Category Archives: Beginner’s Guide

The God of Wine

When I was in high school I was obsessed with Third Eye Blind. My guy friends were more obsessed, and it was the kind of thing that stuck. The summer after high school my friends Rich and Andrew and I drove down to Virginia Beach from New Hampshire with Rich’s family. We listened to Third Eye Blind the entire way, I’m pretty sure.

Anyway, when I wrote the title of this post I remembered that one of their songs was called “God of Wine”. The song has nothing to do with this post. In fact, the lyrics are kind of depressing:

rich_layna_andrew

Rich, Andrew and me circa 2003

[The God of Wine comes crashing through the headlights of a car that

Took you farther than you thought you’d ever want to go.
We can’t get back again.
You can’t get back again.
She takes a drink and then she waits,
The alcohol it permeates.
And soon the cells give way, and cancels out the day.]

Sometimes I get off track. There was absolutely no reason for me to bring any of that up… except that my uncle (my uncle’s husband, actually, but he’s still my uncle, right? That always confuses me.) is back in Washington from their California abode and graced us with his presence for dinner last night. Unfortunately he has been gone since I started this blog because he is a wine god. Like, seriously, he knows about wine. He even had me tell him my menu before he came over so he could pair correctly. And also, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad glass of wine with him. In my head there is, “Wine Elena can afford” and “Wine served by Steve, at fancy restaurants and in France”.  Stupid poor-graduate-school-student thing. Although I would guess our alcohol spending is way outside what is appropriate for our income bracket. We have our priorities straight, people.

For dinner last night I made a lemon chicken marsala with balsamic roasted winter squash wild rice and a mixed green salad with pear vinaigrette. The rice dish was amazing. I made it up from a mesh of like six different recipes, but basically just roasted a winter squash in balsamic, made some wild rice, sautéed garlic, onion and sausage without the casing and then mushed it all together. There were probably some spices in there too. Anyway, it was delicious.

Steve brought a lovely Rosé to start. Rosés hold a special place in my heart because they remind me of lunchtime in summer in Corsica. Very. Specifically.

The Rosé was dark, Steve said as dark as a recent Pinot Noir he’d tried was light. In fact, now that I’m looking at the bottle, it is actually called a dark rosé. The bottle was a 2011 Capture Dark Rosé. It had that nice freshness of a dry rosé. In my opinion, any meal can start with a bottle like this. We had some crackers and chevre out, which I thought was a nice combination.

Next we had our main course and a 2010 Mendel Argentinian Malbec. I had led Steve to believe that we were having a red sauce with the chicken,  but I can’t keep a menu the same for more than 30 seconds so it wasn’t what I ended up making. But anyway, the Malbec was deliciousssss. It is a fairly young Malbec, and yet, it was full and dark and fruity. Apparently this vintage is a good one, or so says the tasting notes that Steve included with the bottle. Told you he was a wine god.

tasting notes

tasting notes

For our third wine of the night, paired with Ukrainian chocolate, we had a 2010 Domaine des Terres de Chatenay Vire-Clessé. I had no idea what that was. According to Wikipedia… “Viré-Clessé is an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) for white wine in the Mâconnais subregion Burgundy in central France, located in the communes of Clessé, Laizé, Montbellet and Viré. Viré-Clessé has Chardonnay as the only allowed grape variety.” And, for those of you not up on French agriculture (how plebeian are you?), “The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) (French pronunciation: ​[a.pɛ.la.sjɔ̃ dɔ.ʁi.ʒin kɔ̃.tʁo.le]), which translates as “controlled designation of origin”, is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the government bureau Institut national des appellations d’origine, now called Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO).”

Anyway, it was also delicious. It is a chardonnay grape, my favorite, rich and crisp at the same time.

wines

Anyway, these weren’t official tastings or anything, but all wines I certainly recommend.

I also recommending going out and getting yourself a wine god  uncle.

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How to Throw a Wine Tasting Soirée

We don’t throw a lot of parties. Intimate gatherings, no problem, but parties… they’re a lot of work. I like the planning process until like a day before when I inevitably panic and decide A) no one is going to show up or B) it’s going to end like that party when I was 18 where I was arrested for “internal possession of alcohol” (seriously, that happened).

A few weeks ago I got the idea to have a wine tasting for my graduate school class. “What better cohort-bonding is there?” I thought. I threw out the idea and there seemed to be some interest which is how this whole wine-tasting party came to be. The premise was simple (and based on my birthday party last year). Everyone brings a bottle (or food), we cover the labels and we write down our humble opinions and ratings of each bottle.

The tasting was slated to begin at 4:30 pm and by 5:00 no one had shown up. It was kind of my worst nightmare. I threw a party and nobody came. But then everybody came and we had an amazing time. It was super laid back and I have a sneaky suspicion that that was a welcome relief to those in the room who may not have taken my suggestion (from a previous blog post) and read “The Ultimate Wine Companion edited by Kevin Zraly (buy it here) from cover to cover.

Cohort 12 Wine Tasting

Tasting

Tasting

Tasting

In total, we had 13 bottles, 9 red and 4 white.

1. Altes Herencia 2011 Garnatxa Negra (Spain)

2. Acronym  2011 Red Wine Blend (Pinot Noir/Syrah)  (California, USA)

3. Charles Shaw 2011 Shiraz (California, USA)

4. Colpetrone 2007 Montefalco Sagrantino (Italy)

5. Bay Moon 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (California, USA)

6. Clos Du Bois 2010 North Coast Chardonnay (California, USA)

7. Dr. L Reisling (Germany) [Label was peeled off, not sure what year, best guess 2010]

8. Argento 2010 Malbec (Argentina)

9. House Wine Red 2010 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc) (Washington, USA)

10. Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates 2010 Merlot (California, USA)

11. Acronym  2011 Red Wine Blend (Pinot Noir/Syrah)  (California, USA)

12. Arcangelo 2010 Negroamaro Salento (Italy)

13. Waterbrook 2010 Chardonnay (Washington, USA)

Bottles

The Stats:

1. Altes Herencia 2011 Garnatxa Negra (Spain) 4.8

2. Acronym  2011 Red Wine Blend (Pinot Noir/Syrah)  (California, USA) 6.6

3. Charles Shaw 2011 Shiraz (California, USA) 4.9

4. Colpetrone 2007 Montefalco Sagrantino (Italy) 6.2

5. Bay Moon 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (California, USA) 4

6. Clos Du Bois 2010 North Coast Chardonnay (California, USA) 5.4

7. Dr. L Reisling (Germany) [Label was peeled off, not sure what year, best guess 2010] 5.7

8. Argento 2010 Malbec (Argentina) 6.1

9. House Wine Red 2010 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc) (Washington, USA) 6.7

10. Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Estates 2010 Merlot (California, USA) 6.1

11. Acronym  2011 Red Wine Blend (Pinot Noir/Syrah)  (California, USA) 7.4

12. Arcangelo 2010 Negroamaro Salento (Italy) no score

13. Waterbrook 2010 Chardonnay (Washington, USA) no score

Iku Tasting

The results are fascinating. The #2 and #11 wines were the same bottle (unbeknownst to those tasting) and both came out near the top, although #11 won by quite a bit. Not every person tasted every wine, so that could have something to do with it, but even people who scored both the #2 and the #11 were different. But, if you read the tasting notes carefully, people did detect similar tastes in both.

Coming  in second was #11, another blend. Fourth was number #4, which happened to be my personal favorite. A funny thing did happen when tasting. Someone else had number 4 and said he didn’t like it. Immediately I started to second guess my opinion. That’s the thing with wine tasting, it really is about subtleties and can be influenced by many factors.

The last two wines were not scored. This is completely my fault, as my sheet to fill out only went to 11. I meant for people to fill out 12 and 13 on the back, but I think at that point we were all more focused on having a good time.

Some fun tasting notes:

“Smells like Christmas. Initial note of cheap frosting…” -Chris (#11)

“Ruby colored, light smell -slightly smoky. Very fruity taste, sweet and a little dry.” -Lauren (#2)

“Smells slightly skunky. Crisp light. Not much flavor. Like a slightly bitter, watery grape juice. -Carrie (#3)

Tasting

Wine tasting

Conclusions:

This was so much fun. Having a party like this is a great way to try different wines, but also a good chance to discuss those wines.

The wine I chose was number 2, the Acronym Pinot Noir/Syrah. I chose it kind of accidentally. I was talking to my brother, who has become somewhat of a NY wine expert, and was hoping he could help me choose a really nice East-Coast wine. He asked me to take a picture of the NY wine section at the store I was at and then send it to him. Turns out, there was no one bottle of NY wine there. I had to ask the wine steward if he had any NY Pinot Noir. He said no. I said NY anything. He said. No. And then I told him I was doing a tasting and he said, “Do you want to get crazy?” I was like, “of course I do” and he suggested the bottle I bought. So imagine my surprise when I found out someone else brought the EXACT SAME BOTTLE. (As I mentioned before.) Crazy, right?

For future tastings, I would need to find a better way to keep white wines chilled. And by a better way, I mean any way at all.

All in all, though, this is a party everyone should throw at least once!

Wine Tasting

Tasting

tasting

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Your Wine Tasting Cheat Sheet

Doing some wine tasting tonight? Print this easy  cheat sheet to take along with you!

Wine Tasting Cheat Sheet

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Wine App Review: Vivino

Although I probably spend more time with my iPhone than with my husband, I’m really not a huge app user. Sure, I have like a gazzilion of them, but besides Facebook and The Stranger’s “Cocktail Compass” Happy Hour finder (download that right now if you’re in Seattle) I tend to veer more towards Google when I need something an app could provide. But my app-free life might be about to change because… dun dun dun… There are WINE APPS out there. Quite a few, actually (ask Mashable). I’ll give you a moment to let your pulse slow after that incredibly exciting piece of news.

I decided to download one to try it out and chose Vivino because Forbes  said it was cool. And it’s free. And is SCANS wine bottles which is awesome.

After downloading the app, signing up with Vivino, creating a profile and connecting to Twitter I was ready to use my new app. The first thing I wanted to try was scanning a bottle. I had that we’ve been saving for ages, a wedding gift from my friends John and Joe. I grabbed it and followed the  instructions to “scan” a bottle, which basically just had me take a picture of the label. Seconds later it KNEW MY WINE. And blew my mind. It identified the bottle as an Elderton Barossa Command Shiraz. 4 stars with a consistantly HIGH rating in a variety of categories.

Vivino App

Vivino App

The page told me a little about the wine, pairings and serving tips and allowed me to rate it myself and add some notes about it. Then it takes the scanned wine and puts it in my “my wines” category for me to go back to if I want to.

Pretty amazing because I am constantly buying wines, loving then and then promptly forgetting what the heck I bought. The app seems to be trying to build a kind of social network where you can see what your friends’ wines are and people can follow you and you can get “badges”. I already have three, somehow.  This is all well and good, but only useful if your friends are on the app too. Mine aren’t. Yet. Get on it, people. You can download it here.

(Note: This App is available for iPhone and Android phones. You can also download an “older” version for Windows phones and even if you have a BlackBerry.)

This app seems very useful for two reasons. 

1) Remembering wines I like

and 2) Checking out wines in a store and instantly being able to see their ratings and reviews with the click of the camera button

Also, it’s really fun to take pictures of a label and have the app identify it. REALLY fun.

I’m going to go scan all the wines in my wine rack, see you later wine lovers.

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How to Taste Wine

Wine Bottle and Glass

This is how I used to taste wine:

1.) Drink whole tasting glass of wine really fast

2.) Declare “I loveeeee this!”

or

Some vague complaint like, “It’s too sweet”. I associate bad wine and sweet wine… just not my thing. My husband, on the other hand loves sweet wines (something about being Ukrainian, I think). It brings me to one of the fundamental questions I hope to answer with this blog: How does one distinguish a “bad wines” from a wine you just don’t like. Can I appreciate a good bottle of Gewürztraminer even if I don’t like it? 

This is how I will taste wine starting… now: 

1.) Memorize a handful of words used to describe wine. Like:

Acidity, Balance, Body, Bouquet/nose, Concentrated, Extract, Finish, Fruity, Legs, Length, Mouthfeel, Structure, Tannin

Really great (and funny, score!) descriptions of these concepts can be found here in Boston Magazine. I will attempt my own definitions once I understand these words (as they apply to wine tasting) a little bit better.

2.) Make sure the wine is out of reach of the dog

Sam and wine

Sam making sure the wine is good enough for me to drink.

3.) Evaluate wine by sight

4.) Evaluate wine by smell

5.) Evaluate wine by taste

Wine Enthusiast Magazine has a great guide on how to taste wine. It goes over these last three steps in great detail. I think I may have to do some printing and memorizing. Stay tuned for my first official wine-blog tasting coming up later in the week!

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What Makes a Good Wine? (And my goals to find out!)

Years ago my grandparents had the basement storage unit in their Paris apartment broken into. It was filled only with bottles of wine (as I like to imagine all Parisian storage units are) and the thief stole all of them except for the few less expensive bottles that he or she left in the middle of the room as if to say, “I know good wine”.

But what makes wine “good”?

I know what I consider good glass of wine (and at this point I base that on two very broad things: taste and price), but give that same glass to some of my more discerning friends and family members and I’m sure they’d disagree. I hope to answer this question eventually, but for now it seems wholly subjective. When I have more of a knowledge base and  vocabulary I will better be able to tackle the concept of quality in wines and pinpoint what aspects of a glass make it better or worse.

My goal in the next couple of months is to learn how to intelligently taste a wine, describe its attributes and identify what makes a wine “good”(at least according to the experts). On the weekend of December 1st I will host my own wine tasting for friends to demonstrate what I’ve learned. 

wine in Paris

Bottles of wine at my grandparent’s house

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