Sunday, November 22, 2009

From Novice to Connoisseur?

I’m (relatively) new to wine. Until a couple of years ago, I knew virtually nothing about it, aside from the fact that I preferred white, in part because drinking red makes my teeth turn red and I take on a distinctly vampiric appearance. I was accustomed to letting others order my wine for me at restaurants and wine bars, and trying (and failing) to put on a brave of-course-I-Know-What-I’m-Doing face when having to choose wine at a retail store for a gift or party. In fact, I was reminded of my old self when, while working as a Wine Educator for Wine & Food Associates on behalf of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, I asked a man who was strolling by whether he would like to taste some New York Wine. He replied, “No, that’s okay, I’m not a connoisseur.” Unfortunately, I think a lot of people find wine intimidating and seemingly inaccessible. In fact, one of my instructors wisely noted that (even for connoisseurs) wine is a vast study with a never-ending horizon, always a little beyond our reach.

When I first started my studies, I hadn’t yet evolved from the point of intimidation to inspiration. I got together one night with a few new friends a.k.a. wine geeks after class, and one in particular spoke earnestly about Robert Parker and his Points, offering these stats in conjunction with various wines of which I had never heard. “What are points? Who is Robert Parker?” I innocently asked. The earnest new comrade explained this simple scoring system, and informed me that less than 80 points would surely be swill. Which only made me wonder why it isn’t a 20-point system but I didn’t pose the question. I had revealed too much naiveté already.

Once I had a few good lessons under my belt, however, I was ready to start finding my own path and some inspiration in this new adventure. So, I crashed an industry tasting hosted by one of New York’s celebrity-like importer/distributors. The atmosphere was electric. Winemakers from all over the world were presenting their finest products, and plenty of cheese and espresso were available to keep the industry awake and sober during this full day event. I stole my courage and approached a man who didn’t have a crowd at his table. His name was George Hendry and he is from Napa. He told me that after years of selling his grapes to Mondavi, he decided to use them to make his own wine. As an artist, I was impressed by this potentially risky financial decision to move from essentially working for someone else to creating his own product, his own work. I told him I was really just a student but he was more than happy to share his knowledge and passion with me. I think George Hendry’s wine was much more modest than some of the rock-star wines represented at that event but he stands out for me because he is a man who works his own land, produces his own wine, and wanted to share that with me. I plan to visit his vineyard first the next time I go to Napa. I have a feeling it won’t be sexy or glamorous like we’ve come to expect of Napa, but it will be just what I am looking for.

I am at the beginning of what could be a lifelong process of learning. I am now inspired. I would like to visit small, family run vineyards, gaining experiential knowledge of the grape growers and wine makers, their land, and their craft. If possible, I would like to spend some time working on the land, learning about wine from the very bottom, up. Education thus far has motivated me to want to know more. It has provided me with a sound foundation but I am eager to get to the source of the matter. To me, wine, for all its seeming mystique, cache, and complexity, is at its core, most simply about the land, the people who make it, and the people who drink it.

Rebecca Mills

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How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

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