Katie Ransom, host of the Creators Broadcast Network podcast “Suzie Homemaker on the Down-Low,” posed an intriguing question as we chatted during a recent show: What advice would I give someone who wanted to learn more about wine?
Wine is such a vast topic, that acquiring even a modest level of expertise might seem daunting. In fact, it’s as easy as one, two, three.
One, the most important element of wine knowledge is experience. If you are interested in knowing more about wine, there is no substitute for experiencing the taste of wine. Wine bars have become all the rage in recent years, and there is a reason for that. Most wine bars offer opportunities to taste numerous wines in one sitting, without having to purchase multiple bottles of wine.
Wines by the glass, and even the half-glass, have opened a window to the wine world for anyone and everyone. Most wine bars also serve what they call “flights” of wine, generally three 2-ounce samples that allow consumers to compare multiple wines and learn, through the tasting experience, the flavor and textural characteristics that distinguish one wine from another.
Each tasting session is a building block in the quest to learn about wine. Even experts taste multiple wines in a similar format on a regular basis to keep abreast of the technical and cultural evolution of the wine industry.
Two, bone up with a good wine book. My go-to wine book for beginners is “Wine for Dummies,” written by the husband-and-wife team, Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy. Both are renowned experts, and Mary was even the first woman to earn the prestigious title of Master of Wine. They have an engaging writing style and the uncanny ability to break down a complicated subject and make it easy to understand.
Three, invest in a good wine glass. As you learn more about wine and gain enough confidence to tackle the array of options at your favorite wine shop or grocery store, you will find that proper stemware is essential if you want to get the most out of the wines you buy.
Red wines, especially young red wines, taste better in a wine glass with a wider mid-section and thus a larger surface area. When you observe a wine lover swirling wine in the glass prior to sipping, that is not an affectation. Giving a wine a thorough airing by swirling releases the aromas and flavors and enhances the tasting experience. This works with white wines as well.
Owning a wine glass that has the capacity and shape to allow for swirling without sloshing is a must.
To hear to my advice to Katie, download her podcast on iTunes and listen to the wine episode. You also can read about it on her blog at suziehomemakerpodcast.com and follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/SuzieHomemakerPodcast.
Page 2 of 3 - Best Value
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Navarro 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino ($17) — The trend toward chardonnay that is clean and fresh and not overly influenced by oak is alive and well at Navarro. This modestly priced Navarro chardonnay is all of that and more. With aromas of apple and pear, superb balance and persistence of flavor and aroma through the finish, this chard was a deserving platinum award and Best of Class Chardonnay winner at Winemaker Challenge V. Rating: 90
Duckhorn Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain ($80) — Duckhorn, the master of American merlot, is hardly a one-trick pony. The cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc from this estate are first-rate, and this Howell Mountain cabernet is a muscular example. It is a powerful red, with layered black-fruit aromas, mouth-filling weight on the palate, and firm tannins. This is an earthy wine with a spicy back note. Good now, but better in another couple of years. Rating: 95.
Patz & Hall 2011 Chardonnay, Zio Tony Ranch, Russian River Valley ($60) — It’s true that 2011 was challenging for red wines from the north coast. It was cool and wet, and late-ripening grape varieties bore the brunt of the conditions. Whites fared much better, and chardonnay in particular responded to the cool conditions. Patz & Hall didn’t miss a beat with its Zio Tony Ranch chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, which is their finest chardonnay vintage in my humble opinion. The nose offers a spice box of aroma, while on the palate it delivers the signature lemon creme/lemon oil aroma of the vineyard. Beautifully balanced, this is a classic cool-climate California chardonnay from one of California’s finest producers. In other words, another in a long line of world-class chardonnays by P&H from the Zio Tony Ranch. Weather be damned! Rating: 95.
Black Kite 2011 Pinot Noir, River Turn, Anderson Valley ($55) — Black Kite is one of the gems of the Anderson Valley’s growing pinot noir community. The River Turn block is a distinct section of the 12-acre Black Kite vineyard. This vintage of River Turn is remarkably complex on the nose, exhibiting an inviting floral note coupled with a subtle nuance of earthy forest floor and a hint of spice. On the palate it delivers aromas of raspberry and strawberry, is firmly structured and would benefit from an additional two to three years in the cellar. Brilliant. Only 148 cases produced. Rating: 93.
Laurel Glen 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon “Counterpoint,” Sonoma Mountain ($30) — Counterpoint is Laurel Glen’s second wine. It would be fair to assume that any winery’s second wine from an iffy vintage might be one to avoid. That assumption would be dead wrong. This vintage of Counterpoint from the cool, wet 2011 vintage is every bit as delicious as a Laurel Glen cab should be and certainly among the finest California cabs in this price category. The conditions forced Laurel Glen to make a wine that was less ripe than normal and somewhat lower in alcohol (13.7 percent by volume). Those aren’t necessarily negatives. This Counterpoint delivers pure, bright, fresh red-fruited aromas, a splash of spicy goodness and firm structure that will keep it fresh and bright for a few years to come. Rating: 91.
Page 3 of 3 - Contemassi 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva, Italy ($24) — On the light side for a riserva, this vintage of Chianti Classico from Contemassi nevertheless delivers a delicious dollop of black cherry fruit on the palate, with a nice balance between acid and fruit that will play well with savory pasta dishes and grilled meats. Rating: 88.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.