Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 Pinot Smackdown at Purple Corkscrew

As we learned last week at the wine bloggers' conference in Oregon, Pinot Noir grapes tend to reflect where they're grown down to the soil type and the weather.  In 2010, a couple of oenophile friends of ours decided their lives needed a little excitement, so they pitted Pinot Noir wines from around the world against each other in a little event called the Pinot Smackdown.  Did I mention these two friends are both guys?  Yeah, you probably guessed.  The tradition continued last year, and you can read the testosterone-fueled intro post by one of the founders, who also happens to be one of my favorite Atlanta bloggers, here. Well, he went and got himself a job in the wine industry, so he's unable to host the usual shenanigans this year due to potential conflict of interest or something like that.

Hubby and I, being big fans of the Pinot Smackdown because it's an event where you get to have both virtual and face-to-face interaction, decided to continue the tradition of getting friends together to drink, discuss, and, if you're so inclined, tweet to help pick the winning region.

The date:  Thursday, September 6

The time:  7:00-9:00 p.m.

The place:  The Purple Corkscrew Wine Bar located below Saba Restaurant in Emory Village.

The cost:  $25 per person

The wines:

Charles Krug Pinot Noir, Carneros
Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River
Latour Pinot Noir, Domain De Valmoissine, France
Belle Valle, Oregon

The rules if you care to tweet, which is fun, but not absolutely necessary:  

We'll have three of the Pinot Noir growing regions represented, California (#CA), Oregon (#OR), and France (#FR).   Please tweet your tasting impressions, opinions, or just plain votes with #pinotsmackdown and the region hashtag, specified above.  So, for example, if you're digging the Rodney Strong, you might tweet something like:

Dude, the fruit on the Rodney Strong Pinot is outrageous! #pinotsmackdown #CA

I'll be back on the blog later this week with impressions from the Wine Bloggers Conference.  Yes, there was a lot of Pinot Noir consumed and some other yummy stuff as well.

Please RSVP for the Pinot Smackdown by commenting here, tweeting me (@RandomOenophile), or commenting on Facebook where I posted this link. Whatever you do, please let me know by next Monday, September 3 if you'll be coming.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Georgia Wineries: Visited, Revisited, and Reviewed

Mountains Pair Well with Wine
In anticipation of this year's Wine Bloggers Conference, Hubby and I drove through Georgia wine country last weekend to pick up a few bottles to share and more to drink ourselves.  We had been to several of the wineries before and decided to try out a few new ones. 

I wrote in my last post about expectations, and a lot of people have doubts about the ability of Georgia winemakers and growers.  It's time to put those aside.  Of course, the opinions expressed here are mine and Hubby's, and everyone's tastes are different.  Still, Georgia wines are worth a try, or another try depending on if you've had them in the past, for the following two reasons:

1)  Georgia wineries have been doing better with eliminating or minimizing the sweet leathery overtones that creep into the reds.  I suspect this has been a big factor feeding the skepticism about the wines here, and I bet a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised.
Note the red clay in the pond.  That's terroir, baby!

2)  Each tasting room has its own character and charm.  More about that below.

We started at Wolf Mountain Vineyards, where we're in the wine club.  The exposed wood and high ceilings give the lower tasting room, which was filled with boxes due to them just having bottled, a mountain resort feel.  We tasted in the cozy upstairs tasting room.  The highlights here are the bubblies and the rosé, but they have good reds, too.  Try the Howling Wolf Red and Coupage, both blends.  Our current favorite sparkling of theirs is the Blanc de Syrah Brut, and a friend of ours cannot get enough of the Plenitude white blend.

Grapes at Blackstock
Another place where you could easily kick back with a glass of wine in a rocking chair is Blackstock Vineyards and Winery, where we're also in the wine club.  These guys supplied grapes to a lot of the other wineries as they got started, so they've done well with figuring out how to make the finicky vinifera play nicely in Georgia's climate, and they were one of the first to figure out that Sangiovese does well here.  They have a fun vibe, both because of the wines and the tasting room staff, often local college kids.  If you're looking for a fantastic Georgia Viognier, often touted as the Southern white wine grape, try this one.  We also really liked their Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the past, Frogtown Cellars seemed to have the most West Coast attitude, but it's mellowed, and I was really impressed with the wines this time.  They seem to have reduced the number of wines they make with a corresponding increase in quality.  Highlights of this trip included the Steel Chardonnay, Touché (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Tannat), Sangiovese, Shotgun Second Reload (NV blend of Tannat, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), and Cabernet Franc.

Go just up and over the hill from Frogtown to Three Sisters for a winery experience that's about as opposite from snobby as you can get.  There are overalls, Cheetos, and other things you just have to see for yourself, but that you're definitely not going to find in California.  What you will discover are great authentic Georgia wines.  The UnOaked Chardonnay is a fruit bomb of a white.  It's been a favorite of mine year after year, and I'm not usually impressed by Chards.  The dry reds are a little on the sweet side, but don't let that deter you; they're still well-balanced and won't kill your palate.  I liked the Merlot, and Hubby and I both liked the Cynthiana, which is really well done.  It's worth trying just to see how a native grape varietal holds its own with the imports.  We didn't so much like it with the optional chocolate pairing, but as I mentioned above, your tastes may differ.

It pains me to say so, but the best parts remaining of Montaluce under their new ownership are the restaurant Le Vigne and the gorgeous view.  We tried the wines and weren't bowled over this time around.  The rosé and chardonnay weren't bad, but not good enough to warrant buying a bottle this trip.  We'll wait and check out their next vintage.

Wine with a View at Montaluce
The wineries above are all featured as part of the Dahlonega Wine Trail Weekend.  We didn't visit Cavender Creek this time but have enjoyed them in the past.

On Saturday, we got adventurous…  Helen, Georgia's faux-German town that hovers between parody and peculiar, seems to be a natural hub for wineries, but Habersham, which we didn't visit, has been getting all the attention.  Frogtown has also opened a tasting room, so if you're not going to visit the Dahlonega one, you can still sample their wines with your bratwurst.  My suggestion is that you venture out a little further and try these two:

Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards feels like you're tasting wine in someone's house, and you can pull up a chair and have a glass or even a wine slushie on the back porch.  It felt the most relaxed of all of them.  Hubby is typically very picky about the pink stuff, but we both liked the White Merlot.  Also, their website has some entertaining tasting notes.  About the White Merlot:  "How do we make White Merlot? By making red grapes blush of course. That's just what happens when proper southern grapes are undressed."  Oh, my.

Go further down the road to Sautee-Nacoochee Village, where you'll find the Yonah Mountain Vineyards tasting room.  It's in a little strip, and the best way to find it is to look for the purple Wine Tasting sign:

The inside of the tasting room is elegant, and they had live music, which was nice and not intrusive .  They're still getting their vineyards going and are sourcing some grapes from elsewhere, but still doing fairly well with what they've managed to grow or get locally.  The Serenity Cellars Bianco Bello is a lovely white blend with a nice fruit/dry balance.  The Sangiovese and Harmony (blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Syrah) were also quite nice.  

We headed north to Tiger Mountain, which we'd enjoyed in the past, but the current vintage didn't do much for us.  The best ones were the Mourvedre and Tannat, but the price point was too high for how we felt about them. So, we'll check back with them after their next vintage is released, which will give us a chance to try out the brand new Stonewall Creek Vineyards, which wasn't open yet.

Kudos to Le Caveau  in Atlanta for carrying the Yonah Mountain Traminette.  Yes, I had to get a plug in there to show my excitement for Georgia wines becoming more widely available.  It would be nice to get even more of them down here in the city.  Until then, they're definitely worth the drive.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Psychowine: Grape Expectations

I have a phobia of blind wine tastings. It's not severe enough to warrant treatment, but they still make me very nervous. You see, when you've been deemed as someone who knows about wine, people expect you to know what you're tasting. I frequently don't. What gets in the way? Expectations.

Consider a recent study (NPR article here) that found wine geeks are willing to pay more for wine with an unpronounceable name, whereas it's likely "low-knowledge consumers" will go for the fun or quirky named wines. This is all because of expectations, namely, "wine geeks will hunt for just about any subtle difference they can find, like a unique sounding name." Unique name = something new, different, and interesting.
This wine is made from Assyrtiko grapes. Therefore, it must be really good! Actually, it was.  Okay, bad example...
As a psychologist, I don't work in the world of concrete reality, but rather how people perceive the world and what they expect will happen. We – not the royal we, although I do include myself in this – waste a lot of time and mental energy setting up expectations, which may or may not be accurate. Blind wine tastings illustrate this principle beautifully.

Please note, I'm not confusing my expectation theory with Expectancy Theory, which is popular in the organizational field of psychology. That one could apply to many other wine-related behaviors, which will be the subject of a different post.

Think about the different layers of the wine-tasting experience and where the expectations occur:

First layer: sensory input – what am I actually experiencing? This includes color, nose, and flavors.

Second layer: knowledge – I tried to identify the wine according to what my experience has told me about the typical characteristics of certain wines.

Third layer: environmental – I'm a regular at this venue's tastings and know the proprietress likes to include unexpected styles and varietals to throw us off.

I'd never guess this one in a blind tasting, but I wouldn't put it past her to include something like it.
Fourth layer: social – I admit to allowing some of my guesses to be influenced through interaction with others

The expectations are most prominent in the second and third layers. In the interest of full disclosure, here are my notes from the wine tasting and what the wine actually ended up being.

Wine #1:
Notes: mineral-ish, fruity, some nectarine, a little frizzante, and very light
Guesses: dry Moscato with Vinho Verde as a second choice
Actual wine: 2010 Vidigal Vinho Verde (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
What threw me: the dry Moscato was my final answer because of the stone fruit characteristics; my experience had led me astray to associate Vinho Verde with citrus, not stone. At least my second guess was right.
Rating: Very Good

Wine #2:
Notes: not much nose, very floral with anise finish
Guess: Seyval Blanc
Actual wine: 2010 Cartlidge & Brown Chardonnay (North Coast, California)
What threw me: I expect California chardonnays to be big oak bombs.
Rating: Okay

Wine #3:
Notes: funky nose!
Guesses: French Syrah, second choice Gamay
Actual wine: Roncier Pinot Noir
What threw me: the nose. To me, barnyard funk is Cotes du Rhone grapes.
Rating: meh/ok, got better as it went

Wine #4:
Notes: cedar notes on finish, a little smoke, smooth fruit with grapey-vanilla flavors
Guesses: Petit Syrah, Petit Verdot, or Malbec
Actual wine: 2010 Protocolo Tempranillo (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain)
What threw me: the smoke and grapey flavors; Hubby got that it was a Tempranillo
Rating: Good

Wine #5:
Notes: zut alors! Fruit bomb
Guess: California Zin
Actual wine: 2010 Ruta 22 Malbec (Patagonia, Argentina)
What threw me: the jammy fruitiness, which I expect in zinfandel, merlot, and cab, not Malbec
Rating: Good

Wine #6:
Notes: big, leathery, dark fruit
Guess: Cabernet Sauvignon
Actual wine: 2010 Milton Park Shiraz (South Australia)
What threw me: the leathery characteristics, although I should've clued in to the screw-top like Hubby did
Rating: Good

So, there you go. Hopefully I won't get laughed out of this year's Wine Bloggers' Conference. This was a good learning experience and gave me some good data to add to my mental wine characteristics database so I can hone my expectations.  If not, it's nice to know I don't know everything.  Really, that's one of the fun things about wine -- there's always more to learn.

Here's a quiz for you to check on your own expectations and how they might influence your wine experience:

1. You see a red wine with a screw top. The first thing that comes to mind is...
A. Must be from Australia.
B. Can't be from Australia. Too obvious.
C. Oh, look, they're saving the environment one cork at a time.
D. I can't drink that. No cork equals no quality.
E. Hide this before the Cork Alliance guy sees it & starts lecturing us.

2. You're in a wine shop, and you see a wine with a cartoon-like character on the label. You think:
A. The people who make this are trying to get away from the stuffy wine image.
B. It's looking at me. Make it stop.
C. I wonder if they have any with an anime character. Sailor Moon wine would be awesome!
D. If it's not a plain label with a fancy font and unpronounceable name, I'm not interested.

3. You're hosting a dinner party, and a friend shows up with a bottle of grocery store wine (e.g., Sutter Home). You:
A. Open it and present it to your guests as an option. Hey, free wine is free wine, right?
B. Quickly review your history with this friend to see if they might be kidding you or are testing you.
C. Wonder for a moment who Sutter was and make a note to Google the history of the winery later.
D. Figure out how to work "bless your heart" and "thank you" into the same sentence to describe your feelings about the wine.

4. You're out to dinner at a nice restaurant with a group of friends, and as the designated wine expert, you're given the list to order for the table. Half the guests have ordered fish, the others red meat. What do you choose?
A. I choose to allow the sommelier, if they have one on staff, or waiter make a suggestion.
B. I choose to think they planned this on purpose. There should be rules about this sort of thing!
C. I choose a dry rosé. It probably won't go with anyone's meal, but at least it's pretty.
D. I pick something that goes with my meal. Screw the rest of them because I know it'll be good whether it goes with their food or not.

5. You're in a winery, and the pourer tells you the current wine you're enjoying would go great with Cheetos. You:
A. Ask for Cheetos because you're curious now.
B. Wonder if you've landed in a different dimension.
C. Ask if it would also go well with Velveeta-based macaroni and cheese.
D. Turn your nose up at it and walk out. As a serious oenophile, you demand serious cheese.

I wasn't kidding about the Cheeto wine thing.
Answer key:

Mostly A's: Congratulations, you're mostly normal!
Mostly B's: It's not paranoia if the world really is out to get you. In your case, it's probably just paranoia, or you're overthinking it.
Mostly C's: I threw these in to be random. You've already been drinking, haven't you?
Mostly D's: You have a firm sense of what the wine drinking experience should be, but get over yourself already. It's okay for wine to be fun.
If you chose that random E answer, you were cornered in the lobby at last year's wine blogger conference.