right now. I’m sure I opened this too early and it would’ve benefited from at least a few more years of age.  I guessed this was the Burgundy due to the color and dominate flavors of earth & spice with the fruit taking a backseat.  I liked this wine, but probably would’ve loved it in a few years.  And interestingly, out of the two Pinots, this was T-Bone’s favorite!  (Sidenote: One of my 2018 goals is to introduce my in-laws to new wines since they gravitate almost exclusively towards California Cabernets and Chardonnays).
  • Technical Bits: Domaine Gille has been passed down from generation to generation since the 1500s.  Their vines currently range from 45-80 years of age.  Soil is stony limestone.  All grapes are hand harvested.  Natural fermentation.  Aged for 18 months in oak (1/3 new).

Hanzell 2014 ‘Sebella’ Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California. (13.7% abv)

  • Color: Pale ruby, bright
  • Aromas: Fresh flowers, slightly sweet fruits – raspberries, red plum, hints of Dr. Pepper
  • Palate: Medium bodied, medium+ acidity, medium (close to medium+) tannins.  I’m picking up sweet cherries and some black pepper here too.
  • My Thoughts: This wine was brighter and more ruby colored, possibly indicating a younger wine. A definite sweetness here that the other wine didn’t have. With all the fresh, ripe fruit oozing out of the glass, I was confident this was the California Pinot.  And while I don’t usually go for wines with this degree of sweet fruit, this wine just smelled yummy . . . tasted it too.
  • Technical Bits: Hanzell Vineyards was founded in 1957 by James D. Zellerbach after he’d spent extensive time in Burgundy.  Focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Aged for 10 months in French oak (25% new).

The end result was that we drank both bottles with dinner so the pairing turned out to not be of much consequence – both were delicious!  And, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment of the Sonoma Pinot and T-Bone’s of the Burgundy. 🙂