Friday, October 7, 2011

Brian's Wine Rant #1

One of the things I or We have been working on at Diva's Dishes is a bi-monthly article on wine by our resident Wine Expert Brian Beneat
You all have seen him in my photo's & read as I talk about him.
Here is a bit more information on Brian!
Brian has been a passionate lover of wine for about 15 years now.  Attempting to self-educate himself about wine he read everything he could get his hands on and ended up being more confused than when he started. So Brian began taking classes at various locations around Los Angeles wherever he could find them, eventually ending up taking an extended course offered through The International Sommelier Guild.  With the basics firmly under his belt Brian put his knowledge to use and spent a little over a year working in the tasting room at the now defunct HOWS market in North Hollywood.  It was at HOWS that Brian met Rebecca which eventually led to his participation in Diva Dishes



Let me begin this inaugural column by introducing myself.  The Diva has already given you the basics on me and why she asked me to write something for her newsletter.  I thought I would give you some more details as a way of easing into this column’s topic.
In the late 1980’s I was a complete teetotaler; until one day when I heard a radio commercial while driving in my car.  At this point I can’t even remember what the commercial was about; all I remember is part of the tag line for the commercial: I prefer Merlot…Merlot?  I remember being mystified by this word.  It obviously meant something because it was the punch-line to the whole damn commercial, and yet I, as a 20 something year old man, actually had to go to the dictionary to figure out what this word meant.  (Two things in this world make me crazy, the first is hearing someone use a word that I don’t know, and the second is something we’ll discuss in a minute.)  Anyhow, I remember being shocked to learn that Merlot was a type of wine, a “varietal” of grape that made a particular type of red wine.  Up until this point I didn’t even realize that wine could be more specific than red, white or altar, so learning that there were variations within these broader categories of wine fascinated me. 
We now have to jump ahead a good 10 or 15 years to my first trip to the Napa Valley.  Still a teetotaler, and still incredibly na├»ve about wine, but that was all about to change.  It was a rainy week day in March and I was visiting an old High School friend who was out staying with family when she asked me what I wanted to do that day.  For the life of me I still don’t know where the idea came from, but out of my mouth popped “Why don’t we go wine tasting?”  So off we went, driving the twisty back roads of the Napa Valley looking for tasting rooms that might be open mid-week and off-season.  The place we ended up was a winery named Hop Kiln.  The woman running the tasting room that day was thrilled to have someone, anyone, stop in to relieve her boredom, even two neophytes like my friend and me.  Since neither of us knew the first thing about wine – a fact we disclosed almost before the door to the tasting room had shut - the woman behind the counter made it her goal to give us the best education she could on wine.  You know what…it worked!  At least it did for me.  After the first or second taste, with this lady’s kind guidance, I actually started to differentiate between smells like citrus, grass or peach.  I slowly started to struggle toward the idea that the scents of the wine only told part of the story and that by concentrating you could learn even more by what was happening on your palate.  After about 45 minutes, and more sampling than was probably advisable on an empty stomach, I was determined to learn more about this amazing beverage that came from a single fruit and yet was so radically different from bottle to bottle and glass to glass.  The several bottles I had purchased that morning guaranteed I’d have the chance to practice what I had learned. J
Imagine my disappointment over the intervening years when I tried to share my newfound enthusiasm with friends only to hear, time and again, “I only drink Chardonnay” or “I prefer California Cabernets.” (And yes, I know that there is nothing more obnoxious than the newly converted oenophile, but hey, I had a lot of lost time to make up for.)  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with liking Chardonnay, or having a preference for California Cabernets…but people, please!  There is an incredible world of wine out there and when you start thinking of yourself as a person who only drinks Chardonnay, or California Cabs you are robbing yourself of experiences that I believe will only enhance your life.  This brings me to the second thing that drives me crazy (I told you we’d get back to this!), people who aren’t willing to try something new!
So my rant this time is DON’T GET COMFORTABLE drinking the same old stand-by wine.  If you normally drink Chardonnay then challenge yourself and try her little sister Sauvignon Blanc, or better yet throw caution to the wind and go for a Viognier!  If you find yourself in the wine aisle of your local wine shop or grocery store going to the California Cabs time and again why not shake things up a bit and grab an Argentinean Malbec or maybe an Australian Shiraz!  You might really surprise yourself.  There is some amazing wine being made out there, from all over the world, selling for under $20 a bottle.  At prices like that you can’t afford NOT to experiment.
So, let’s wrap this rant up with a couple friendly suggestions to help break you out of your comfortable rut.  For you Chardonnay drinkers, why not try an Ancient Peaks 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from Paso Robles or a Folin Cellars 2009 Viognier, from Rogue Valley in Oregon.   Both of these wines should appeal to you as easy drinking alternatives that pair well with a number of summer foods. 
With naturally high acidity, Sauvignon Blanc is always tangy, tart, racy, or zesty, and this character pervades even sweet and dessert versions, keeping them from being cloying and sticky-tasting.   Dry-style Sauvignon are very versatile in accompanying foods and can handle components such as tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro, raw garlic, smoked cheeses or other pungent flavors that would clash with or overpower many Chardonnays. In fact, Sauvignon Blanc is probably the best dry white wine to accompany the greatest variety of foods.
The main attraction of Viognier is its potentially powerful, rich, and complex aroma that often seems like overripe apricots mixed with orange blossoms or acacia. With as distinctive and sweet an aroma-flavor profile as Gew├╝rztraminer, Viognier is usually made in a dry style that appeals to the typical Chardonnay drinker.  Both Chardonnay and Viognier share tropical fruit flavors and a creamy mouth feel. Even with little or no wood aging, Viognier can be as full-bodied as an oaky Chardonnay, but has a much more distinctive fruit character.
And you California Cab fanatics go for a Don Miguel Gascon 2009 Malbec from Mendoza or a Forefather 2005 McLauren Vale Shiraz from Southeast Australia!  Both wines will appeal to the Cabernet lover because of their hefty tannins, jammy flavors of lush ripe fruit and robust structure.  But beware, in Malbec the tannins are typically a bit tighter than your average Cabernet, but given time to breathe in your glass will open up nicely, so give it some time.  For either sipping on a late summer evening, or pairing with a grilled steak, these two wines won’t disappoint.
Until next time:  Cheers!

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