Friday, September 26, 2014

Wine Infographic: Texas Wine Cheat Sheet

October is Texas Wine Month, so use this to brush up on your Texas wine knowledge and try something new!

To see the full collection of wine cheat sheets, click here.

To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open in new tab.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open link in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”   

You may also be interested in:
Returning to Messina Hof for my 1st harvest and grape stomp!
Comparing 2 Texas Viogniers
Texas Kneecaps (with Bonus Lesson on Semi-Generic Labeling!)
Visiting Los Pinos in the Piney Woods
Texas Saké (a surprise addition to your 4th of July?)
Texas Wineries: The Bluebonnet Trail

Friday, September 19, 2014

Top 6 Things to Know About Wine Vintages

The concept of vintages is fundamental to understanding wine, yet confuses many people.  Here are the most important things to know.

What is a vintage?
Vintage means year.  The vintage on a wine label refers to the year in which the grapes were grown.  For the vintage to be listed on the label, most wine regions require that at least 85% to 95% of the grapes be from that year, so a small portion from other years may be included.

Why do vintages matter?
In a word:  weather.  Weather conditions have a huge impact on the grapes in any given year.  A warmer year might yield grapes with higher sugar content, which would translate to a more alcoholic wine.  A cooler year might yield slightly underripe grapes with more vegetal characteristics.  Rain near harvest time is a notorious vintage spoiler, because it causes the grapes to absorb extra water which dilutes the juices.

Do vintages matter everywhere?
Some climates are more prone to vintage variation than others.  Maritime climates, such as Bordeaux and Oregon, tend to experience more weather fluctuations from year to year, so vintages matter more in those regions.  Also, a year that produced a great vintage in one wine region, might have produced a terrible one in another region.

Can I use this information to find wine bargains?
Yes!  If you know which vintages were outstanding in a certain region, you can expect all the wines from that region, even the less expensive ones, to be better that year.  Therefore, you can spend less money to get a great bottle of wine.  For example, if you normally spend $25 for a good Bordeaux, and you know that 2009 was a great year, you might spend less on a bottle from that vintage, knowing that the cheaper wine got a quality boost from the weather that year.  (Conversely, you also might decide to spend more on a bottle from that vintage, because you have confidence in its quality and want to buy a really amazing bottle.)

Do vintages affect aging?
Yes.  Even within a region that makes great wine, which is capable of aging for many years (like Bordeaux), a wine from a great vintage might have a significantly longer lifespan than a wine from a lesser vintage.  (More on wine lifespans here.)  In the vintage charts below, you'll see recommendations for when to drink a wine based on its vintage, such as "early maturing and accessible," "still tannic, youthful, or slow to mature," and "ready to drink."

Is there a handy reference for good and bad vintages?
Yes.  Various organizations produce vintage charts.

I recommend Robert Parker and The Wine Advocate's vintage chart (preview below).  This is a one-page quick-reference vintage guide which goes back to 1970 and includes "drink vs. hold" suggestions.  You can view it on a web page at this link, or download a pdf version here.  (I downloaded the pdf to my phone for easy reference.)

In the rare event that you need vintage data older than 1970, you can look to Decanter's vintage guide, which goes back to 1960 for some wine regions.  Decanter's guide offers good vintage information, similar to the Wine Advocate/Robert Parker chart, but is only updated through the 2008 vintage, whereas Robert Parker's goes up to 2013.

Happy hunting!

You might also be interested in:
Is your wine over the hill?
Burgundy, Bottle Aging, and Tertiary Aromas
Building a Better Wine Tasting

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Film Review: SOMM

Four sommeliers attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world.

I had been hearing good reviews of SOMM for a couple of years and finally got around to watching it this past weekend.  The film tells the story of 4 men who are studying to pass the extremely difficult exam to earn the title of Master Sommelier.  (Click here for an overview of wine certifications.)  The exam has 3 sections:  theory, service, and blind tasting.

The film follows the Master Sommelier candidates as they study together, taste (and spit) late into the evenings, and make thousands of flash cards.  What could have become monotonous scenes of guys talking and tasting are made compelling because, whether or not you’re interested in wine, it’s fun to watch passionate people who are experts in a field doing what they do best. The talking/tasting scenes are also intercut with footage of the wine-making process and animated maps of wine regions.  The transitional shots of wine glasses exploding in slow-motion were pretty cool too.  I will never take this wine exam, but as a wine student who’s taken 6 other exams so far, I sympathize with these guys and their obsessive studying.  (In fact, this is exactly why I started making wine cheat sheets.) 

The guys are also sympathetic because the odds are against them:  this exam has a pass rate of 10%.  We see the sacrifices they’ve made to study and prepare, we see what this dream has required of them, and the impact it’s had on their relationships and families, and we want them to get through it and succeed.  Some might say they’re crazy and should quit, but I think most of us have a soft spot for someone fully committed to a big dream who’s willing to work extremely hard (possibly to a crazy degree) to make it happen.

I like that the film shows the analytical and deductive tasting process, and emphasizes that it’s about training, not talent.  I also like that they made fun of some of the sillier tasting terms that don’t mean anything – like “my grandmother’s closet.”  (In my International Sommelier Guild class we were taught to use aroma/flavor descriptors that will mean something to another person.  If the point is to communicate how the wine smells/tastes, then you have to be comprehensible to someone other than yourself.)

Mixed in with all the stress and studying, SOMM conveys one of my favorite things about wine:  the way it can only be fully understood when you learn the history, geology, geography, and culture of where the grapes are grown and the wine is made.  At the same time, you have to consider the modern technology involved and the global business aspects of the industry.  It’s incredibly complex, and there’s a lot to know, and that’s why the test is so hard.

I think it’s worth mentioning my husband’s viewpoint.  He’s not a wine aficionado, other than what he’s picked up from living with me, but he IS a certified film snob who has made his own independent films and written a lot of film criticism.  Film Snob Husband gave SOMM ***1/2 stars out of ****, and appreciates that it doesn’t skimp on the “shop talk.”  So many reality shows and documentaries gloss over the actual work being done, in favor of trying to create drama by focusing on the personalities, relationships, or competition involved.  Film Snob Husband and I both prefer the style of SOMM, where we’re a fly on the wall in a world we’d otherwise never get to see.

Here's the trailer:

(SOMM:  Not Rated, 2012, 93 minutes, Directed by Jason Wise, Starring Brian McLintic, Dustin Wilson, Ian Cauble)

Friday, September 5, 2014

An eclectic list of good white wines under $15

I usually drink more red wines than white, but in the summer I like the cooler, lighter whites to combat the Houston heat.  Summer may be over (at least according to the school calender - the autumnal equinox won't arrive and officially bring fall with it until September 22), but we all know Houston will be sweltering for another month at least.  So I figured it wasn't too late to share a list of good white wines under $15.  This is a very eclectic list, based solely on what I happen to have tasted lately, so it's by no means exhaustive or even well-rounded.  But hopefully it will point you to something new to try!  

If I've written about the wine before, I linked to that post.  I also added a few words about the flavor profile.

  • Buchegger Riesling, from Austria
    • very fruity
  • Pewsey Vale Dry Reisling, from Australia
    • lemon, apricot, and minerality
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, from Washington State
    • green apple and lemon with some minerality
    • (link to buy online)
  • Sartori Pinot Grigio, from Italy
    • citrus, mineral, and floral notes
  • Fontana Candida Terre dei Grifi Frascati, from Italy
    • citrus, pineapple, with a hint of toast
  • Abadia de San Campio Terras Gauda Albarino, from Spain
    • citrus and pear, little-to-no oak
  • Vignerons du Pallet Muscadet, from the Loire Valley in France
    • simple citrus flavors, with bready qualities from sur lie aging
  • Gerard Bertrand Picpoul de Pinet, from Coteau de Languedoc in France
    • simple and fruity, little-to-no oak
  • McPherson Viognier, from Texas
    • tropical fruits, floral notes, balanced by earthiness

  • Anna de Codorniu, Brut Cava, from Spain
    • fruity and toasty, a bit like Champagne
    • (link to buy online)

DRY, HALF-SPARKLING (petillant/frizzante)

  • Sauvion Vouvray (Chenin Blanc), from the Loire Valley in France
    • apple, lemon, peach, and earthiness

OFF DRY, HALF-SPARKLING (petillant/frizzante)
All of these are Vinho Verdes, and though they vary a bit in sweetness and flavor profile, they share the same crisp, refreshing, citrusy qualities.