Friday, August 24, 2012

Doon, Been, What, Huh? - Matters of Experience

The wine bloggers conference is a lot of things to a lot of people, or it should be. No matter what bent gets you fired up to attend the paramount issue is that you really live the experience. Too much note taking, snapping of photos and digital discourse and the risk of missing the moment increases. Too little time out on the trail and limited socializing can leave one with a sterile experience. The balance is different for everyone, but the pursuit of this balance is a worthy goal for all.

Sentiment about the value experience was presented clearly and without nuance (well, a little) by Randal Grahm in his keynote to open the conference. For my readers who don’t know who Randall Grahm is the information in hisbio will introduced you to this talented, interesting, thought provoking and real voice in the wine world. Grahm has engaged and inspired people with both his wine and his writing. A mélange of both can be found in Been Doon So Long, Grahm's James Beard Award Winning book, and blog of the same name.

I first recognized an old friend in the theme about experience as Grahm posited that wine writing is less about the wine and what the wine evokes in you the writer. His quote that made this point with absolute clarity was “show up for the wine.” Hell yeah! You can’t expect to really have any experience if you don’t show up. Showing up is visceral. Showing up requires senses and is all about the physical. This is not a digital or virtual pursuit. The method of capturing and sharing your thoughts afterword can be digital, but you can’t put that cart in front of the horse that you need to ride to the party.

I captured this section of his keynote on video and posted it to the conference stream a day later. Since returning home the full video, shot by Austin Beaman with whom I enjoyed dinner later that day, has been posted. I’ve embedded it below. Thanks Austin! Grahm has also shared the fulltranscript of his address in a blog post, which is seeing meaningful comment traffic as one might expect.

One of the other perspectives from Grahm’s keynote was the idea that wine writers could take things to another place by focusing on capturing and expressing the beauty in the wine they drink (or also make in many people’s cases), enjoy and write about. I couldn’t agree more, but I’ll admit that I’m not the guy to pontificate on that. I am still working on that part in my own world. What I can say is that the reason I led off with experience and really living in the moment is that without that you can’t expect to begin to experience, recognize or express beauty.

Grahm touched on a lot of other points and the only reason I’m not covering them here is because what I shared above resonated the most for me. The experience I had immediately after the keynote brought these points full circle in that most serendipitous of ways. Watch the video to see what else he said and take from it what makes the most sense to you!

Right on the heels of the keynote was the first round of speed tasting which has the potential to be the least experiential format for wine, but not always. Sokol Blosser poured their Evolution White for my table. I don’t really know what people think of this wine, and I don’t really care. I like it. It makes me happy. This wine and I have history and that history makes me feel all funny when I get to relive it with each new sip. You see Sokol Blosser Evolution was the first Oregon wine I recall having.

That first experience was before I knew anything at all about wine. I picked the Evolution off a wine list while out to dinner with my wife Margot (married maybe 3-4 years at that point) and solely based on the description fitting my anxiety over selecting something that both she and I would enjoy. And we did. The success of the wine came from its work in both elevating our dining experience AND the boost to my confidence in further integrating wine into our lives. It was the very beginning of something that I have come to cherish. As I was sipping this wine I was thinking about my wife, how young we were when we got married (23&24), how much has changed since I first had the wine and how incredible our journey has been since. This all came back immediately and with an energy I could feel.

Relating the above to Alison Sokol Blosser, who poured the wine during speed tasting, brought my experience to a new place. She smiled, thanked me for sharing my personal connection to her and her family and thus my experience was made grander. At the next break in the action I did go find my wife, gave her a big kiss and explained the experience. This wine is even more special for me now. I have fond memories and have connected my experience with the story of the family who makes it.I will be forever connected to this wine. That’s real life and that’s living one’s experience.

( Margot and I enjoying a day trip to the Oregon coastline post-WBC12. )

Several conference attendees (physical and virtual) have begun to share their thoughts on Randall’s keynote. So far the posts have primarily been the journalistic type, here is who Randall is, here is what he said and maybe in their own word why it is important. I suspect more posts will go up, and I sincerely hope everyone will look to see a reflection of his statements in their own lives to decorate their writing; it really would make it so much more interesting.



Friday, August 10, 2012

Oregon Wine On My Mind

With about one week to go before I head to Portland, OR for the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC12), I’m doing a little reading and research on Oregon wine. I expect I'll be slightly more prepared than without it. Some fluency with the wine-growing regions, climates, producer names, typical grape varieties and styles will go a long way to best contextualize the onslaught of information and experiences that the conference will bring.

We don’t see a lot of wine from Oregon in the New Hampshire State Liquor stores. As of this writing only thirteen selections pop-up in the online inventory listing when you search for “Oregon”. Searching for “Willamette” brings up about twice as many with some overlap, and searching for “Dundee” brings up two more. Familiar names like King Estate, Willamette Valley, Adelsheim, Domaine Serene, Lange and Sokol Blosser are all there. If memory serves I was first exposed to each of those producers from distribution in my home state. Local specialty stores might stock other labels and with more time I could have headed to Massachusetts and try my luck there too. What experience the NH state list does provide me will be enough to enhance my limited knowledge of Oregon wine; whetting my appetite for the much broader range I expect I will be able to sample from next week.

I’ve written about the Evenstad Reserve Pinot from Domaine Serene recently so I didn’t wander back over that ground. That wine was run up side by side with Pinots from a number of other regions and it definitely expressed its virtues and polish clearly. I think I might even have another bottle hiding in my cellar!

One of my local wine blogging friends, Adam Japko, took a look at the Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay from Domaine Serene earlier this year. I didn’t search for that bottling locally, but did easily find the Côte Sud 2007 which is actually the first Chardonnay from Oregon I’ve ever purchased. I know I have tasted Oregonian Chard at the annual Winter Wine Spectacular (Manchester, NH) in the past, but only one or two producers so my experience is truly limited.

This wine pours with a beautiful yellow/gold color with a noticeable minerality in the nose. The mouth is influenced by citrus, white fleshed fruits and nuts. The oak is present, offering a bit of spice, but is restrained and in balance. This is a very elegant wine. The acidity that comes in late and runs with you through the finish brings along hints of citrus.

Pinot Noir is the story most people immediately association with Oregon wine. This certainly makes sense based on the fact that in 2010 Pinot Noir by acre came in at nearly five times higher than the next grape, Pinot Gris. I’ve had a small range of Oregon Pinot both at home and while on a short Pacific Northwest trip in 2010.

I figured I should bone up a bit more using the recent 2009 vintage as a guide. From my local state shop I picked up the following bottles to taste:

The nose on this wine is earthy but not overdone. The wet earth wraps strawberries and cranberries that also follow through on the palate. A spicy character in the mouth feels like it comes from both fruit and oak. The body of the wine of soft and round, presenting very fine tannins. The balance between the unique character and ease of drinking of this wine is what makes it shine. R. Stuart produces other bottlings that likely channel more finesse (I’ll confirm this ASAP), but as an opener this wine set a high enough bar that I definitely want to experience more.

I’m not very enthusiastic about this bottle of wine. I can’t say there were any noticeable flaws, but the wine just didn’t seem right. A green nose, very tart and dry in the mouth and noticeable, rough tannins. It just doesn’t seem like Oregon Pinot to me.

I ended my tastings and reviews with this wine. What a strong finish! The nose is vibrant with fruit and whiffs of wet earth. Dark red fruits abound in the mouth. The wine finishes dry with moderate acidity and very fine tannins. This bottle isn't going to last long! This wine is also an easy drinker like the R. Stuart Big Fire, but with nuance and polish all its own.

What else do I have on my radar?

I have some familiarity with Pinot Gris from Oregon. I enjoy the King Estate Signature Pinot Gris quite a bit and know that I have tasted other bottlings at trade shows and tasting events in the past. I hope to get a much better picture of the range of styles exercised with this grape while on the ground in Oregon.

Warm climate grapes. From my reading of “Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest” I was introduced to the Southern wine-growing regions in Oregon and how the warmer climate there is more conducive to different grape varieties. Tempranillo and Viognier were the first two to jump out at me. I’ve never had either from Oregon before. Cabernet Franc and Syrah are two more that I hope to find well-made versions of.

And of course I hope there are some surprises that I have yet to read about and will add that ever-necessary character to the larger story. Something in this category might be my favorite from the trip and something I find I have to have in my cellar!



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Cocktail in a Wine Bottle – Sangria

Sangria is a wine punch traditionally found in Spain, Portugal and South American countries. The word sangria is Spanish for the act of bleeding. This word was used to describe red wine punches created centuries ago that are now consumed worldwide. It’s is notable that when what we know was modern-day Spain was invaded by the Romans, who planted the early vineyards pretty much everywhere they roamed, they didn’t arrive peacefully. The word sangria may have had a dual meaning early on, to describe both the color of the wines and as a reminder of their bloody origins.  

Sangria is historically a pretty simple concoction, containing wine, fruit, a sweetener and a touch of brandy. Variations that use port, sherry, other spirits and even soda in place of the brandy can be found in countries where sangria is a more contemporary beverage. Common during the warmer months, sangria provides a refreshing way to consume alcohol and liven up those dog days.

While traditionally made from red wine, sangrias made from white, pink and blends of different wines are found on restaurant and bar menus when the mercury rises.  The possibilities are wide open and there is a style for almost anyone, except non-wine drinkers of course!

I’ve been using my homemade wines to make sangria for several years, but I've never solidified the recipes or even repeated any of them. I did post the recipe for one version from the Summer of 2011. Several of the wines used in that version are no longer available in my cellar, making it very much a one-night-only affair! In the picture above a homemade red sangria stands stoically behind a couple of cocktails that probably weren't half as refreshing. 

For the 2012 Independence Day holiday I volunteered to bring three kinds of sangria to the annual cookout at our friends’ Ed & Jim’s place. It was hot and humid out that day and the sangria flowed. I made red, pink and white versions using different wines, juices and fruits. The pink and white versions were the fan favorites, reminding me that Americans don’t have the same tendencies to drink chilled red wine on a hot day as our European brethren do.

I’ll finish this post with the recipes from this most recent outing. With about a month or so of summer to remaining in the US, these might be just the thing you need on your next day around the pool. If you are going to take your sangria on the road make sure you have a cooler large enough to store the vessel, extra ice and plastic cups to serve your friends.

Ancient Fire Red Sangria

1 magnum Ancient Fire 2010 Tempranillo
2 plums, sliced
1 canister cranberry/white grape juice concentrate
½ can tart cherries in juice
¼ cup Fonseco Port wine

Ancient Fire Pink Sangria

2.5 bottles Ancient Fire 2009 Australian Riverland Reserve white wine
8 large strawberries, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
2 canisters Berry Sunsplash juice concentrate
¼ cup cognac

Ancient Fire White Sangria

2.5 bottles Ancient Fire 2011 Pinot Gris
2 large mangoes, chopped
1 orange, sliced
2 canisters tropical fruit juice concentrate
¼ cup Triple-sec



Friday, August 3, 2012

Mini-Review – Casa Marin Sauvignon Gris

I don’t write a lot of review-only posts these days. I've never said I wouldn't ever post one, this is all because I don't think the format is all that useful; I just figured that if something truly interesting came along I would feel like writing about it.

When I saw the grape Sauvignon Gris on the label I had to look again. After the second glance I knew I had never heard of or had tasted wine made from this grape before. Quick research indicated it is a clonal mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, is minimally planted worldwide but is seeing a resurgence of interest in Chile, New Zealand and the Graves region in France. Interesting enough to give it a shot!

The specific bottling I added to my cellar was the 2010 Casa Marin Estero.

This wine balances flowers, nuts, citrus and some green components in the nose. Because 70% of this wine was aged in oak, touches of brown spices and vanilla wrap melon and in the mouth. The wine is luscious and mouth filling. Contrasting other typically oaked whites, Chardonnay I’m talking about you, the acidity holds through the finish where it is mixed with nuttiness and hints of bitter orange. Clean and crisp, this wine really demands to be enjoyed!

The first pairing I threw at this wine was a last-minute-scramble of a pizza whose sauce was made from avocado, garlic and balsamic vinegar. I added garden fresh tomatoes and basil, topping it off with two year old Grafton cheddar cheese. The match didn’t transport me anywhere, but the mélange of flavors was handled well by the wine and the acidity helped clean up the creamy avocado.

So I learned something new this week and enjoyed the experience. That is worth writing about.