Tag Archives: friends

Tasting with Friends: Strange Fruit

Last Friday, we had the third of our group of friends’ wine tastings. The previous tastings were themed around old world and new world Malbecs and European reds (which we conducted blindly). Not only did this time’s hosts decide to cook us a spectacular meal, they also picked a really cool theme for the night: “Strange Fruit”. They had initially thought about restricting the allowed wines to unknown grape varieties or regions, but later settled for strange fruit, which proved to be an awesome theme.

My initial thoughts for what wines to bring were centered around grape varieties that were strange or not very common, but I then also thought about wines that tasted different than expected. I had a couple of ideas and we ended up bringing a bottle of German Riesling (what’s unexpected about this, you may ask, but bear with me!), a bottle of the Ruchè we had tried with Nina’s birthday burgers and a Cannonau di Sardegna, both Italian reds.

Meierer Logo

Meierer Logo

2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!?

2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!?

We started with the 2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!? (12% ABV, limited to 300 bottles made). When Nina and I first tried this wine at the winery in the summer of 2012, it was definitely one of the weirdest Rieslings we ever had, hence the name… Matthias, the winemaker, had decided to produce this wine in the way one would usually make a Pinot Noir: He let the must sit on the skins and stems for a couple of days. This really changed the nose and palate of this wine making it intense and I would never have guessed it was a Riesling if I had not known. I was eager to share this wine with the group, so we made it our apéritif. The wine showed itself in a slightly darker yellow, pretty much pee color. The nose showed acidity, some sour apple, I got hints of vanilla and coconut, but there seemed to be a decisive lack of fruit in the nose. The palate was herbal and what I would call branch-y, with healthy acidity and some apple aromas. Most in the group remarked on that it reminded them of a Chardonnay. The finish was long, with some bitterness. I like the experiment itself, I am not sure I would want to drink this wine all the time…but how could one, with only 300 bottles made? (I wrote in depth about the winery here). And it definitely fit the tasting’s motto.

2011 Agape

2011 Barafakas Winery Agape

The first course of the meal was an arugula salad with cranberries, walnuts and blue cheese. We paired it with a 2011 Barafakas Winery Agape, a Greek white wine blend from the Peloponnese peninsula. The wine is made with 50% Roditis grapes and 50% Savatiano grapes and had 12.5% ABV. The label promised strong acidity as well as citrus, banana and peach aromas. It poured in a light yellow color and had a very subdued nose. I really was not able to discern anything in the nose. The flavor profile on the palate showed a dry, slightly buttery wine with virtually no acidity or fruit aromas, some bitterness and a decent amount of heft to it. Nina said it seemed syrupy to her in texture (not sugar), I am not sure I got that. All in all, a bit boring. But then again, a lot of Southern European dry whites give me that impression. That said, it paired exceptionally well with the salad. The acidity in the dressing, the blue cheese and the nuttiness of the arugula made for good companions.

2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato

2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato

For the pasta course, a classical dish of orechiette pasta and tomato-based ragù sauce, we first opened the 2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferato that we had brought. My notes resembled the notes I made when we initially tried it in March, which is why I just repost them here: “It poured in a lighter red with some hints of brick. The nose was floral and perfumy with cherry and jammy notes. Rather enticing. The flavor profile of this light to medium bodied wine was very intense, with again cherry and some earthy aromas. There was noticeable residual sugar, maybe a tad too sweet. It had a peppery and slightly bitter finish that was rather short.” All in all, it seemed fruitier this time around, which I did not mind at all. Still a solid wine.

NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d'Alba

NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d’Alba

We then opened a NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC, an Italian red wine made from 100% Lacrima grapes, an ancient and rare grape variety. The wine had 12.5% ABV (notice a theme here?) and poured in a very dark ruby red. The nose was great, incredibly floral: violets and lavender and other floral aromas. It smelled a bit like an old grandma, but in a good way, if that makes any sense…On the palate, the wine was medium-bodied and soooo silky. That was the first thing I noticed: I really loved the texture of the wine. There was some cherry, and some smokiness to it, but the dominating factor was its black currant and blackberry aromas. Incredible. If you ever had black currant juice (I have, they sell it in Germany and it is AWESOME with sparkling water), you know what I am talking about. Just a wonderful currant, cassis bomb. There were hardly any tannins in this wine, and the finish was quite short. This was seriously yummy. And it paired well with the homemade dark chocolate ice cream. The fruitiness was great and the lack of tannins also helped when pairing it with the ice cream.

2008 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna DOC

2008 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna DOC

We then proceeded to open my back up bottle, the 2008 Sella & Mosca S.P.A. Cannonau di Sardegna  DOC Riserva. I had brought the wine in case we’d run short because given our hosts gracious and laborious meals, we guests were providing the wine, and two of our friends couldn’t make it, so we would potentially have been short of wine. I had initially bought this bottle because I liked the label and the word Cannonau…which I had hoped was another strange fruit, but it turns out that it is the Sardinian name for Mourvèdre. The wine poured in a brickish red. The nose showed wet tobacco, a serious level of ripeness and some age, sweet plums, and, honoring the tasting’s motto: horse sweat. Significant horse sweat. Well, that was weird. On the palate, it felt flat with serious acidity (others were less kind and said sour), had a short finish and was not very enjoyable. I guess the fruitiness of the Lacrima, the wine we had before, did not help this contender, but it still seemed like it had serious issues which was too bad…

Johnny Drum Bourbon

Johnny Drum Bourbon

We finished the night with a glass of small batch Bourbon that our host, a total Bourbon aficionado, pulled from the kitchen closet. It was delicious and a great finish for another awesome tasting night. We’ll try to work another one into the time before we head out for our big trip this year, and I already cannot wait.

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Thoughts on tasting wines at home

About a week ago, I was asked for ideas for blind tastings. As in what motto could work. I had a couple of ideas, and I figured why not share them, and some more general thoughts on tasting wine at home with friends.

I have great memories of tasting wines with friends at our or their home. There is something inherently communicative in wine. First of all, wine is a sensory experience: We look at the wine, then we smell it, and then we taste it. If the bottle has a cork, we even get to hear the “plopp” when it comes out. Second, wine is also an emotional experience. We taste a wine that we picked out, that we have some sort of connection with. That is even true for supermarket wines, because there was some reason in the first place why we bought that bottle. Maybe we have tried the wine before and are curious about how it will taste like now. Maybe it is a first, and we are not quite sure. Maybe it is a vintage that has some importance to us, and maybe we have been at the winery…there are so many emotions connected with opening a bottle. Wine brings all these emotions back to us.

So, we have a sensory experience and we have an emotional experience. I don’t know about you, but moments are usually enhanced by having a friend and loved ones around me because I need to share them. Sometimes it might be nice to have a bottle alone, but I definitely prefer sharing the experience under most circumstances. Besides, I also am curious what my friends think, how they see the experience while at the same time it is also a great way to find out what your friends drink and like.

In order for the tasting to work, I want to make sure that the people sharing the experience care about wine. In my view that is a crucial point. You can have a great evening with friends drinking wine when the wine is not supposed to be the star. But when you are tasting wines, when this is what you want to do with your friends that particular evening, then the ones joining you should be at least interested in wine.

So, apart from that, what am I suggesting?

First I’d narrow the field down a bit by picking a theme for the tasting: It can be grape varietal; or just the color of the grape; it can be a certain vintage; or a region; or even just wines from one specific vineyard that everyone cares about; your favorite summer wine or everyone brings a bottle of a wine they have never heard before….the topics really are endless and depend on your group. If my friends care as passionately as me about Mosel riesling, then we can do just a Mosel riesling tasting. If you don’t quite know, pick a broader topic.

I fell in love with this wine Yutaka brought for a white tasting at our place in July 2011: a 2000 Van Volxem Scharzhofberger…incredible.

My rule of thumb is to have around 6-7 people tasting, and every person is supposed to provide one wine each (you can up that number, too). With that number of people you need about one bottle per wine tasted and have some marginal leftovers. Also, I think 6-7 wines is a good number to start with…

After that, you have to make a decision on whether you want to do a blind tasting or an open tasting. In a blind tasting, everyone brings the bottle without disclosing what it is. Someone (usually the host or someone with some wine experience) should be designated to bring the wines in a tasting order (dry to sweet, light to heavy). That takes some experience, so don’t shy away from stepping up if you are the one with the most experience or relinquishing that position if you don’t feel up for it. The wine is then served covered (in a brown bag for example) and sampled without knowing what it is.

In my experience, a blind tasting is fun if people are willing and ready to share their thoughts on the wines without being afraid or hesitant, without fearing they might say something wrong (which is usually the case once everybody knows each other, feels comfortable with everyone). We did a lot of these blind tastings with my friends ManSoo and Yutaka, and what I learned from them is this: Nothing is wrong in the description of wine. If it tastes like soapy water or sweaty socks to you, then it does. So don’t be afraid to say it as you taste it. Nothing is wrong. But the exchange of ideas on what we smell or taste can help all of us identify traits in the wine that we otherwise might not have noticed.

For starters, especially if the group has not done a tasting together before, I suggest doing an open tasting. Everyone brings a bottle, as I said, and then you group them in the same way as for the blind tasting (light to heavy, dry to sweet). I suggest having everyone introduce the wines they brought before you try them. Let us know the story behind the wine, why did you bring it, what made you choose it, are there memories or anecdotes connected to it? I always want to know these stories…

Between wines, it is good to clean your palate with bread or water. I find bread the better cleaner, but that might just be me. If you’re not going for drunk, you might also hydrate once in a while…

One thing that we have begun to incorporate, is to provide everyone with tasting sheets by De Long Wine Discoveries, which are a great way to get you focused on what you have in the glass. It is by no means necessary, but definitely has helped me quite a bit.

As the evening progresses, the talk leads from wine to other subjects, and as the wines keep flowing the conversation flows, too. Don’t focus too much on the wines, but let them have their place at your table, like friends or acquaintances that came to the party. I suggest taking some notes, it always helps me to remember afterwards. But it is just as fine to free-float. The main thing is enjoying the company and the moment. As pretty much always.

I also suggest starting with some food before the tasting, a pasta dish or just a cheese platter or something. It is better to have something in your stomach before you start.

We’re having a tasting with a group of friends tonight. I’ll let you know how it went…

PS: As the host, you want to make sure to have some back up bottles ready (something sparkling or desserty), to serve before the tasting or after, in case there is some need…which there often is.

The line up at a red wine tasting in January 2011 (started with a sparkling wine, finished with a port)

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