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SavorEachGlass Blog

Bridging the Gap - The "Talk"

Written on Thursday, April 19, 2007 by Frank and Peigi

People new to wine may have a vague feeling that they like white, or red, or maybe rose wine, but they may have no idea how to describe why, nor to understand the language that is necessary whether you are ordering wine for a dinner out or walking the walk down to your local wine shop to pick up a bottle or two of, say, white wine.  This is where several things can help: some familiarity with the vocabulary (talking the talk), some tastings; getting together with other people, like a group of friends or perhaps joining an on-line wine discussion forum, and visiting wine websites.
It is useful to think of wine vocabulary as similar to discussing food.  Is it sweet, sour, or  spicy?  With foods, these terms may refer to the food itself, as apricots, or ice cream.  With wines, the terms have to do with the aroma of the wine and its taste.  Wine making is a process that involves grapes - their type, the soil, the climate, the type of barrel they are aged in, and their fermentation into wines.  The wine doesn’t have additives like apricots, but some wines may smell and taste of apricots because of those other factors.  So you need to consider what you think you like in wine:  something sweet and light (perhaps a Riesling) or maybe something dry and crisp (a Pinot Gris or Grigio).  Do you like acidic wines, that go well with spicy foods (think Italian Chianti), or maybe you prefer a pungent wine with peppery spice and an exotic hint of foreign lands (Australia - think Shiraz).  Or you may like more alcohol, as in a California blend that might be 15 or 16% alcohol as opposed to the usual 13-14%.   The first step is observing your response to a wine as you might  a food.  What turns you on?
Next, having noted what you think you like,  check out something like, a very good website for words and their meanings in wine talk. This site has color coded sections, "so simple a cave man could understand them," and a look at this as you try to apply your mind to what you want to taste or have tasted, can be helpful.  Here you will get descriptions of types of grapes, growing areas, New World and Old World, and other information that you can use to refine your experience.  Also there are various wine forums, including a Wine 101 one, that could be fun.
In our first column we suggested taking notes, perhaps note cards or setting up a file, to help record your impressions and give you a start.  Wine 101 also has some forms that you can print to help you do this.  There are at least 8000 different descriptive terms and sensory perceptions applicable to wine, and a beginner can get overwhelmed, but keep in mind that you are not trying to test for your Master  Sommelier, you are trying to understand your experiences and be able to explain them to someone else.
As you go through all of this, record names and characteristics of wines you consider of interest.  Then select a particular type, say  white chardonnay, and get ready for that first walk.  A few chardonnays that we have liked, including the price, are these:  Red Bicyclette Chardonnay 2004, from France, a crisp, tart wine and usually priced around $8-9; Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend Chardonnay 2003 from California, hints of melon and oak cask; and A by Acacia Chardonnay 2005, also from California, an interesting blend of vines from all over California, with hints of pear and tropical fruit on the nose.  This wine is about $13, so a little more money for an unusual wine.

Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap: In Pursuit of Wine Enjoyment for Novices

Written on Friday, March 16, 2007 by Frank and Peigi

In this column, we want to share with all, regardless of age, our experiences, good and bad, as we try to bridge the many gaps we have encountered in our endeavors to go from wine ignorance to wine enlightenment. Twenty-somethings and sixty-somethings on up, may also have trouble doing this. Both groups often have a limited budget and may be early on the wine scene in the one case, or late, as retirement occurs and they discover they like wine and know little about it. The gaps we plan to discuss include the mystiques of wine making, wine touring, wine tasting, and wine costs. We begin with wine tasting, which sounds simple enough unless you have just missed five out of seven wines, like we did at a recent wine tasting. Embarrassing! We have learned that a good sommelier (wine expert) is critical for a successful beginning wine taster, to help guide you through the hundreds of adjectives describing aspects of wines, such as appearance, nose, and taste.

One of the easier distinctions to make in tasting wine, is that between Old World wines, from Europe, and New World offerings (the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa). The Old World wines, very briefly, tend to be richer, stronger, with leathery and oak hints. The New World has many of the same grapes, but the offerings are perhaps crisper and more fruit-forward. Any more, it may be hard to tell if a wine is Old or New, but it's fun to try, and we recommend that you keep note cards or a notebook as you try out different wines, and record the color, the taste, what you think it might go well with, and the price, so you can remember and add to this data as you learn more.

At one recent blind tasting, we had trouble distinguishing between an excellent twenty dollar bottle of wine versus a ten dollar bottle of wine. This leads us to believe that there are many delicious wines in the ten dollar and below price range, that are perfectly acceptable wines. Future columns will address the benefits of tastings, both to try out wines and to see how much we've learned, but in this first effort, we have three good, inexpensive wines to recommend.

In a wine discussion, it is usually best to start with a white, and the New Zealand New Haven, 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, is a very nice wine, with a pale, clear color; a strong citric nose (odor, to the newbees), and a value price to go with its pure dry self. This wine, at about $12.00 a bottle, would work well with appetizers, for cocktails, and for seafood or pasta dishes.

Next, from Spain, we loved a Roman de Bilbao 2003 Tempranillo, priced around $10.00, and giving that Old World contrast with its clear, bright but deep red color, and an earthy, slightly leathery, black cherry/strawberry nose. This would be good for cocktails, perhaps with some kind of meat appetizer, as well as making a pairing with a nice prime rib.

Finally, another Old World wine, France’s Tortoise Creek Merlot, 2003. This has a darker color, a richer nose, almost like a Cabernet, and a really wonderful price of under $8 a bottle, so you can splurge on a fine steak and have a terrific dinner

Bridging the Gap