by Arianna Armstrong
Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of attending a class at Learn About Wine, with Ian Blackburn.
Despite being on what was, no doubt, the very worst date in human history, I had an absolutely fantastic time. The class was called Palate Builder, and was a 2.0 level class. Although marketed as slightly above entry level, I think that almost anyone could gain a great deal from the workshop. Except my date. But I’m not sure that he was human…
Allow me to rephrase: Although marketed as slightly above entry level, I think that almost anyone – unless a robot, alien, fungal life form or truly consummate jackass – could gain a great deal from the workshop.
du Vin (“The Nose of Wine”). This Master-level 54-piece aroma kit is designed to help tasters tease out the individual scents that form the total bouquet of the wine in their hand. So, holding a glass of ” target=”_blank”>2006 Mastroberardino, Lacryma Christi, Del Vesuvio (Italy), I sniffed pure scents from tiny vials of lees, grapefruit, fig, Muscat and pear. Incredible. Having access to the pure scent made detecting the mingled ones so much easier.
My date complained that the only thing he could detect was that the air conditioning was too strong.
When we returned to our tables, those of us who were actual living, breathing people compared what we had just smelled and tasted to the other whites waiting for us at our seats. A 2006 Kenwood Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma), and an absolutely delicious 2008 Buttonwood “Zingy” Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Ynez Valley). True to form, my favorite was the cheapest one – the “Zingy.” I found it citrus-y and (as the name implies) zingy and zippy and refreshing.
It is a little surprising that I preferred the youngest wine, as usually the younger the wine, the stronger the scent of alcohol. I tend to get pretty turned off by that, although I didn’t feel that the Buttonwood had an overpowering alcohol presence at all.
However, as I learned at the class, a strong smell of alcohol does not only come from the age of the wine. “New World” wines, such as US, Australian and South American varietals tend to be more alcoholic than “Old World” (European) wines, which grow in cooler climates and tend to be more acidic. For people who are beginning to feel their way through the wine world, this is a helpful bit of information: Once one begins to tease out their preferences, knowing certain details about geography can help make wine selection easier – and more interesting!
Our next flight was a selection of three Chardonnays: 2006 Badge, Rancho Santa Rosa (Santa Rita Hills); 2004 Domaine Emilian Gillet, Quintaine, Vire-Clesse (Burgundy) and 2007 Bighorn Cellars, “Camelback Vineyard,” (Carneros). I have to say that none of these really turned my crank. The Domaine Emilian Gillet and Bighorn Cellars were buttery and complex oak-y and ok. My favorite was the Bighorn Cellars; I had trouble drinking the Badge because it was just too tart.
Interestingly, it turns out that “Carneros” is basically another way to say “Napa.” Now you know…
It takes much longer to ferment Chardonnay than Sauvignon Blanc, so Sauvignon Blanc is often more cost-effective and allows wineries to turn a profit while aging their Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc never touches oak barrels, so it lacks that buttery, oak-y flavor common with Chardonnay. It tends to be crisper and lighter than Chardonnay.
My date said that the Chardonnays were better than the Sauvignon Blancs, but he couldn’t taste a difference between any of the three pours in front of him. Then he began talking about how his father and grandfather bottle wine in Seattle. The women across the table from us smiled and nodde
d. Sometimes it’s possible to actually read someone’s mind. I think that happened here, but I can’t reprint what one woman was thinking, on account of this being a family wine blog.
Our next flight was called “Crazy Reds” and consisted of a Zinfandel, a
Shiraz and an Italian red – Rosso di Montepulciano. While normally Zinfandel is one of my favorites, in this flight I actually preferred the Shiraz, a 2004 Emu Wine Company from Frankland River, Australia. All three of these were complex and earthy, but the Zinfandel – from Lake Sonoma Winery, Dry Creek Valley (2005), was a little spicier than I prefer. The website describes it this way:
“A solid structured wine, with firm tannins and integrated oak nuances. This Zinfandel is balanced with forward fruit flavors of blackberry and plum, and accompanied by a hint of black pepper spice.”
The Italian – a 2007 Avignonesi – was good too, although a little thin. It had a lovely finish, and would make a nice table wine. Especially at the $15 price point.
I was particularly excited about the next flight – a taste of three different Pinot Noirs. Along with Zin, Pinot is a particular favorite, and one of these Pinots happened to be from Cakebread Cellars, a winery I have heard a great deal about, but have never had the opportunity to try. The one in this tasting – a 2005 Pinot – was actually a little too oak-y for me. I expected it to be fruitier, since Cakebread is located in Carneros/Napa and wines from this region tend to be jammy and rich with ripe fruit. I just, personally didn’t feel that this one was.
The other Pinots in the flight were a 2006 Domaine Henri Delagrange, Volnay, Vielles Vinges (Burgundy), which I thought was pure fruity deliciousness; and a 2006 Margerum Wine Company from Santa Barbara County. That was quite nice, as well. I wish I had better descriptions of these wines, especially because – respectively – they cost approximately $50, $40 and $30 per bottle – obviously good stuff – but by this point I was already pretty drunk. Although I can point out that, once again, I preferred the wines with the cheaper price tag.
…And speaking of my preference for cheap: At this point my date was bemoaning the fact that we were not at a Scotch tasting. Everyone was ignoring him.
The final flight was all Cabernet. There was a ” target=”_blank”>2003 Chateau Pipeau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru (Bordeaux), a 2006 Poveriano Cabernet Franc (Italy), and a ” target=”_blank”>2005 Viader, “Dare,” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley).
As part of this class, we were asked to break into teams to attempt to match the wines in each glass with the name, age and region on a paper in front of us. Using what we had been taught about the nose, palette, acidity and alcohol content of wines across the world, we were instructed to dissect and discuss each taste in order to identify what we were drinking.
Another important clue at our disposal were the colors of each pour. The older a wine, the browner it becomes. White wines turn golden, red wines become a little more dingy. While it is easier to see the richness of whites, obviously reds are a little more difficult because of their characteristic deep red or purple. The best way, therefore, to look for that browning effect is to hold your glass against a white backdrop. Younger reds will appear red or purple all the way to the edges, but the periphery of an older red will look almost dirty brown against the white.
This trick came in handy by the end of the class, since everything I drank was magically delicious and I was no more able to differentiate the taste of stewed plums and cherries than I was able to sing opera. I was told that the Poveriano had hints of lead. Maybe. I overheard Ian Blackburn say something about Darth Vader in describing the beautiful darkness of the Viader “Dare.” I know that the Chateau Pipeau runs about $40 a bottle in stores.
I also know that this was one of my best wine experiences to date, and that when I return – which I will – I’m going to make sure my date isn’t a sour grape.
Category: Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Tasting Trips | Tags: Australia, Burgundy region, Cabernet Franc, Carneros, Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, Ian Blackburn, Italy, Lake Sonoma Winery, Le Nez du Vin, Learn About Wine, Napa, New World wines, Old World wines, Palate Builder, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, Shiraz, sonoma, the nose of wine, wine aroma kits, wine tasting classes Comments Off