Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Obviously, this doesn't mean that you're going to fly around the world visiting every vineyard from which you've ever purchased a bottle. But, you simply aren't going to have the same relationship to a bottle of Cab Sav you picked at random based on an anonymous store clerk's recommendation versus the bottle you came across at a wine fest or on a lazy Sunday drive through a vineyard. You're probably never going to meet the wine maker or have a chance to discuss the in-depth process behind what wound up in that bottle (if you do - bully for you!) but you will at least have seen the vines growing or met one or two of the folks who play a role in making that happen. In other words, you'll have an understanding of the connections to that wine and, in turn, you will have become a part of that chain.
I've tried browsing wine magazines, reading wine websites, even foraging through a few wine stores in my search to understand why it is that wine proves to be a constant attraction to my intellect. All of that research has only resulted in my conclusion that I enjoy wine not for wine's sake, but for the story behind it. I have no story behind a rating of a vinifera on a website, except that some dude (or dudette) I don't know tried to quantify their taste buds (as if that scale somehow applied to my own). Hey, that's great! I'm glad you liked that wine! Tell me about you - your likes and dislikes - about the vineyard that grows that wine - who those folks are, what's their story - and maybe I'll have some way to relate to the essence of tobacco and dried cherries you're raving about.
The other day I stopped off at my local wine shop to browse after a long week at work. Walking the aisles I studied labels and realized two things. One, the only thing I would be able to appreciate from this vantage point were the artsy labels. Two, if my husband knew I bought a $350 bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay he'd kill me. Why would I want that bottle, per se, and not something at a lower price point? Because I didn't connect to Chardonnay - I connected to the story of the vineyard that triumphed in Paris in '76! I wanted to know what was so great about this wine, sure, but I only wanted to know because I already knew the story and, thanks to however fictional Bottle Shock may or may not have been, I felt some level of connection to the land and the people behind that wine. That is what drove me to know more. (Visions of my husband's bug-eyed glare is what drove me to tell myself, "Save it for a special occasion.")
I left the wine store with nothing in hand and returned home to my collection of wines, each one purchased at a regional vineyard or festival, after tasting and talking with a wine maker or one of his or her crew. These are the wines I know and the wines I know I will enjoy drinking. And each time I pop a cork, the spirit of that initial encounter will come to dwell wherever I am, and I will have established yet another connection between myself and the grape that started off as a seed buried in the land.
A few weeks back I talked wine at a party with an older gentleman who fancied himself somewhat of an armchair sommelier. (This, mind you, is not an insult but an objective observation.) We talked body, structure, tannin and then he dropped a line that made me cringe: "I'm not a fan of Jersey wines, they don't have much body. I actually prefer Yellow Tail."
I'm way too polite to actually say, "Are you kidding me?" Instead, I referred this Yellow Tail fan to wineries like Amalthea Cellars in south Jersey and Unionville Vineyards up north, two wineries well known for their striking - and award winning - vinifera wines. I also asked if he had ever been to the Finger Lakes. He brushed me off. When I persisted he said, "Oh, maybe we'll have to try it."
Only today I stumbled across a new (to me) wine blog wherein a twentysomething wine fan covered "Around the World in 80 Sips" - a wine fest for Millennial drinkers. The Chateau Montelena table was packed (most likely because the Chris Pine fans were looking for him to pour samples) and was stationed in the same room with a college start-up company offering "orange wine-based beverages" for a low budget. It was a hipster scene meant to sex up a commercial product; you could have easily filled the room with the new French Coke & Wine creation and these kids would have been just as impressed.
That is not wine, that is industry and while I have nothing against industry I do hear an inward soul scream radiating from my being every time I see sales take value over character and substance. What good is it to market your wine if you strip it of its character and force it to dance to the latest pop hit? To paraphrase Anne Shirley, it's like seeing your baby tattooed with eye-catching advertisements that read "Drink me, I'm cool!"
This is why I will always gravitate towards the local winery, not just in New Jersey (although I have developed a special affinity for the wines of my home state) but wherever my travels take me. Here, in these places, I engage in a conversation with the wine; I am talked to, not at by the wine, the worker, and the land. This is an essential experience; without it, wine would be nothing more than another beverage you could buy at a liquor store. And what would be the purpose in that? To be like everyone else? If so, why are you even drinking wine in the first place?
Wine by nature is unique; no two vintages are exactly alike. Nor should their drinkers be. Embrace Connection in your wine and you will find that you will do the same with others and within yourself: appreciating the unique, valuing the essential, and making your story your own.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
The semi-sweet blush is bright and juicy with a light mouthfeel and pleasantly puckering tannins dancing along the sides of your tongue. Chilled and carrying all the appeal (and none of the sugary nature) of a candy apple, this wine pairs as well with cheeses as it would BBQ, and should frequent your summer dining experiences under the stars as it did ours last evening as we sat watching Shakespeare amidst the vines of Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery in Pilesgrove, NJ.
The evening started as all visits to a winery should, with a tasting. We sidled up to the packed bar in the Enoteca and were quickly welcomed with two logo-emblazoned glasses that were ours to keep with the tasting fee ($5/person for 10 wines on that day's list).
Our favorites included:
Sole - a bright Vidal Blanc containing strong mineral notes and a fruit-forward finish.
Good Karma - a vinifera red blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, this fusion of Italian body and French flavor carries all the tannins you'd expect from a dry red in a light body, making it the perfect wine for grilled chicken or salmon. Slightly too tannic for my husband, the sweet drinker, I find Good Karma to be a great balance between semi-sweet and dry pallates. This is the bottle I can easily share with friends who are the driest of drinkers.
Roxanne - the light dry rose that acts as the base for the Rosalita, this wine offers the crisp tang of grapefruit and is best served chilled.
Kind of Blue - Hammonton, NJ blueberries are used to create this fruit wine that rides the line between sweet and tart
Blessington - the husband's favorite, this wine rings a Concord note, but is actually a sweet red blend of grapes that don't include the labrusca favorite. Chill it for a great summer sipper.
A few of the wines, including Rustica, aren't currently available; I look forward to tasting the 2012 vintages when they are released. The Classico - the motivation behind the creation of Auburn Road Vineyards - is a gorgeous dry red wine. I will readily admit to not being a dry red drinker, but in my humble semi-opinion, Classico is a distinctly American vinifera blend with a healthy balance of tannin and fruit.
Auburn Road Vineyards and Winery offers the Enoteca - a beautiful dining area boasting a patio that looks out into the vineyards and offers enough green space for live performances, of which there are many. With dinners on Friday nights and light fare all around, this is the place to cap your wine ride or hang out on a relaxing summer day/evening. For the oenophile, Auburn Road's Enoteca offers the kind of space you're looking for when you're out to contemplate the wine you're drinking.
To compliment our bottle(s) of Rosalita, we ordered one of the artisan cheeses from the Italian Market in Philly, a crusty loaf of Italian bread with olive oil, a bowl of the soup du jour (yellow pea with roasted red pepper) and the Coco Bar for dessert (think a high-end Klondike with a coconut infusion). Everything was fresh, delicious and a perfect match for the wine.
An excellent performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by the Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company provided excellent theatrical accompaniment to thoughtfully crafted wines. What a fabulous show put on by three talented actors and a staff of dedicated professionals. If you have the chance, catch this show! Watching Shakespeare unravel among the vines was a transcendent cultural experience I will forever cherish.
Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery is the quintessential experience for wine drinkers seeking an American twist on vinifera grapes. With an environment as welcoming as the wine, Auburn Road is already a Jersey Wine classic.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
What a fantastic oasis in the Jersey farmlands. This is how an American enjoys fine vinifera wines. Rustica, Good Karma, Classico - amazing dry red blends that please pallates otherwise suited to lighter bodied fare. And the sweets- manifique! Stay tuned for a full review!
Thinking about going to the FLX Wine Festival? DO IT! Here are some tips - especially for newbies - to make the most of your experience.
1. Go both days. Heck, if you can, go Friday night for the opening party. Fireworks, togas, launch of the lakes -- soak it all in.
2. Camp out at the festival. Cops line the exits and breathalizer tests are required upon exit. If you're a serious drinker, park and hang out for three days.
3. If you aren't a camper, there are tons of cute places to stay in and around Watkins Glen. Some hotels even offer packages that include transportation to and from the event. Take advantage!
4. Try to get in a few days before the event. We had time to visit a few wineries beforehand. All of these folks are seasoned fest participants and they will happily share the lay of the land with you - when to go, what to expect, what to bring, etc. Get the inside scoop.
5. If you can only attend one day, choose Sunday. We received the tip early on (see #4) that Saturday is the Drunk Fest. Hey, everyone drinks wine for their own reasons and everyone unwinds differently. If, like us, you're into wine for the full experience and prefer to avoid folks getting plastered at 11 am, wait until Sunday. The crowd is generally calmer, especially during the first half of the day when the Saturday folks are still sleeping it off.
6. Bring nosh. Technically you aren't allowed to bring food into the Festival, but we saw a few girls munching on pretzels handily strung up around their necks like candy necklaces. Brilliant idea. Most tables do not have pallate cleansing munchies and the sandwich you get in the food area - no matter how tasty - is not going to balance out the amount of wine you will drink.
7. Speaking of which - don't drink every single wine. There were 90 wineries in attendance last year. 90 wineries offering a minimum of 5 wines to taste. Do the math and you'll quickly realize how incredibly impossible it is to taste all that wine. Take it from someone who tried and burned their taste buds very badly (not to mention couldn't eat anything for at least a day - your stomach can't handle that much wine, either) even your best game face can't match the power of that many grapes.
The best advice I received from a winemaker was to set your mind on 1 or 2 varietals and sample those at each table. You'll be able to better distinguish what you like from what you don't and you'll learn more about why you like or don't like a certain varietal. You aren't there to conquer the world of wine - you're there to become a part of it and learn from it.
8. Beware of broken glass. The FLX Wine Fest crew does an INCREDIBLE job of sweeping up broken glasses 5 seconds after they crash to the ground, but keep an eye out, especially if you're wearing flip flops. You'll know instantly when a glass has crashed, because even if you haven't heard it smash to the ground you'll hear a cry of "AAWWWWW!!!!" from at least 50 onlookers. It's a festival tradition.
9. By 2 pm it is packed. Be patient. Table hop. Stick your glass in when you see a chosen varietal coming your way. Be prepared to be knocked into at least 2 or 3 times. It's all part of the fun, unless you're claustrophobic, in which case you wouldn't be there anyway.
10. Classes are offered - but it's hard to find the time to attend. This is where choosing a couple of varietals comes into play - you can hop tables a lot faster and find the time to attend at least one seminar and learn a thing or two.
11. Stay hydrated! Water coolers are everywhere for you to rinse - take a drink or two or three as well! The biggest cause of a wineover is dehydration - stay hydrated.
12. If you are driving - stop drinking by 2 pm. I can't stress enough - cops are posted at every exit and while the sign says "voluntary" -- that breathalizer isn't.
Have fun and share your stories and favorite flavors with me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/winegirlblog !