Posts Tagged ‘wine class’

A Thin Line Between OW and NW

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Three weeks into our fall wine school season here at the SF Wine Center and I must say that one thing has already stood out to me. Within these first few classes we’ve done several side by side blind tastings of grape varieties in both their Old World and New World forms. Some found it relatively easy to decipher which was which while many were left giving the top of their heads a nice little scratch. So I began to wonder, why are wine styles that have historically been considered ‘night and day’ from each other nowadays blurring the lines? The answer to that is complicatedly simple. When it comes to producing wines that compare in style and quality to their Old World counterparts, these days New World producers are pinning the tail closer to the donkey’s…well, you know. They are doing so by investing more time, money, and attention into mimicking the ways of the Old World. The overall picture is based on less interference with the wines and allowing them to express their natural character and terroir. In the vineyard they are putting more focus on site selection and meticulous viticulture methods while in the winery they are investing in better equipment to create more hygienic and delicate winemaking conditions. Another key factor is that they are finding ways to less abrasively impart oak to the wines by paying the extra dollars for French oak, using more neutral oak, and sometimes skipping oak all together. Okay, okay, so now let’s have a taste of what this all means…

The first example I’ll use is a Sauvignon Blanc that we tasted. It was crisp with aromas of green apple, grapefruit, elderflower, bay laurels, and a hint of smoky minerality. Perhaps a wine from Sancerre? Nope. Instead, this refreshing wine hails from Casablanca, Chile. Example number two is a Riesling that expressed aromas of ripe pear, melon, jasmine, and developing hints of kerosene and eucalyptus. This could have very well passed for a German Trocken wine that was grown near a patch of gum trees, but naturally it is from none other than the Barossa Valley of Australia. On to example number three, this wine had soft-tannin and a masculine complexity that presented nuances of red cherry, smoked meat, leather, and forest floor. All of the right pieces were there to be on par with a Gevrey-Chambertin with a bit more backbone, but instead this Pinot Noir came from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Our last example is a deep colored Nebbiolo with high acidity and powdery tannin with flavors of black cherry, plum, rose, and earthiness. Less reflective of Barolo and more similar to a Valtellina Nebbiolo, this wine is from Paso Robles, California and is but one of many examples of Italian varietals showing some great potential here in the Golden State. So with all of these examples, we can all agree that New World producers have been stepping up their game to continue giving Old World wines a run for their money. But hey, Old World producers can’t be too upset about it… Imitation IS the best form of flattery.

-Julie Albin

Brown Bagging – The Art of Blind Wine Tasting

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Sipping on booze concealed inside of a brown paper bag… sounds like something you’d catch Jay and Silent Bob partaking in while standing in front of the local convenient store. But when it comes to tasting wine, it’s time to toss out that old stigma because brown-bagging wine and tasting it blindly is serious business. Both newcomers and wine professional implement this practice as it really is the only way to form non-skewed evaluations of wine. Not judging a book by its cover is one thing. Not judging a wine based on the information printed on the label? That takes hard work and brown-bagging is the way to do it. One thing that just about all wine lovers can agree on is that it’s both exciting and entertaining to taste wine and try to guess what it is. But in reality, that isn’t what this is all about. It’s about improving your skills at fully interpreting the wine you are drinking in a completely unbiased manner. Recently Food & Wine Magazine’s Guide to Wine author Mary Burnham stopped by the SF Wine Center to help guide the blind, tasters that is, along a comprehensive tasting eight different wines; all of which were indeed veiled inside of brown bags. Wine professionals follow an incredibly intricate, perplexing, and sometimes stressful system of evaluation. But for the sake of class, we stuck with a more basic method and kept it pleasant. That being said, even this “simplified” method is still very complex by nature, but when it comes to wine that usually means you’re doing it right. So twist that brown paper around the bottle’s neck and have a blind taste of what we learned…

We’ll start with the obvious and first look at the wine’s appearance, observing its clarity and color hues. For whites this can range from lemon-green to deep amber while red wines will range from purple all the way to brown. As the wine’s color will transform with age, typically the older the wine the deeper the white or the fainter the red. Moving up into the nostrils, we first want to take a light puppy sniff of the wine and make sure it’s not faulty – aka corked, spoiled, or just plain old over the hill. Wine’s okay? Then we’re okay. Next, you want to take a few more light whiffs of your wine and think about the flagrant aromas that leap out of the glass and into your nose. Once you have them in mind, you want to categorize those aromas into primary (typically fruit), secondary (imparted by production methods such as oak barrels or yeast), and tertiary (effects of aging such as savory or earthy expressions). And now on to the palate where things can get a bit more technical. The sweetness level of the wine is quite a distinguishable facet and can range from bone-dry to luscious. Sweet or not sweet, is the level of acidity in this wine high enough to cause your mouth to pucker up or does its lack of acid leave the wine tasting syrupy on the tongue? Another unavoidable complex is tannin, which is the graininess caused by grape skins. Do the wine’s tannins feel austere and robust? Are they more restrained and elegant? Or are they a juxtapose of powerful yet velvety? After that is probably a good time to think about the wine’s body, considering the sheer weight of the wine on your tongue. Once you have done so, try repeating a similar process as you did on the nose and consider the flavor components that you notice. Again, instead of just listing every single fruit you detect, think in categories such as fruit, floral, herbal, spices, oak, minerality, and so on. Now once you’ve either spit or swallowed the wine, take a final moment to acknowledge the length. Do the flavors continue to linger causing you to remain in a state of utopian bliss? Or do they quickly fall off of a cliff, leaving your palate curiously wondering if that was all a dream?

-Julie Albin

New World vs. Old World Comparative Tasting

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

This past Tuesday we welcomed back our wonderful and ever-smiling Food & Wine Magazine Guide to Wine author Mary Burnham to lead one of her favorite classes, a blind comparative tasting of New World vs. Old World wines.  Those who joined us for this exciting class varied from veterans of the wine business all the way to budding wine enthusiasts.

Mary began the class by presenting some useful information in order to detect what might be from the New World or what is clearly from the Old World.  After setting the class up with these helpful hints we dove right into wines.  Blindly tasting the wines in pairs, each couple represented the same grape varietal, the same vintage, but one presenting the New World and one for Old World.  Without knowing which was which, we had to follow our noses, eyes, and palates to help us uncover these mysteries.  After discussing our observations of each wine and just before Mary would unveil what the wines were, we conducted a vote to see who preferred which.  And the winner?  A very close match at 3-2 and the winner was….Old World!

Out of all of our paired wines, here was the comparison that I found most intriguing.  Knowing that both are from the 2011 vintage, you guess the varietal and which is the New World and Old World!    (Answer at the bottom)

  1. 1. Yellow hued, off-dry, medium body, medium (+) acid, complex with hints of key lime, passionfruit, lychee, orange blossom, honeysuckle, jasmine, apparent yet subtle minerality, and a long white pepper finish.

  1. 2. Pale gold, just slightly effervescent, light body, medium acid, fruity and herbal with notes of ripe peach, apricot, cinnamon, lime leaf, tarragon, light hint of earthy rubber, and a delicate citrus finish.

Thanks to Mary and Brian for an excellent comparative tasting with superb examples of both New World and Old World!

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Villia Maria Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Cellar Selection – New Zealand
  2. La Poussie Sancerre 2010 – Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, FR
  3. Josef Hogl Riesling Federspiel 2011 – Wachau, Austria
  4. Dr. Konstantin Frank Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2011 – New York State
  5. Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Vergers 2009 – Chard from Cote de Beaune
  6. Rochioli Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2009 – Sonoma, California
  7. Domaine de la Vougeraie Vougeot Clos du Prieure 2009 – Pinot Noir from Cote de Nuits
  8. Bethel Heights Casteel Reserve Eola-Amity Pinot Noir 2009 – Oregon
  9. Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux 2002 – Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley, FR
  10. Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2002 – California


#1   OLD WORLD  –   Josef Hogl Riesling Federspiel 2011 – Wachau, Austria

#2   NEW WORLD –   Dr. Konstantin Frank Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2011 – New York State

The Great White Wines of Burgundy

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Burgundy.  Burgundy.  Burgundy.  And just like Beetlejuice would, the magnificent whites of Burgundy magically appeared in our glasses.   James Beard Award-winning author Jordan Mackay grasped the lead and took us through an epic journey from Chablis all the way down to Mâconnais.  To start the class, Jordan laid out the ground work to help everyone understand and interpret the minerality that is Chablis.  Typically untouched by oak, the Kimmeridgian soils of the area are so perfectly expressed in the wines and give Chablis the timeless minerality and natural acidity that have earned the region the following that it has.

Next we moved on to the notorious Côte-d’Or and then down to Mâconnais, during which we tasted an A-list of wine producers including Leroy, Latour, Leflaive and several more.  As terroir widely differs throughout Burgundy, we examined how well Chardonnay is able to articulate the soils and climate from which it came.  Expressing a broad range of characteristics, the wines tasted blessed our palates with notes of just about everything from lemon zest to green apple to cinnamon and even lightly buttered toast.  Despite the extensive list of characteristics that the class noticed, one thing did seem to appear unanimous…Minerality.

My favorite wine of the night?

Dom. Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Maltroie 1er Cru 1998

At a rather pleasant point of oxidation, this golden-hued wine conveyed the richness of a baked apple layered with cinnamon while carrying the salty bitterness of peanut skins.  Full bodied and still bracing with acidity, this is a wine that’ll send you straight into White Burg bliss.

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes de Sainte Claire 2010
  2. Maison Louis Latour Pouilly Fuisse 2009
  3. Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc 2008
  4. Thierry & Pascal Matrot Puligny-Montrachet Les Chalumeaux 1er Cru 2010
  5. Domaine de la Vougeraie Le Clos Blanc Vougeot 1er Cru 2007
  6. Dom. Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Maltroie 1er Cru 1998
  7. Maison Leroy Meursault 1er Cru 1996
  8. Dom. Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 1995