Once there was an airline whose slogan was “Getting there is half the fun.” Not true anymore (if ever it was) for air travel, but it does apply for planning a trip to wine country. Two months from today I head west for another intensive look at a few wineries and hope for more story-worthy wine experiences. I shall spend time in the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Barbara, two regions I have never visited, before returning for another visit to Paso Robles.
In my earliest days of visiting wineries, I drove to the estate, knocked on the door, and hoped for a chance to see the place. Mostly, whether in Germany, France, Oregon, or California I was graciously received, occasionally invited to sample, encouraged to buy, or politely (mostly) turned away with an explanation that visits without appointments were not allowed. In those days, visitor tastings were generally free. Those were the 1950s and 60s.
As the last century aged, wine tourism developed, and more and more wineries established tasting rooms for which they hired staff and planned special events. They joined tourism initiatives such as creating “wine routes” or “wine passports,” the latter of which enables a visitor to collect stamps from association wineries leading to special prizes when the passports become full. Free tastings have all but disappeared.
Visits became more and more organized, as hosts and hostesses learned to lead visitors, increasingly in groups only, around the fermentation tanks, past the presses, through the bottling rooms, and into the storage cellars while answering general questions. Such programs have done wonders for the wine trade, because America has become one of the leading wine-consumption nations in the world, and wine tourism is a significant contributor to a region’s economy.
Though I have been a wine journalist for more than half-a-century, I still consider myself a wine tourist. I am still in awe of the processes that cause wine to happen and of the people who know how to influence the process. But I have become much more interested in learning the stories behind the production of wine — the forces that caused the producers to get into the production profession, the life-styles they embrace, the human interest elements associated with their work. Fermentation tanks and bottling lines look pretty much alike from winery to winery, but the personalities of those who work with them are as varied as those in any other art, science, or craft.
For two months I will pore over wine region maps and internet sites to select estates and persons to call on. With the help of a friend in the area, I plan to meet both influential and unknown producers in the regions. Seldom anymore do I just show up and knock on the door, and I do adhere to the old slogan: “getting there is half the fun.”
You know it’s a very good friend indeed who would bring a 32-year-old premier grand cru St-Emilion to your dinner table all the way from Florida. Chateau Cheval Blanc has long been recognized as one of only two very top tier wines in the St-Emilion appellation (The other is Chateau Ausone.) The bottle we opened last night was of the 1982 vintage, the one that gave “birth” to Robert Parker.
This was the vintage Parker heartily endorsed while most other wine critics were dismissing it as a disappointment. Parker’s palate proved the better of all of them, as 1982 Bordeaux continued to develop and mature into one of the finest vintages ever. Last night, the Cheval Blanc showed once again that it can retain power and elegance in spite of those who continue to argue that blends of Merlot and Cabernet Franc just will not endure.
We opted not to decant, a correct decision we saw as the wine poured forth. Very few dregs. Large glasses allowed it to aerate, but it didn’t seem to need to, because its aroma was fresh and floral as soon as the cork came out — a tight cork, I might add. Silky from the Merlot, aromatic from the Cabernet Franc, which also contributed to a very long and very pleasing finish. It felt so good on the palate that all four of us forgot the runny Brie on our plates and sipped the fragrant Grand Cru as a stand-alone beverage of uncommon greatness.
It has been said that “no holier place” exists where wine is concerned than St-Emilion. Some wine estates, including Chateau Ausone (home to the Roman poet Ausonius) has been in production since the third century. Chateau Cheval Blanc abuts Pomerol’s king, Chateau Petrus, and the two estates together form one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in the entire wine world.
Wines such as this one illustrate clearly the importance of time and place. The place because it shows that combinations of soils, sub-soils, minerals, etc. do make a difference in what grows and develops in that specific spot. Time because a wine like this makes you think about 1982 and what was going on in your own life while this wine was harvested.
Once again, I realized that no beverage, no drink, evokes memories and reflections as does fine wine.
I recently attended an open house at One World Catering, showcasing their new catering menu (my new favorite is the gourmet grilled cheese topped with sundried tomato jam.) One World Catering is part of the Lennie’s/Pizza X/Bloomington Brewing Company group of food and beverage providers in Bloomington.
Along with wonderful new foods to sample, David Salvo was on hand to showcase Vanguard Wines, a distributor to restaurants and other retail outlets. Vanguard represents some of the not-so-huge wineries and the not-so-well known wines, that still deserve respect. The wines I sampled were modestly priced ($10-15 per bottle) and definitely good. David was knowledgeable and a superb guide–leading us through the wines as if we were on a world tour.
Here were some samples:
Chateau Mourges Du Gres Galets Rouges: From France, the vineyard’s motto is: “Sine Sole Nihil”–”Nothing Without Sunshine.” Soft and jammy, with a bit of spice and a minerality that comes from the flat pebbles that cover the vineyard.
Fattori Runcaris Soave 2012: Italian, citrusy with hints of fine herbs, sage and nettle and with a beautiful straw color.
Zuazo Gaston Roija Viura: This Spanish white wine is complex, crisp and light–great in warm weather, I think!
Zuazo Gaston Vendimia: A Spanish deep-red wine–with fruity aromas & hints of liquorice (not my descriptor–my palate isn’t THAT nuanced, yet, but I’m learning!)
Il Follo Cuvee Rose Brut: My favorite–beautifully pink, sparkling and Italian–the trifecta for my tastes!
To learn more about Vanguard Wines go to: VanguardWines.comOLDER POSTS »