Scott Clothier

Just a small town boy...

37

5

Stranger in a Strange Land: A Beer Drinker's Foray into Wine

Entry 3 (A special Thursday Diversion....)

This past Thursday, I was lucky enough to spend a wonderful evening eating fine food and fine wine (and beer and whiskey)  with my friend for her birthday.   The first place we went, Mas Tapas, a spanish small dish tapas restaurant was featuring a special tasting flight of wines in memoriam of Pedro Lopez de Heredia.  From Left to Right:  is the '02 Gravonia, the '05 Cubillo Crianza, and the '91 Tondonia Reserva.  

As can be seen, we enjoyed these wines with some delicious Olives, (a food I normally dislike).  In addition to this, we shared a plate of Boquerones (anchovy filets),  Carne Asada  w/ Smoked Aioli dressing on Duck Fat Tortilla, and Medjool dates wrapped in applewood smoked bacon.    Now,  If you aren't drooling, you should be.  And if you are ever in the Charlottesville area and have time, you should stop into Mas Tapas and try all of the above.  It WILL change your life. (Particularly the Asada.)   

I was lucky enough to have been here before, and this time I tried to pair the Gravonia with the Sardines.  The salty fish really changed the characteristics of the wine.  Now, I didn't get a chance to really watch the videos before this meal, so I didn't know what I was getting into in terms of descriptors, and trying to remember exact flavors is just not possible after this night.  I just remember the Boquerones saltiness being mellowed out by the Gravonia, and the Gravonia becoming more  balanced with the salty tongue. 

The Cubillo Crianza at first taste was very neutral.  It was a very easily drinkable neutral wine. It was fruity but not strongly flavored.  Compared to the other Tempranillos I'd been drinking, it was almost flavorless. The nose was very pronounced, but the taste was smooth to the point of non-existence.  Perhaps the palate needed cleansing.  

Onto the '91 Tondonia Reserva, I was expecting to be blown away by something complex or smooth, given its vintage.  After all 1991 was a special year for me. I was a wee 16 years, having experienced many firsts... my first job, learning to drive, my first girlfriend, Nirvana's "Nevermind" playing on my tapedeck, cruising the backroads of speed-limitless Botetourt County....  Meanwhile in Spain, they were harvesting grapes I would be drinking 22 whole years later.  Amazing thought there.  The initial smell was much not very strong, but the flavor was more pronounced than it's younger 2005 red counterpart.

Enter the Carne Asada.

This rare cooked Carne Asada comes out, with a burnt orange sauce on top, served on a thick, almost barely touched half tortilla.  As we both took tastes of the carne, I am pretty sure that hte earth stopped moving, the weather simply stopped, and we entered an astral plane of which no other two people could have possibly entered.   There were ancient monks chanting 6,000 year old tones as this perfectly salted beef, aioli and blood combination was eaten.  Seriously, I can't stress enough how insanely good this was.  And then I tried it with the Cubillo Crianza.  It was at this point, the astral plane exploded with a fury of colorful flavors, like some sort of acid trip of the mouth. Even Albert Hoffman would have been amazed.  This neutral wine exploded with fruit flavors that I could only imagine existed in a time and land before industrialization.  That young Cubillo was just outright ridiculous. I should have just had an entire glass of it with the remainder of my meal.   

After trying that, I had to physically prepare myself for the Rondonia Reserva.  I assumed that because it was a much more defined flavor before the food, that it would come out just as much with the Carne Asada.  I was disappointed, because it did not.  There was still Cubillo left, and with a little mental trickery, I was able to eat a good portion of the Duck Fat Tortilla before my companion realized it wasn't as terrible as I described.  haha. 

After that, The second dinner for me included Bone Marrow,  Duck Liver Ragout over Pappardelle, with Ham, Garlic, and served with a Pinot from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  At one point I had the cork, which smelled, oddly like cork, but I couldn't intelligently describe the wine outside of how great it was with the dinner. Glass Haus Kitchen, where we had dinner served their wine in stemless glasses (a first for me) and every time I picked up a glass i swirled it, as if it was a reaction.  This continued onto the C&O where I was swirling beer and whiskey.  I partly blame the alcohol content for that.

All in all, it was a damn great evening, with fine food, fine drink, and fine company.  I don't think before this class (and spring) that I would have nearly appreciated that night as much as I did without the tips and knowledge I've gained.  So, I hope that makes this whole venture worthwhile.

Entry 2 (Describing Wine Lectures)

So, I've been getting some shit about my whole BEER thing.  and I'm going to try to really steer my planned conversion from beer to wine a little more severely.  Or maybe I'll just start rambling about Rye Whiskey and Sazeracs, no no no. I'm here for a reason. To learn something about something I have little to no experience with discussing. 

So, Last time I spent some money on wine, I purchased a half-bottle of Vina Alberdi Reserva 2005 Rioja Tempranillo. A Spanish Red wine.   I purchased a small bottle of this because it was quite expensive, for my taste anyway.  I also purchased Senda 66, another Tempranillo from 2010 from La Mancha Spain.  I wanted to try something that's aged versus something that was relatively new.

I sat down during the online chat last sunday drinking both, and immediately was attracted to the 2005 Vina Alberdi.  Both were fruity, though the Senda was dry. The Vina Alberdi was more of a cherry or berry flavor, with no tannic properties whatsoever.  The Senda 66 was a lot drier and i got a more out of the smell than the Vina Alberdi.   I went back and forth between the two, and kept pouring larger amounts of the more expensive Vina Alberdi.  

As we chatted online, that half bottle was gone quickly.  I saved the Senda 66 for tonight where I finished that off.  It's very nice, very drinkable for a dry wine.  I do feel quite thirsty after 2 hours of sipping on the remainder of that bottle. 

I also gave my 2012 La Finca Oak Aged Malbec another shot.  After 2 weeks on my counter, it was not NEARLY as pungent and chemical tasting.  It was actually drinkable. I tried it with a straight pour and through my Rabbit Aerator.  I couldn't tell much of a difference in the Aeration, and definitely couldn't tell if i aerated it via bubbles drawn through my lips as compared to through the aerating pourer I acquired with my Rabbit corkscrew.  

So I've experienced wine that's been open for a while over a couple weeks,  I've compared two varietals (Tempranillo), and I've tried wines with cheeses and food (more on that later).  Next up is comparing two varietals of the same vineyard and vintage.

Entry 1 (Walking the Walk Lectures)

Every journey starts with a first step.  As a teenager, I experimented with beer, and it was exciting swiping bottles from the basement of my dad's house.  There were green ones, clear ones, and brown ones.  It was pungent, bitter, and very bubbly.  Now? I wouldn't touch that swill.  I'm pretty sure I haven't touched Heineken, Miller, and Budweiser willingly in over 10 years.  

I feel like I'm a teenager again on my journey experimenting with wine.  I know that what I taste now I may or may not like in the future years.  As my palate becomes more refined, I may be able to blind taste the difference in a pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon.  Something I don't think I could do now. 

One thing I took away from the lectures that I didn't really know before was the container, and how "box wines" can actually be good quality (and well priced.)  When it comes to beer, bottling is the traditional method of delivery.  But recently, with the explosion of high quality microbrews, a canning revolution is taking place for a couple reasons,  one is the cost to produce, but more importantly,  Light is the natural enemy of beer, which is why green bottled and clear bottled beer can "skunk" earlier than brown bottles or cans.  I didn't consider that light could do the same thing to wine, but I guess that's why I'm in this class and trying to learn everything I can. 

It is with this "I know that I know nothing" knowledge, that I went to Trader Joes to get a couple bottles of wine.  I purposefully purchased something exceptionally cheap ($4) and something a little more expensive ($12):


The La Finca "Oak Aged" Malbec 2012 from Mendoza Argentina was the choice for my cheap wine and Montes 70/30 Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere 2011 from Colchagua Valley Chile was my pricier one.  In this tasting, I didn't set out to prove that expensive = good, but instead just try to get a kind of basic wine, and compare it to an exceptionally cheap wine. 

So, I poured the Malbec, did the sniff and swirl.  It was quite vivid on my senses. I took a sip, and the best way I could describe it is that it was acrid.  i drank a couple ounces, and it was drinkable but not very pleasant.  By contrast, the Montes blend was not as strong on the nose, but was very pleasant to drink.  

With the wines, I had had two spanish cheeses, an Iberico and a Basque.  I poured another small glass of the Malbec, sipped it and then tried it after the cheese/crackers.  It seemed to make the Malbec a bit smokier which is up my alley. Still kind of an offensive taste that made me kind of wince a little.  The Montes tasted a bit creamier and smooth with the cheese combination.  

Conclusion: Forget science, this is just about drinking, taste, and learning.  I appreciated the Montes more. I know it's not all about the price, and after the lectures, not all about the container. In this case, the cheap wine may have been either bad, or maybe my palate is not refined enough to appreciate it.  I did find a short video on youtube reviewing the Malbec, and they gave it a surprising two thumbs up.  Surprising because they state they do not have much luck with <$5 wines, nor malbecs. 

I'm going to give it a sip again before Sunday's office hours.

Entry 0. 

I'm catching up on blog entries here, hopefully will be caught up by the weekend.  The saturday before this class began, it was gorgeous out here, and I asked my partner-in-crime (partner-in-wine?) if she'd like to go hit up some wineries.  I have only been to three in the area, and that was March 2012.  I knew of one I wanted to go to because the scenery was nice.  She had different ideas, though they'd turn out to be far superior.  

We hit up the Food of All Nations to get some cheese, crackers, meat, and quince, then set out toward Southern Albemarle.  Destionat:  Pollak Vineyards. A nice large house located in the middle of a field, set on a pond, we headed in for a tasting.  They had an impressive selection of 7 or 8 tasting wines, and some reserves that they open and let us taste as well.  The woman, Casey, started feeding us sips of whites, (Chardonnay, Viognier, among others) and moved toward the reds, which included a Cabernet Franc that was especially heralded. After that, we sampled a very sweet dessert wine... a
Mille Fleurs 2009.  It was delcious, but I'm a sucker for anything sweet.   We retired to the veranda overlooking the pond for a picnic and a glass of Viognier.  

After stuffing ourselves with Manchego, Quince, Prosciutto and wine, we looked at the time and had another daring thought... If we leave now, we can squeeze in a tasting at Veritas! 

Off we went, to much larger Veritas Vineyards, a couple miles down the road. While a bit more picturesque, going inside Veritas, I could feel that this was "an operation."  Like these people knew what they were doing, and were IN THE BUSINESS. There was a line just to taste wine, and the inside and outside was quite crowded.  We had a slightly less experienced helper behind the tasting counter, who repeated himself and asked the same questions a couple times.  (Now I know what it's like to talk to me.)   Nevertheless, Veritas produced some tasty wine as well. On the whole, Pollak was better, but as with all opinions, your mileage may vary. Without looking at my cheat sheet, Veritas had a White Star, Red Star, Claret, Chardonnay, Viognier, and a Rosé.  

Introductions & Local Wine Resources

So this is my introductory post. I am Scott, an engineer from Charlottesville, VA.  I am a beer drinker of 30 years, having sipped my first swill after a soccer game when I was 8 years old after scoring the game winning goal.  I went through many beer phases in my long and storied career as a loudmouthed lush, from drinking Gennessee Cream Ale and Yuengling Black and Tans to some of the more exotic 22 oz imperial stouts you can find on the shelves today.  I like to think I've tried just about everything, and just when I think that, they come out with something new (Peanut Butter Beer, anyone?)  I even am going through a bit of a Whiskey and Rum phase at this point too. 

One thing I don't know much about, and could never acquire a taste for was wine.  I felt like it all pretty much tasted the same.  But then again, when I was young, I couldn't tell the difference between a light beer and a Guinness. So, I figure maybe it's just a learning curve.  

So, I moved to Charlottesville after college a few years ago, and as it turns out, I'm surrounded by no fewer than 38 wineries.  I'm smack dab in the middle of "The Monticello AVA" AVA as it turns out stands for "American Viticultural Areas".   So, I figure this is probably as good a time as any to learn about something I have no real knowledge about.  Especially with such resources at my disposal.  Between Here and Northern Loudoun County, there's something like 80 wineries/vineyards for me to explore. 

Here in town, We are also lucky to have a wealth of great places to purchase and taste wine.  Despite it's name, Beer Run has a standing Friday afternoon wine tasting event. This is where I got my first taste of something that tasted pretty good to me.  We also have the Market Street Wine Shop, Wine Warehouse, which quite literally just has boxes and boxes and boxes of wine, and one of my favorite places "Foods of All Nations" has a pretty good selection as well as a stellar cheese case in the back.  

Last month at dinner, A good friend taught me that a wine's flavor characteristics change based on foods you eat, and ever since then, I've had my curiosity piqued and have been trying different foods and wine. I try before eating something, then coat my mouth with the food, and try again.  It's amazing how much the taste changes.

I'm still less than a novice, because I haven't figured out how to pair the food correctly. Thankfully there are smart people at Foods of All Nations and Trader Joes has the cheeses listed with wine types.  I also don't really have a clue as to what kinds of wines I like, nor which manufacturer makes the good stuff.  I'm hoping to get started on figuring that out with this class, and by just getting out there and trying everything. 

I look forward to learning more and possibly comparing and contrasting my experience with beer and ale to my newfound affection for wine. 

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