Thursday, July 29, 2010

SWE Evening #2: Science, Wine, and More

OK, for now, ignore the photo!  I need some sympathy. I'm sitting here thinking how hard it is to taste wine all day. From Champagne at lunch, to Bordeaux mid-afternoon, I switched to beer with dinner. But no, I didn't max-out on wine. Susan and I wanted to try a Washington gastropub we had read about in Food Arts, and beer is definitely Birch & Barley's "thing."

But (sigh!), now that I'm finished complaining about the responsibilities associated with a Society of Wine Educators conference (tasting wine, wine, and more wine), then why have I included a photo of what looks like supplies for a chemistry lab? The photo is my tip-of-the-hat to a fabulous session today conducted by Harriet Lembeck, CWE, and Steve Dente, VP of Research & Development, Robertet (use Google's "translate this page" feature for the French Robertet site).

With an approach that was way too cool to describe here (we'll have to talk in Greenville, or do a Greenville Wine Meetup to discuss it), Harriet and Steve tackled the topic, "Science and the Nose."  Why do we smell what we smell in wine?  What's the chemistry behind it?  What physiological and psychological factors come into play?  What would a team of 32 perfumers (see the Parfumerie link on the Robertet site), backed by a staff of engineers, chemists, and technicians, say about our "wine words"?  Terms like "velvety," "hearty," "crisp," "rich," "flinty," and more were evaluated by professionals at aromas and tastes, and their assessments were supported by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

None of this is intended to take anything away from the fabulous sessions on Champagne and Bordeaux wines I attended earlier in the day.  But for flat-out, stunning originality, and "you never heard it taught this way before," "Science and the Nose" just blew all of us away, who had the privilege of attending.  Kudos Harriet and Steve!  Sincere thanks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SWE Evening #1: Tasting at New Zealand Embassy

As promised, I will post daily reports while Susan and I are in Washington, DC, for the Society of Wine Educators annual conference.  Today was a short day, just to pick-up our registration packets and then attend a tasting at the New Zealand Embassy.

All 51 wines, as you might guess, were all from New Zealand!  We found some lovely surprises, including a marvelously restrained, almost austere Sauvignon Blanc; a bright, refreshing Pinot Gris (PG makes up only 3% of the varietal plantings in New Zealand); a stunning Pinot Noir; and the best non-Pinot red wine I've ever had from New Zealand (a Bordeaux blend, showing good ripeness, but also intelligence, finesse, and complexity).

So, here are our personal picks of the day.  Not all of these wines have widespread distribution in the U.S., but I'll be investigating SC availability while at the conference.

  • Palliser Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008.  Forget everything you thought you knew about New Zealand Sauv Blancs (as lovely as they can be).  This wine was restrained, almost austere, and absolutely wonderful.  I may have found something I like as much as Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre!  No distribution information yet, but I have to find this one.
  • Manu Marlborough Pinot Gris 2009.  Bright, refreshing, and a total surprise.  This wine was the "sleeper" of the night.  I'm not a big fan of Oregon Pinot Gris, and only enjoy a limited number of Pinot Grigios from Italy.  We know that this wine will have distribution in South Carolina through Grassroots, a firm which has always distinguished itself by offering truly worthwhile wines in SC.
  • Saint Claire Pioneer Block #14, Doctor's Creek, Pinot Noir 2007.  As noted above, absolutely stunning.  New Zealand Pinot Noir, going back 3-4 years, failed to excite.  No more!  This is a classic Pinot Noir that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best from Oregon or Burgundy.  Wow!  And Saint Claire's entry level Marlborough Pinot (2008) was quite nice, too.  No distribution information yet.
  • Alpha Domus Hawkes Bay Navigator 2006.  This was unquestionably the best non-Pinot red wine I've had from New Zealand.  Until now, at least to my taste, Bordeaux varietals either were not planted in the right soils or couldn't achieve adequate ripeness.  But this blend of Merlot, Cab, Malbec, and Cab Franc was a classic right-bank Bordeaux.  Well done, Alpha Domus!  And my understanding is that Grassroots will be bringing it to South Carolina.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

SWE Conference 2010

Hello Vine & Grape friends!  Susan and I are off to the Society of Wine Educators annual conference in Washington, DC, tomorrow.  We attended two years ago, when the conference was in New Orleans, LA, to show solidarity with that wonderful city after Hurricane Katrina.  This year the conference is in SWE's "hometown."  Updates to follow later this week.  See you then!