Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guild of Sommeliers - Wines of Chile Tasting: Undiscovered Gems of Chile

On April 26th I had the opportunity to attend a double-barreled tasting co-produced by the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation and the Wines of Chile and held at the Downtown-Fort-Lauderdale location of Morton's Steak House.  The goals of the event were met by a combination of the wines, the format, and the personnel utilized by the organizers.

The tasting was titled The Real Deal in Chile and was presented in two flights of six wines each.  The first flight was called Undiscovered Gems of Chile and met that moniker by providing unfamiliar varietals, or unique blends, or wines from unfamiliar regions.  The second flight was titled Icon Wines: Old and New and presented an opportunity to taste older and more recent vintages of three "Chilean Icons."  This flight also allowed us to taste similar vintages of some of the wines and so explore the impact of terroir.

The tasting was led by Fred Dexheimer, Master Sommelier and Wines of Chile Educator and he was assisted by Andrew McNamara (Master Sommelier, Premier Beverages) and Eric Hemer (Master Sommelier, Southern Wines and Spirits). Lori Tieszen, US Director of Wines of Chile, was also present at the event.

Given the large number of wines tasted at the event, I will cover the two flights as separate posts.  This post covers the first flight, Undiscovered Gems of Chile.  The wine regions of Chile have been covered in a prior post.

The first wine in this flight was the Falernia Pedro Ximinez Riserva 2010.  This wine is 100% Pedro Ximinez varietal grown in the semi-arid Elqui Valley.  According to Fred Dexheimer, Elqui is home to a number of agricultural products and they have only recently begun growing wine grapes there.  The Falernia winery, Chile's most northern estate, has been producing wine in the Elqui Valley since 1975.  In the region, the cold air from the snow-capped Andes causes the diurnal shift that is one of the enablers of high quality wine.  The soil in the vineyard is comprised of rubble, resulting from mountain erosion, and alluvial sand and silt from riverine deposits.  The grapes for the wine are handpicked and immediately pressed; fermentation in stainless steel tanks follows.  The alcohol is 13.5%.  This is a clean, fresh white wine exhibiting hints of peaches, pears and white fruits.  The wine has medium plus acidity and good weight on the palate.  Hemer indicated hints of grapefruit and citrus and was reminded of a Sauvignon Blanc minus the grassiness.  He attributed the wine's crisp acidity  to the cold evening temperatures in Elqui.  McNamara saw the wine as being a cross between a Sauvignon Blanc and an Albarino and thought that it would go well with seafood.

The second wine, Casa Marin Miramar Vineyard Riesling 2008, is a 100% Riesling from the family owned winery of the same name located in the San Antonio Valley.  The wine has green flecks in the glass and, on the nose, expressions of citrus, tropical fruits, petrol and a little asphalt.  On the  palate, high acid with a floral finish which is long but lean.  A hint of spiciness.  Hemer sees the petrol and lime as reminiscent of an Australian Riesling.  McNamara has the wine screaming minerality and as a "dead ringer for an Eden Valley Riesling."  This wine was fermented in stainless steel fermenters and the alcohol is 14.1%, rather high for a Riesling.  Dexheimer said that the pronounced petrol notes in the wine, normally a developmental characteristic of Riesling, suggests that this wine should be drunk early.

The third wine tasted was the Kingston Family Vineyards Alazan Pinot Noir 2009.  The Kingston Vineyards sit at 1640 feet elevation on 200 acres of a north-facing hillside of red clay loam and decomposed granite in the Casablanca Valley.  The valley's climate is mild, influenced by the surrounding hills and the cooling effects of the Humboldt Current.  This wine is 100% Pinot Noir with alcohol levels of 14.5%.  The wine has an intense color and an initial sour note on the nose.  In addition, there are hints of walnut, red fruit, strawberries, and ripe tomato.  Rather complex nose with a back current of oiliness.  The wine expands slowly on the palate -- ripe fruit, vanilla, and spiciness.  This wine has good weight and a long finish.  The alcohol is apparent.

The fourth wine is the Morandé Edición Limitade Carignan 2007.  This wine is 100% Carignan with fruit planted in the Santa Elena Vineyard in the Lancomilla Valley of the Maule Region.  The grapes are hand-harvested and the selected fruit are subjected to cold maceration prior to fermentation.  The fermented juice is stored in medium-toast American oak barrels for 20 months.  The resulting wine is 14.5% abv.  The wine shows dampness and dankness on the nose initially along with hints of baking spices.  Red raspberry on the palate.  Somewhat austere with a hint of piney greenness coating the palate.

Wine 5 was the De Martino Single Vineyard "El León" Carignan 2007.  De Martino is the second largest organic wine producer in Chile and, in 2009, became the first carbon-neutral winery in Latin America.  Grapes for this wine come from a dry-farmed vineyard in the Maule Valley.  The vineyard is 90% Carignan, 5% Malbec, and 5% Carmenere, the same composition as is the final blend.  The wine is matured in French oak for 14 months before bottling.  There are hints of red fruit on the nose.  Weighty on the palate with a rich, round mouthfeel.  Creamy richness.

The sixth wine was the Emiliana Coyam 2008, a blend comprised of 41% Syrah, 29% Carmenere, 20% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvedre, and 1% Petit Verdot.  Coyam means oak forest and references the ancient oaks surrounding the vineyard in Colchagua Valley.  The valley experiences a day-night temperature inversion during the summer and low rainfall during the course of the year.  The soil is alluvial with good drainage and moderate permeability.  The wine is fermented for 13 months in 80% French and 20% American oak barrels.  Alcohol is 13.5%.  This is an unusual blend and is deeply concentrated in the glass.  On the nose, a certain bramblyness, sweet baking spices, and black fruit.  On the palate juicy black plums, cassis and some blue fruit.  The wine opens with roundness on the palate but then falls off as the mid- and back-palate show a certain coyness.

The Icon Wines will be covered in a subsequent post.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Call to Action on Florida's proposed Direct-Ship Legislation

In what is now becoming an all too familiar annual event, our freedom to purchase the wines of our choosing is facing a perilous threat from the Florida Legislature where two bills (one each in the House and Senate) that would severely restrict (and potentially stop for some wineries) the shipment of wine have been introduced .

The bills (designated HB 837 and SB 854) are identical in language and mirror bills that have been introduced in years past. If passed, these bills will make it much more tedious and expensive for wineries to directly ship their products to individuals in Florida. The differences this year are that (i) there are no alternative, more-consumer-friendly bills under consideration, and (ii) the legislature seems to be pushing these bills full steam ahead.

According to the language of these bills, the intent is to require strict regulation of winery shippers “in order to promote temperance by discouraging consumption by underage persons and abusive consumption by adults.” This argument has been made for several years in several states, and on the federal level, and has been shown to be absurd. The average teen who wants to try alcohol is not going to order wine on-line with a credit card, wait for it to be delivered (and find someone over 21 to sign for it; already a requirement), and then pop the cork. They are more likely to have a buddy who is of age go into the local convenience store or grocery store and buy some beer or a bottle of inexpensive wine.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and other similar organizations, used to support these bills in years past, but have abandoned the cause stating “that it is clearly trying to maintain the wholesaler’s control over the sale of wine, not protect children.” Even the U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed the concerns about underage individuals being able to purchase wine over the Internet.

In terms of limiting the ‘abusive consumption by adults,’ it is again more likely to see abusive consumption arising from an individual stopping by the local wine shop, convenience store, or grocery store, and purchasing a couple of cases of wine for immediate consumption rather than placing an order through a winery and then waiting (in some situations months) for it to arrive.

While the direct costs associated with a winery complying with the new bill is not particularly expensive (a $250 licensing fee), the legislation would also require that each winery file a monthly report with the state, noting whether or not any wine was shipped, the amount and brand/label that were shipped, and the total price of each shipment.

The bills prohibit a winery that produces or sells more than 250,000 gallons per year (a little more than 100,000 cases) from any direct shipping whatsoever. While it would initially seem appropriate that any winery with that kind of production should be able to find distribution through the three-tier system (winery-wholesaler-retailer), many such wineries make a number of wines that are only available at the winery, so these wines would never otherwise be available in Florida.

If a winery is already distributed in Florida, that winery would be prohibited from direct-shipping unless their contract with the wholesaler contained a clause agreeing to the direct sales, or the winery provided a letter signifying that they had provided the wholesaler notice one (1) year prior to applying for the new Florida license.

The bills stipulate that there would be a limit of 12 cases of wine shipped to a single household address (or household member’s work address) per year. While 12 cases would seem like quite a bit of wine, the true restriction comes from it being based on an address, not a particular name or person. If three friends ship to a single business address, so that someone of proper age will be there to sign for and receive the packages, they would all be subject to that limitation, so that effectively they could only order 4 cases per year without infringing on someone else's allocation. In addition, violations of this proposed law would carry the threat of a felony, which would be a death sentence for a winery (felons cannot be involved in the production, distribution, or sale of alcohol). So wineries would be apprehensive about the potential to be the 13th case, particularly since there would be no way for Winery A to know how much had already been shipped to an address by Wineries B, C, and D.

The bottom line is that the direct shipment of wine from a winery takes money out of the pockets of the distributor or wholesaler. The distributors lobby every year for laws that would prohibit or hinder the ability to ship into the state.

There are over 7,000 wineries in this country, and only a tiny fraction of the wines that are produced ever make their way to Florida by way of distributors, either because the winery’s production is too small, they don’t appeal to the wholesaler, or the wholesaler is not even aware of the winery’s existence.

I am not opposed to the regulation of shipping, but we need to push for smarter legislation that provides for clear and fair guidance to wineries for compliance and that provides fair access to any wines of the consumer’s choice. The proposed bills hurts not only the wineries, it hurts the consumer as well. Before it is too late, contact your state representative and/or senator and let them know your thoughts about this legislation, or contact:

Mr. Mike Haridopolos (Senate President) at (850) 487-5056 and/or; or,

Mr. Dean Cannon (Speaker of the House) at (850) 488-2742 and/or

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dinner at Enoteca Pinchiorri, Michelin 3-star Restaurant in Florence, Italy

A meal at Enotecha Pinchiorri is a bucket-list item for accomplished, or aspiring, gourmands.  I (a member of the aspiring class) ate dinner at the establishment on Tuesday, May 4th, as the kickoff event in Bordeaux Index's Taste of Tuscany, a four-day encounter with the foods and wines of selected Tuscan regions.  In this post I will frame the Bordeaux Index (BI) program and revisit our experiences within the hallowed walls of Enoteca Pinchiorri.

I was introduced to Bordeaux Index and its wine-travel capabilities by one of my Decanter Yquem Weekend compatriots.   My primary contact at BI was Elly Dean, Events Coordinator and she did a wonderful job of outlining the company's capabilities in my area of interest, helping me narrow down to the trip I wanted, and then working to ensure smooth in- and post-trip experiences.  The specific event that I selected was BIs Taste of Tuscany which kicked-off with the aforementioned EP dinner, and then was followed by a day trip to Bolgheri, inclusive of two winery visits and lunch at one of the wineries; a two-day trip to Montalcino, inclusive of four winery visits, two tasting lunches and a dinner.  I thought that this would be a wonderful introduction to Tuscany.  So I bought it.  Hence the dinner at Enoteca Pinchiorri.

Enoteca Pinchiorri is a now 35-year collaboration between the Italian Giorgi Pinchiorri and Frenchwoman Anne Féolde.  The cooperation started out with Anne preparing small plates to accompany the spectacular wines on show by Giorgio, who was a sommelier of some repute, but has grown into a food-centered enterprise driven by Anne's renown as a world-class chef.  The restaurant is located in an old Florentine Palace at 87 Via Ghibellina in the heart of the old "Medici-ville."  The restaurant has three Michelin stars and was named Best Restaurant in the World in 2005.

In addition to my wife and me, the tour included a couple from England, a couple from Wales, and Elia Leonardo, our BI Minder (Elia gave us this sob story that he had just broken up with his girlfriend so the wives spent the entire trip trying to fix him up with every pretty girl that we ran into.  He enjoyed the trip more than anyone else.  Just kidding BI, he is a good guy and a keeper.).  We were staying at the Golden Tower hotel in Florence, within walking distance of Enoteca Pinchiorri.  The wives took a cab because they were concerned that the cobblestoned streets would ruin their heels.  With no such concerns, the men took a lively walk through the buzzing Florentine streets to the restaurant.  When we arrived the cab riders were already seated in a reception area surrounded by an armada of Pinchiorri staff waiting to fulfill their every wish.  We were ushered into the reception area and given glasses of Spumante Anna Maria Clemente Rose 2003 from Ca' del Bosco.

We were asked if we wanted to take a tour of the wine cellar.  I had only met the other members of the tour 30 minutes previously in the hotel lobby but, given our shared interests, we were well on our way to becoming fast friends.  Anyway, we all said "yes" and so began a magical journey through the wine drinker's equivalent of Disneyland.  The cellar was intimidatingly large and intimidatingly equipped.  We walked up and down row upon row of the world's finest wines, some dating as far back as 1906, in a variety of formats and with significant vintage depth.  I kept snapping picture after picture and "eyeballing" every nook and cranny in order to ensure that I did not miss any hidden gems.

 As we walked down the aisles, the sommelier would stop from time to time to point out a specific wine or to pass along a pertinent factoid.  In this way we learned that 55,000 bottles were stored in the cellar and 90,000 bottles were stored on floors above the restaurant.  We were also told that the restaurant's wines were valued at €15 million.

At the conclusion of the tour we ascended the stairs to the main level and were ushered into the room where our dinner would be served.  I should note that all along the way we were accompanied by a number of immaculately attired Pinchiorri staff, so much so that at times we had the feeling that we were outnumbered by staff.  Our (private) dining room contained a large, oval-shaped dining table and a manned wine station.  The table was covered with a flowing white tablecloth upon which sat a number of vases which held fresh white flowers.  The captain and wine steward were assigned to us for the evening and courses were brought in by teams of waiters who worked in perfectly choreographed rhythm.  The atmospherics felt right; this was going to be a great experience.

We were formally welcomed by our Captain who also took the opportunity to inform us as to how the dinner would proceed.  It was a tasting menu with an explanation of each course provided once the plates from the prior course were cleared.

The dinner began with two amouse bouches and then we settled in for the remaining eight courses.

For us it was delight after delight. The food was excellent and the wines were equally formidable.

A tartare amberjack with citrus fruit, onion petals marinated in beetroot juice; saffron rice

Sea bass gratinated with capers; artichokes with marjoram and crustacean sauce

Lobster gratinated with pistachios; "cecina" (traditional tart made with chick-pea flour), chick-pea and yogurt sauce

Tagliolini (hand-made long pasta) with baby squids, sage, and potato sauce with lemon scent

Cavatelli in a peas cream with bacalà slices and sausage in red wine sauce

Baby pork from Mora Romagnola with roasted potato purée

A selection of Italian cheeses

and a dessert in three acts:  Hazelnut tart; lemon and basil sherbet;  and passion fruit drops and wild fennel yogurt.

The wines were a Richiari 2009 Poggio Scalette, a Chianti Classico Rancia 2007 Fattoria di Felsina, a Messorio 2003 Le Macchiole, a Barolo Percristina 2001 Clerico, and a Luce 1993 Frescobaldi.

During the course of the meal, our table was visited by both Giorgi and Anne.  At the conclusion of the dinner, we repaired to the smoking room and lit up some Romeo and Juliettas and accompanied them with a 20-year-old Italian brandy.

Team with Giorgi Pinchiorri (center)
This was a great start to our trip.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Opportunity Lost at Executive Wine Seminar's 1986 Bordeaux Tasting

I was driving between Orlando and Miami when I received a call from my wine bud Russell. "I just found out about a 1986 Bordeaux tasting in New York City in April," he said.  "We have to attend."  Russell is a little intense when he gets the bit between his teeth so I had to spend a little time calming him down after which I told him I would look into it and get back to him.  "Don't delay," he said.  "There are only 16 spots."  I had my wife and my trusty iPad in the car so I put them both to work to find out more about this tasting.  After grumbling about her peace being disturbed with more "wine stuff" my wife took to the web to find out more about the event and the offering organization.

My wife's research showed that the tasting was being offered by Executive Wine Seminars (EWS), a NYC-based organization that had been conducting business- and individual-focused wine tastings since its founding in 1981.  The organization appeared to have some repute as its tasting notes have appeared on since 2004 and Robert Parker himself has participated in EWS tastings at least once a year.  The specific tasting that Russell had brought to my attention was a 25-year retrospective of 1986 Bordeaux wines to include Chateaus Vieux Certan, Raysan-Segla, Pichon Lalande, Cos d'Estournel, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Gruad-Larose, Leoville Las Cases, Talbot, Haut-Brion, Margaux, Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, and Climens.  This was right up my alley so I had my wife sign me up on the spot and called Russell to let him know that I was in.  I called some other friends here in Orlando and they also signed up so it was a six-person contingent that made its way from Orlando to NYC for this event.  Little did we know that the high point of the tasting was already behind us.

The tasting was scheduled to be held on the premises of New York Vintners (21 Warren Street) and to run from 6:30-8:30 pm.  The EWS web site advised: "Attendees are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes early (6:00) for time to unwind with hors d'oeuvres and an aperitif."  Russell and I arrived at the designated location at 6:00 pm.  The location was at street level with a wine shop at the front, which then gave way to a control-room-type office and then the tasting room.  The tasting area itself was rather compressed and was made to appear even more so by six to eight tightly packed circular tables, each attended by six or seven chairs.  Each table had a number of settings equal to the number of chairs.  Each setting included five small wine glasses and a water glass.  The tables also held bottles of water and slices of various types of cheeses.  There were no mats below the glasses with names of the wines that would be in each glass.

All of the wines to be tasted were standing upright on a table at the front of the room and one of these wines had already been poured into one of the glasses at each seat.  The pour was minute.  I had two thoughts as I surveyed the scene: (i) This does not look like an appetizing setting for the level of tasting I was expecting and (ii) the room was not set up for 16 people as initially advertised.

We were approached by one of the individuals pouring wine.  He asked for our names, checked them off on a list, and told us we were too early and should come back later.  This after the web site told us to come half-an-hour early for aperitifs and hoes d'oeuvres.  Another couple from Arizona was also there and in the same pickle so we repaired to the sidewalk to talk about what had brought us to this tasting. After about 10-15 minutes we were asked back inside to partake of a glass of bubbly and to take seats if we so desired.  All during this time the wines for the tasting was being poured and I noticed that they were being decanted just immediately before pouring.  The wines were all being poured by the two EWS co-Directors and was proceeding very slowly.

Finally everyone was in a seat and the first flight had been poured.  Robert, one of the co-Directors, kicked things off by letting us know that the tasting would proceed in three flights of four wines each followed by the Climens.  The second flight would include all of the St. Juliens while the third flight would be the first-growth wines.  The first flight would cover the remaining wines.  After he finished his short remarks, he turned it over to Howard who welcomed us and then provided the Parker and Wine Spectator scores for the first four wines.  He said a few more words and then sat down.    I looked around waiting expectantly and then noticed that people had started tasting their wines (It should be noted that most of the attendees seemed to be "regulars".).  I was flabbergasted.  The tasting had begun without a starting gun being fired.  This was not going to be a guided tour.  I was on my own.  I had to navigate recently decanted, mini-pours of 1986 Bordeaux in even mini-er glasses.

After what seemed like 5 minutes, but I am sure it was longer, Robert got up and stared soliciting comments on the wines in the first flight.  The tasting of this flight had ended just as abruptly as it had started.  How could comments be solicited?  These wines all smelled the same.  I could not tell whether I was smelling Bordeaux funk or taint of some type.  To add insult to injury, I had to pour my unfinished mini-pours in to the dump bucket to make room for the next flight.  So I would not get an opportunity to determine how the wines would evolve over time.  Further, the same two guys were pouring the new flights and it was just as agonizingly slow as for the first flight.  At one point in the proceedings, Ron Siegel, one of my Orlando travel mates, told one of the co-Directors that he thought a particular wine was corked.  His observation was greeted with a shoulder shrug.

All in all not a good experience.  The event was advertised for 16 and then expanded to 39 with no expansion in the support staff or the available wine.  This translated to mini-pours and not enough staff to pour the wines efficiently.  The wines should have been decanted a minimum of three hours before the event and was not and so showed poorly across the board.  I have been to a number of high-end tasting events where I paid a lot less for the privelege and got better results. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

13-Vintage Dominus Tasting, 1983-2007: Guest Post by Ron Siegel, Orlando-Area Collector

I have always loved Dominus and, as I had 12 vintages sitting in my cellar, I decided that it would make an interesting vertical tasting. Towards that end I arranged to host such a tasting at Vintage Vino Wine Bar on Tuesday, March 29, and invited a few of my friends to participate.  Invitees were welcomed into the establishment with flutes of Duval Leroy champagne.

I have followed Dominus Estate and its wines over the years and was aware of the decade-specific differences in styles : the 1980s had more tannic structure and acid; the wines of the 1990s had riper fruit and lower acid; and Merlot was eliminated from the blend beginning in 2002. 
In setting up the tasting I decided to go with four flights of three wines each.  The youngest wines were placed in the first flight as they would be one-dimensional in style and fairly tight (I feel that Dominus needs a minimum of 10 -15 years to start showing its true character).  The second flight would contain the wines of the 1980s and the third flight would contain the 1990s wines.  Steve A., one of my friends, brought along a bottle of 1987 and I stuck that into Flight 2.  I decanted the first flight 6 1/2 hours before the tasting and the third  and fourth flights 1.5 hours later.  

My notes from the tasting are provided below.
Flight 1
2005 Still fairly tight.  Some coffee, blackcurrants, and a slight hint of vanilla.  All of the wines in this flight would have benefited from a 24-hour decant.  When you visit Dominus Estate, they serve one bottle that has been decanted for 24 hours and another is poured right out of the bottle. When I visited the winery, we tasted a 1996 that was decanted 24 hours previously and it tasted a lot better than the freshly opened bottle. 94 points
2006 Black fruits, spicebox, earth. Nice finish on the palate but still some hard tannins on the back end. This should round out beautifully over time. 95 points
2007 Wow. Nose of sweet ripe red fruits and licorice.  Richer and denser on the palate than both the 2005 and the 2006. I feel that this could even top the legendary 1994. My favorite and the groups wine of the flight (WOTF).  97 points
Again, I think that all of these wines would have shown better if we could have provided more decant time.
Flight 2
1983 Sweet red fruits, cedar, dried herb, some mushroom. On the palate, nice weight. Not too astringent. Probably the best 1983 California wine that I have tried and still going strong. 92 points
1984 Nose of ripe red fruit, more earthy than the others in the flight. Sweet fruit, coffee, tobacco and earth in the mouth.This was my fifth bottle opened out of a wood 6 pk in 9 months. Groups WOTF 94 pts
1985 Classic Bordeaux. Nose of black fruits, cedar, touch of coffee and mint. Sweet black fruits and a nice elegant finish on the palate. I have always liked the 1985 vintage in California. My favorite of the flight by a hair. 94+ points
1986 (Thank you Steve for bringing this ) This wine has always reminded me of an older-style Bordeaux. This had nice black fruits, cedar, mint and some of us got a little curry in the nose. The wine really showed well tonight. 94 points
Flight 3
1987 Decent amount of red fruits and cedar.  A touch of mushroom but I could feel the acid. The finish seemed more astringent than the other vintages. My least favorite of the flight. 90 points
1992 Beautiful nose of cassis fruits, cedar, earth, and coffee. Nicely balanced with good fruit structure.  This was our group's WOTF. 95 points
1996 Exhibits a nose of black fruits, earth, mint, and black olive. On the palate, rich fruit, coffee, spice box. This wine seemed richer than the 1992 and is beautifully balanced. My favorite of the flight. 96 points
Flight 4
1990 Red and black fruits, cedar, and tobacco. It seemed more rustic in style and not as rich and opulent as it was a few years ago when I had last tried it. This wine was easily outclassed in this flight. 94 points
1991 This has always been my favorite Dominus vintage. I have consumed more than a dozen bottles over the years and still have four 6pks left. I have put this wine in first Growth flights and it is never picked out as a California wine and is always one of the favorite wines in the flight. Tonight, massive sweet jammy fruits, spice box, and leather.  A mix between a Pomerol and a Paulliac. The finish kept building throughout the night.  Always one of the greatest California wines ever made. This was also the first Dominus that was made without any Merlot in the blend. 98 points
1994 Wow! I have not tried the 1994 in quite sometime. It always seemed to have a riper fruit and lower acidity feel to it compared to the 1991; and seemed more California-like. But tonight this wine has really blossomed into something very special. Yes it was richer and more opulent than the 1991. Huge ripe black fruits, spice, earth and truffle with amazing texture and a super long finish. This was the groups' WOTN. 99 points
The wines showed really well and a good time was had by all.  The one thing that everyone noticed throughout the tasting was how Bordeaux-like the wines appeared.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Myth of an American Wine Culture

In an article posted on The Huffington Post on March 30, Mary Orlin asks the question "... does America really have a wine culture all its own?"  And she goes on to answer emphatically "Yes we do."  I beg to differ.

Culture, as used by anthropologists, refers to the "full range of learned behavior patterns" and assumes inter-generational learning as the key "culture-transmission" vehicle.  This over-arching definition of culture is the most significant argument against the existence of an American wine culture as we have not been drinking wine long enough to have the multi-generational transfer of habits, practices, and rituals associated with a "wine culture."  Secondly, a cultural trait tends to cross-cut societal boundaries and that is definitely not the case with wine in the US.  While wine drinking is no longer reserved for society's upper crust, there are still large geographic and soci-cultural swaths of the country that remain oblivious to the pleasures of wine drinking.

In an article, Janice Fuhrman points out the issues faced by Spanish winemakers as they try to sell into the US market.  According to one of the interviewees, when dining in Spain, someone at the table would ask "white or red" and that would be the last time the wine would be referred to except it were bad.  In the US, according to this interviewee, once the wine is ordered, everyone has to comment on it.  This amused the interviewee because it was "only wine."  Another interviewee remarked about wine being as a much a part of the meal as the food items on the table. According to Miguel Torres, leading Spanish wine producer, and another of the interviewees, "a wine culture 'comes with thousands of years of tradition, with our ancestors, with wine drinking as an everyday part of life.'"

So how did Mary Orlin arrive at the conclusion that America has a wine culture?  In the first paragraph of her article, she points out that in 2010, Americans drank more wine than did the French.  It is not directly stated but the implication is that the French have a wine culture so if we are drinking more wine than they are then we must have a wine culture also.  Next the author turns to a SFMOMA exhibit which, she states, is premised on an American wine culture originating in 1976 with the Judgement of Paris.  Now I have not seen this exhibit but its web page seesm to hint at a broader coverage than just US wine culture. But if this museum is pushing the concept of an identifiable start date to a non-existent American wine culture then I say shame on them.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Real Deal in Chile: A Guild of Sommeliers and Wines of Chile Production

I recently received an invitation from the Guild of Sommeliers Education Trust to attend a Wines of Chile tasting which will be held in Ft. Lauderdale on April 26th.  I had attended one of this organization's tastings late last year and had found it both educational and enjoyable.  I signed up for the upcoming tasting and then sought out my favorite Master Sommelier Andrew McNamara to get some insight into the Guild and the Wines of Chile event.

According to Andrew, the Guild of Sommeliers is a non-profit organization which was founded in 2003 and has as its mission the promotion and development of the wine profession and the individuals involved therein.  Sommeliers are not highly paid but the informational and educational burdens which they face are immense.  The Guild seeks to lessen these burdens by providing sommeliers with access to resources  such as trips, classroom activities and scholarships.  The guild has approximately 3100 members and measures success by membership and donation growth.

The Guild is currently headed by Fred Dame, Master Sommelier, who is also its founder.  Fred is supported in his activities by a Board of Directors (of which Andrew is a member) comprised of Master Sommeliers and non-MS members of the Wine and Spirits industry.  The Guild has some paid employees but the majority of the work done by Master Sommeliers in support of its activities is done gratis.  Andrew, for example, knows the level of effort required to gain the knowledge required for qualifications.  He is grateful for what he has accomplished and wants to give back and contribute to the goal-attainment activities of aspiring sommeliers.

In 2010 the Guild held over 18 tasting seminars to include Wines of Germany, Wines of New Zealand, and Wines of Bordeaux.  In 2011 they will be cutting back on these centralized seminar-type tastings and instead will seek to service members where they are.  The Guild will create podcasts and will send out wines to support small-group, podcast-driven tasting events.

The upcoming April 26th tasting has the Guild partnering with Wines of Chile to present an event titled The Real Deal in Chile.  The event will be held at Morton's Steakhouse in Ft. Lauderdale and will feature a two-flight tasting of Chile's "Undiscovered Gems" and "Icons then and now."  The tastings will be led by Fred Dexheimer, Master Sommelier and Wines of Chile Educator.  One of the exciting aspects of this tasting is the opportunity to taste aged Chilean wines and then compare them with current vintages.