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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Androgynous and Ambiguous - Not Adjectives for Wine...

We created a game 6 years ago called, 'who is this wine,' where we had to 'name' the wine that we were drinking, ie; Clint Eastwood vs Clark Gable, Selma Hayek vs. Sigourney Weaver.  Not only was it about whether the wine was male or female, but also what kind of personality the wine had.  Obviously you can not play this game with wines that don't tell you anything about who they are...

This past week I attended two tastings; one was a double blind tasting of 6 white wines, and the other was during a trip to Val d'Aosta, where at one of the estates we did a tasting of 24 varietal based wines, 8 of which were white.  I can't begin to describe how different these tastings were.

The blind tasting was ridiculous, Fabrizio and I taste wines almost every day, often from all over Italy, and at times from all over Europe.  These were ALL Italian wines, and we were not able to identify ONE, and the sad part was, we were not even able to identify correctly and with certainty the region.  To be honest, at first we looked at one another remarking, 'wow, we really suck,' then as we listened to the rest of the 'tasters,' re-tasted, re-nosed, again, and again, and again... we realized something (besides the fact that we were starting to catch a serious buzz from trying so hard to peg these wines).

All these wines were TRYING to be something, they were manipulated, none spoke of a particular terrior, none had the typical characteristics that you jump out at you and say, "I'M VERDICCHIO AND I'M PROUD."  We could smell the sulfur, we could smell and feel the wood, we could tell that there were a lot of aromas jumping out that were from selected yeasts, aging vessels, vinification methods, instead of from the climate, variety and age of the wine. One wine a few of us were certain was from Tuscany, and around the 2001 mark (and I was hedging on a Merlot, there were NO tannins, and very low acidity and little to no fruit left, so not Cab, or Sangiovese)... it was a 2007 Nebbiolo from northern Piedmont!!  Upon seeing the sneaky smirk on the sommelier leading the tasting's face when we made our 'guess,' Fabrizio said;

"Please please please don't tell me this wine is a Nebbiolo!"

It was an insult to Nebbiolos.... we sent a silent apology to all the other Nebbiolos that we know and love.

I named this wine 'Pat' from SNL!

It is easy to understand immediately a wine when you are given some facts up front, when you are looking at the label and variety, and you know, or you can guess and/or see more or less what kind of estate it is, whether they produce wines naturally or use chemicals and selected yeasts.  Whether their production is 500,000 bottles a year, or 50,000 bottles a year.  Whether it is a farmer and/or artist making the wine, or a celebrity, politician or businessman.  Whether the wine was born out of a family history and passion for a terrior, or born out of the desire to make money, get the 'points,' and hence some fame.

Point is, we did not correctly guess one.

On the other hand, at the tasting in Val d'Aosta, the wines were honest, while the 'producer' was actually 'Institut Agricole Regional/Aoste' (an agricultural institute and learning foundation), and the vineyards are not farmed organically (they use herbicide, sucked), they do however try to work with their varieties and with respect to their beautiful land and backdrop.  The scope of this school (more or less) is learning which terrior each variety wants, working and learning about the indigenous varieties of Val d'Aosta, and how and each needs to be managed in the vineyards as well as in the cellar.  This school does not make any money on the sale of these wines, but the money for the sale of all of these wines go back into the foundation to pay for the costs, the students and the employees.  It is non profit so to speak.  This is another telling piece in why the difference, the wines were 'grown' and 'vinified' in order to learn more about these varieties in particular terrior... not to please a particular audience.  The wines that spoke to us were; Petit Arvine, the Pinot Gris as well as the Monchoisi which was a classic method sparkling wine made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir (this last wine being the biggest surprise ... it was beautiful, balanced, playful, pleasing and not ostentatious, what a nice refreshing change in a classic method wine).  I could smell and taste these varieties, and although all 8 were from the same estate, and the same region, they could not have been each more unique and his/her own.  The only disappointment was the Pinot Noir, that would have been a wine for the previously mentioned blind tasting that was full of all the ambiguous and androgynous wines...

Point and lesson for me; if you can't find the varietal in the glass, at least something that tell's you it's him or her, on the nose, in the mouth, on the finish - hell, even in the color... change wines!

-Summer


Val d'Aosta line up


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