Friday, March 30, 2012

Wine at High Tide

Atlanta's Killer Tomato Festival I like wine tasting events.  Having organized such events for individuals and groups of all sizes, I enjoy the 'buzz' I get from interacting with the occasional wine maker at the larger events or even fellow attendees who are there to taste new flavors and exceed their expectations.  Sure, you can find some ugly behaviors (Hint: there's no such thing as getting your money's worth at a wine tasting). You can also find plenty of people who are 'label drinkers' - set on tasting what's familiar or scored the highest.  I don't begrudge them, I just throw my lot with the flavor drinkers.  My problem is in the pursuit of flavor, I can get carried away a bit - almost literally - by not having a good gameplan. Until now.

Here's my successfully tested strategy for navigating large wine tasting events like yesterday's kickoff to the annual High Museum Wine Auction weekend.  Any of the forthcoming festivals coming to Atlanta or your corner of the world this spring, summer, and fall will benefit from this approach:

  1. Eat a gut bomb beforehand.  Never show up at an event on an empty stomach or relying on what may be served: it's never enough, you don't want that kind of attention, and it's never the right kind of food.  I've violated this rule more than I care to admit - usually from a busy schedule leading up to the event.  I ate a burrito to soak up and help absorb the alcohol. Pizza beforehand would work as well.
  2. Get there late.  It's hard to tear yourself away from the fun so get there and let someone else say the show's over.  Showing up after the first wave of eagerness let's you use a more relaxed crowd to your advantage.
  3. Go with a trusted partner.  Divide and conquer. Pick a spot to reunite every 15 minutes or so to compare notes and help each other taste the gems and avoid the dreck.
  4. Find a sherpa.  If I don't see an acquaintance or a wine buyer/retailer at such an event, I find anyone approachable enough (reason again to show up later) and ask them to point me in the direction of what's good.
  5. Spit, don't sip. Surrender fast and often.  If the attack or first impression of the wine in your mouth is not hinting at fireworks, spit it out if there is a dump bucket provided.  This gets harder as the event goes on, but keep trying!
Surprising Muller Thurgau from Henry Estate
Surprising Muller Thurgau from Henry Estate, a photo by atl10trader on Flickr.

My sherpas at the event yesterday were Chris and Andy from Hop City Beer and Wine on the Westside!  It's one of my favorite stores.  

Chris and Hop City also made an appearance at the more intimate wine tasting the previous day with Henry Estate Wines at one of Atlanta's great restaurants.

This wine was also at the larger event yesterday and I was tempted to try it again.  It will definitely be the "porch pounder" of the summer.  The Muller Thurgau grape is widely grown in Germany, but it has a wonderful home in the Umpqua Valley in Oregon too. It's low in alcohol and high on zest, lemon peel, and peaches.

More on this wine can be found here:

Chris, knowing I'm a flavor vs a label drinker, directed me to several amazing wines.

Seamus Wine Duo
Seamus Wine Duo, a photo by atl10trader on Flickr.

Like Seamus Wines and their captivating Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley, CA (not pictured).  Crisp, green apple notes, peaches, and honey dew melon - Melon! Really alive in the mouth.  It was a cruel thing to spit and dump the rest of glass.

My definition of a wine's finish is: Would I take another sip?  I considered tucking the whole bottle under my jacket.

The Seamus Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands makes the area and the finicky grape proud.  But wow what an effort to make it.  There are 3 different pinot noir clones in the bottle after being bottled for 10 months in a mix of new French oak and neutral (i.e., used) French oak.

I paid a visit to a perennially good winery Niner and tasted with Dick Niner, the owner.  I haven't tasted his wines in a couple of years, so I wanted to see if things were as good as I remembered.  After tasting their popular Sangiovese from their BootJack Ranch in Paso Robles, things are great.  In this case great means strawberries, cranberries, cherries, and some vanilla , caramel notes.  All singing in harmony and delicious in my belly.

That sip made it past my spit reminder.

Niner Sangiovese
Niner Sangiovese, a photo by atl10trader on Flickr.

Other wines that grabbed my interest were from Kosta Browne, Arkenstone (Howell Mountain), and interesting blends from a winery called the Scholium Project.

Chris mentioned the importance of flavor drinkers and label drinkers to events like this and especially to his retail store:  "We make our money from the people who come in and want the label that's won the awards.  We enjoy talking to and engaging the ones who come in looking for flavors."

At different times I exhibit both of these behaviors.  Yesterday was a good day to be in a flavor state of mind.

No comments: