Posts Tagged ‘wine tasting’

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

Old World VS New World – And a Few Shades of Grey

Monday, August 5th, 2013

It’s no secret that people define wines by which side of the tracks they came from. Not always rightfully so, but this dividing line between wines of the Old World and wines of the New World has been an everlasting regularity for decades upon decades. This juxtapose of styles has influenced many people’s opinions to the point where wines might as well be from two different planets. So what is it that spells out Old World versus New World? Grown and produced throughout Europe, Old World wines tend to bear characteristics of fresh fruit, acidity, minerality, oak spices, and maintain a more modest austerity and alcohol level. On the other hand, New World wines typically express riper fruit, vanilla and coconut flavors, lower acidity, somewhat astringent tannin, higher viscosity, and ultimately higher levels of alcohol. Sounds easily definable right? Well, unfortunately there is often a lot of crossover which makes for many shades of grey. Food and Wine Magazine Guide to Wine author Mary Burnham recently popped into the SF Wine Center to help puzzled students put some of the pieces in the right places. Blindly tasting several sets of wines, students were put to the test to see if they could figure out which wines were Old World and New Old. Here’s a taste of what we figured out…

Let’s start with a quick comparison of two of the wines we tasted. Wine #1 was a lemon-colored and light bodied wine with zesty acidity and hints of green apple, lime juice, and flinty minerality. Wine #2 was slightly golden in color and had more weight in the mouth, a creamier texture, and notes of ripe peach, melon, and vanilla oil. So which is which? You guessed it. Wine #1 is a Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2010 exemplifying the Old World while wine #2 is a 2009 Mayacamas Chardonnay from the Napa Valley. And now that we know that, what is it that creates this often inarguable diversity between OW and NW? Climate is a rather crucial aspect as some OW regions struggle to have enough sunshine and heat to reach full ripeness while most New World regions have too much of a good thing and often end up overripe because of it. What happens in the vineyard can also affect the wine styles as many OW producers practice manual harvesting and most NW producers take advantage of mechanization. Legal matters in the vineyard can also influence the wines; an example being that irrigation is not permitted in many OW countries so the vineyards are left to fend for themselves in the pursuit of water. And certainly not least is the impact of aging methods. OW producers aging their wines in French oak barrels will impart hints of oak spices, smokiness, and leather. Many NW producers using American oak barrels will grant their wines more buttery notes alongside vanilla and coconut. So all in all, it would seem that easy to tell the difference, right? Mother Nature has other plans and is presenting them by way of global climate change which is affecting European wine regions as we speak. And as if that wasn’t adding enough confusion to the pile, more and more California producers are switching to French oak while some Tuscan producers have recently started to experiment with American oak. So what it comes down to is that all of these grey areas start to raise the question of the century– is NW and OW simply black and white or is there currently a changing of the tides?

-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

Wine Collecting – Not Just for the Rich and Famous

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

“Wine collecting”… the term itself could indeed sound a bit posh. Many probably hear that and envision an aristocrat resembling the Monopoly guy wearing a monocle and speaking of his fine wine collection in his South London accent. Well fast-forward that skewed perception and welcome to the 21st century. Nowadays, collecting wine can be seen as both a well endeavored cultural pastime for everyday wine drinkers and also a thriving business model for savvy investors. For example, ask someone who purchased allocations of Bordeaux 30 years ago what the price point of their wines were back then and what they are selling at now; we’re talking massive amounts of ROI on those wines. Okay fine, so that is best case scenario and will certainly not be the case with all wine. But at the end of the day, there is a highly justifiable reason why wine auction houses across the globe continue to flourish. Not particularly interested in purchasing wine for investment purposes? No problem. Collecting wine goes much further than gobbling up a bunch of them just to sell them via auction many years later. There are also more humble and personal benefits to purchasing wines by the dozen. What could these benefits be? Here’s just a taste of ‘em…

As we dive into this topic there is one key element to remember in all of this. Bar the mass-produced bulk wines that are made from grapes that came from who knows where, when it comes to the rest of the wine industry, each bottle that you hold in your hands is in fact a rare item. Unlike other beverages that are made consistently with the same ingredients and recipes year after year, wine is made from a fresh fruit that is exceedingly sensitive to different factors and fluctuates substantially from region to region and year to year. Safely stated, wine is not in never-ending supply. Realistically, with each wine and each vintage, there really are only a select amount of bottles floating around out there. So as far as buying them goes, the wines that you like are more than just limited in supply, they can be strait up difficult to acquire. This is one of the main reasons why the best wines in the industry are sold as en primeur, aka “wine futures”, and a great example being that wines from Bordeaux’s top estates are completely sold well before they even make it out of the barrel. Now once you’ve decided to purchase some wine, something you may notice if you choose to buy by the case is that cost wise it typically tends to work out a better price per bottle than if you bought a single bottle alone. True, doing that once is not going to move mountains in money savings, but if that becomes habit the money you save over the years will be more than just nickels and dimes. And as an additional bonus, the next time you have a last minute dinner party to attend or run out of time to buy a gift for a special occasion, you have your collection of wines to save the day. Now with all of these benefits, you mustn’t forget how vitally important it is to make sure you are storing them properly. By storing them in a temperature and humidity controlled environment, such as a wine refrigerator in your home or a wine storage facility such as the SF Wine Center, you’ll get to fruitfully experience the full range of progression that your wines evolve into. From their bright and sparky youth all the way to their sophisticated maturity, you get to be there along for the ride. So there you have it, collecting wine is not just a snooty hobby for the culturally elite; it’s something that all of us everyday wine drinkers will benefit from. But hey, if you really want to act out the part why not slap on a monocle and fake Franz Ferdinand mustache, you know, just for kicks.

-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