Wine in the Age of Meaning

2014 Syrah“Some wineries are too big to have a story…or too old to have a story,” was a comment Joy made one night in the wine store.  It struck me as odd to think that a winery could be too old to have a story.  If anything I would think the older wineries would have more stories or at least more interesting stories.  But I suppose she meant that some wineries have been around so long that everyone already knows their stories.

It had been a slow night in the wine store when James, a young man of 20 something came up to me and said, ‘I’ve done all my closing duties and we’ve still got an hour and a half to go.  It’s nights like this I wonder what am I even doing here?  I mean, what am I doing with my life?’

His musing had taken a sharp turn south that I did not see coming.  It is a sentiment I see only distantly in the rear view mirror.  There’s an urge in youth to make every moment meaningful.  I’m not sure if the urge diminishes with age or if the meaning of ‘meaningful’ changes as we mature.

Robert Hall winery is neither too old nor too big.  His story, like others, is that Robert Hall, the man came to wine about 20 years ago after finding success in other careers. The winery is located in Paso Robles, an AVA in California’s central coast in San Luis Obispo County.  In 2014 Paso Robles went from being 1 AVA to 11 AVA’s due to the great diversity in the area’s soil, topography and climate.  But to gain approval as a separate AVA, each region must make its argument to the TTB ( Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau) as to what sets the area apart, what about the region will affect a different wine.  Without delineating the differences, the designated AVA’s would have no purpose.  The distinction would be meaningless.

The 2014 Syrah from Robert Hall is complex with aromas of smoked meat, rich earth, and dark fruits, Bing cherries and black plums.  Well balanced and structured, it is the rich dark fruit of the wine that gives away the wine’s identity as a product of Paso Robles.  Neither young nor mature, this wine is exactly where it should be.


Smell Memory and the Autopsy of a Wine


The best way to learn the smell of bell pepper is to put one in the back of the fridge for a month, then cut it open and take a big sniff. That is the advice we were given at a tasting seminar a few weeks ago. In the seminar Master Sommeliers broke down by chemical and aroma how to identify wines. The smell of bell pepper in wine is caused by pyrazine, a chemical found in the Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. By smelling an aged (rotten) bell pepper we will be cementing a smell memory, making it easier to recall during blind tastings.

The smell of black pepper, found in Syrah and Zinfandel is caused by a chemical rotundone. I had a huge aversion to black pepper during both pregnancies and have avoided it since. So my smell memory for rotundone is non-existent. I’ve been snorting black pepper in my free time in order to cement that memory.

Analyzing the wine by its primary, secondary and tertiary aromas, then dissecting its structure is the most accurate way to identify it. But sometimes it feels like one is trying to identify a friend by taking inventory of his or her physical traits. ‘You have blue eyes and brown hair and are 5’7”, so you must be Rebecca,’ rather than just recognizing one’s friend when one sees her.

I have had so many Napa Chardonnays or ‘Cougar Juice’ as it is affectionately called, I just know it. Is it the nuttiness on the back of my throat from oxidation? Is it the ripe, tropical fruit? Is it the creamy leesiness or the malolactic butteriness? Is it the caramel and spice from the oak aging? No, it’s all of that and more. It’s everything together all at once.

“I always know a Chablis by the smell of chalk,” said my friend, Josh in our tasting group one day. I’ve always been stumped by Chablis. I don’t know what the chalky soils there smell like. But as I smelled the Francine et Olivier Savary Chablis I IMG_1212had a memory, not of soil, but of playing pool with my grandfather, holding the pool cue close to my face watching my grandfather take his shot, which he always made, and smelling the chalk on the cue tip. That’s the smell memory I will associate with Chablis.

Smell memory takes time to develop, and it is an important tool in identifying wine. But smell memory also needs context in order to be meaningful. Wine it seems is more than the sum of its parts.

Those Beaune Wines are Bon!

The Beaune region of France in the Cote d’Or in the northern part of Burgundy is known mainly for its white wine, Chardonnay. That’s because eight of the Grand Cru of Burgundy are in Beaune, and they are almost all, with the exception of Corton, known for their Chardonnay. But just because Beaune produces mainly Chardonnay doesn’t mean that great Pinot Noir can’t be found there. If one is searching for a beautiful red Burgundy that is affordable, the outlying areas of Beaune are a great place to look.

Pinot Noir can be bold and ripe like she is in California. Or she can be tart and a little earthy with layers of interesting things to say, but she says them all in a quiet subtle voice. That’s the Pinot Noir of Beaune.

imageChristophe Buisson’s Saint-Romain just southwest of Pommard and the city of Beaune takes a little time to get to know. She opens up slowly and evolves in the glass like a quiet beauty full of character. She has the red fruit of Pinot, cherry, dried cranberries with notes of purple flowers, hints of rosemary and a splash of wet earth. But the aromas come out slowly and carefully, well positioned on the firm structure of acidity and subtle tannin. She is lovely.

Just northeast of the city of Beaune is Chorey-Les-Beaune. Here Machard de Gramont mimageakes a beautiful red burgundy. The structure is perfectly balanced between acid, tannin and alcohol. On that structure lay the beautiful aromas
of red fruit,
purple flowers, and forest floor. She also opens up slowly. But it is definitely worth the time it takes to get to know this tart, elegant beauty.

Respect: No Results Found

valdicavamontellcino2010“I’d like that Valdicava Brunnello di Montelcino, 2010, please,” she said as I neared the lock box.

“Beautiful choice,” I said as I unlocked the case.

“We’re having it with fondue,” she continued.

I hesitated for a minute, “Meat fondue?” I asked hopefully.

“No, cheese.”

“Would you like to look at some beautiful, aged white Burgundies?” I gently suggested

“No. This is the wine my husband wants.”

Brunello di Montelcino is 100% Sangiovese.  It has the highest requirements for aging of any Italian wine, four years, two of those in oak.  The long oak aging gives the wine tertiary aromas of organic earth such as mushroom and forest floor.  The long bottle aging gives the wine tertiary inorganic aromas of mineral.  The aging will also make the wine more well-integrated and complex.  This is a wine that demands a meaty, hearty dish.  Both the food and the wine  will be enhanced by the pairing.

It’s her money. Who am I to judge. It should be no concern of mine. But there is something vaguely repulsive about handing over a gorgeously aged, fine wine to someone who clearly won’t appreciate and respect the wine.

In a few weeks there will be a march to protest a certain election, and the elected official. When I think about what really bothers me about this election, it comes down to the blatant lack of respect for women. I thought I might find a nice Bible verse to put on my sign that would sum up the importance of treating each other kindly and with respect. But when I went to and put in ‘respect women’ the response I got was ‘no results found.’ And that is what bothers me the most about this election, not just that the candidate has no respect for women, but my country seems to be okay with that.

For people who have no appreciation for the wine, they might call it wine snobbery, while we call it ‘treating the wine with respect.’ For people who aren’t the targets of the disrespect, they might call it ‘being politically correct,’ while we call it being a decent human being.

Make America Kind Again

Paso Ranches Cabernet Sauvignon Paso RoblesYesterday at my tasting table, two gentlemen approached with their infant son. I poured the first wine, Paso Ranches, a Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, with red an black berries and juicy tannins. As I poured I commented, ‘He’s adorable.’ The one father said, ‘Thank you.’ ‘How old is he,’ I asked. ‘Forty two,’ my very funny guest replied. ‘No, I meant the baby,’ I said while laughing, ‘Though your partner is very cute, too.’

The second wine was Crossfork Creek, a Cabernet Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Yakima ValleySauvignon made by Sheridan Vineyards out of Yakima Washington. It has a depth and density of both organic and inorganic earthiness, like soil full of rich minerals, well integrated with the gorgeous bright fruit. ‘This is my favorite on the table,’ I commented. Just then a middle-aged hetero couple walked by, and the woman gave my guests an odd look. I ignored it, but the funny dad caught it and said, ‘Well, that was judgy.’ ‘What was?’ his partner asked. ‘That woman gave us a judgy look. I mean…I think most people with kids drink. We just choose to do it openly.’

cruzaltaCruz Alta was the final wine. It is an Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon, with very bold fruit and loads of new oak. More of a drinker than a thinker wine, its forthrightness is quite appealing.

From three different regions and vinified differently, each wine presents unique flavors and characteristics. As varied as they are, they are more alike than they are different.  Underneath the variations in regions and vinification, they are all Cabernet Sauvignon.

Jean-Luc Colombo Through the Eyes of Ian Ribowsky

“I carry the passion. I’m always looking for that wine that takes my breath away.” – Ian Ribowsky

Wine ambassador for Jean-Luc Colombo, Ian Ribowsky is quite quotable. He spoke with passion as we tasted through six wines from Provence and Cornas, two rosés from Provence and four reds from Cornas. The reds, of course are 100% Syrah as is mandated by law in Cornas in the Northern Rhone.

The Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé, 2015 Méditerranée IGP, is ballet pink in the glass with a balance to match a well-executed arabesque. With 67% Syrah and 33% Mouvedre, aromas of strawberry, melon, peach, spice and roses comes through. The cold soak and cold ferment give the wine its bright acidity, soft mineral finish and the clean lines of a polished ballerina.

The Jean-Luc Colombo La Dame du Rouet Rosé, 2015, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, is a blend of Syrah, Cinsaut and Grenache. There is no destemming, nor MLF in making this wine. All the focus in on the primary aromas of ripe cantaloupe, white peach, and flowers. The finish is a bracing acidity that makes this a very food-friendly rosé.

Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brulées, 2013, Cornas, is a dense, dark ruby with medium staining on the glass. 15 months in oak with grapes sourced from 30 year old vines produces not just dense color, but dense aromatics as well. There are layers of blackberry, black cherry, menthol, tobacco, black currant, and iris. The tannins and acidity are moderate plus, but the alcohol is moderate, giving the wine a strong, but elegant structure.

Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brulées, 2009, Cornas is from the same vines as the previous wine, but an older vintage. The years turned the color from ruby to garnet and added dried fruit and licorice aromas with a hint of dustiness.

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Ruchets, 2013, Cornas is made from grapes from 90 year old vines. The berries are small, but the structure is great, hitting moderate plus on tannin, acid and alcohol. The color is deep ruby with aromas of rose, black cherry, vanilla, leather, earth and mineral. Still young, with great potential for aging.

Jean-Luc Colombo L Louvée, 2013, Cornas is from 70 year vines, with 22 months in oak, including 33% in new oak. The structure is moderate plus on acid, tannin with moderate on alcohol. The aromas are blueberry, black berry clack cherry, licorice, leather, thyme, lavender and a hint of olive.

Everyone in the room agreed the Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas wines are all beautifully structured and aromatically complex.

When asked what the oldest wine in his personal collection was, Ian Ribowsky referenced a 2000 bottle. Then in his very quotable way he said, ‘Wine is here to enjoy. We’re here to enjoy it, not hoard it.”

Five Things I Have Learned from Tim Gaiser…so far


Sitting in on a webinar with Tim Gaiser is almost as good as hearing him speak in person. Tim Gaiser is a Master Sommelier who has made an art and science out of wine tasting. He studies wine tasting with a deep intellectual curiosity that keeps his talks fresh and fascinating. There is always more to learn about wine and wine tasting. Here are five things that I learned last week at Mastering the Sommelier Tasting Method with Tim Gaiser a webinar hosted by the Napa Valley Wine Academy.

  1. There are now seven tastes rather than five. The original five tastes are Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Umami which is MSG. The two that have been added are Fat and Kokumi which is dairy.
  1. Floral aromas are best perceived at the edge of the glass.
  2. Pyrazines or bell pepper aromas are found in three types of wine; Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. All three grapes are related. They’ve kept pyrazines in the family.
  3. Determine residual sugar on the finish. It is easy to confuse ‘fruit forward’ with residual sugar. But the sweetness of ripe fruit will be perceived on the front. The sweetness of residual sugar will linger with the finish.
  4. The most popular phrase with consumers when selling wine is ‘…a smooth finish.’

Wine tasting, like any skill, takes study, focus and practice. But gaining insight from a Master is invaluable in honing the skill.