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Let’s Dream

Wine.

What thoughts are conjured when considering it? Friends and family, perchance? Maybe lush, rolling hills of grapevines? Perhaps a mouth-watering sweet, spicy, or dry memory of good times past?

For me, it’s all of these and more. Whether it is sipping a glass of wine surrounded by the idyllic Tuscan countryside or with Nadia (my wife), a contented dog’s head in my lap, and a week’s worth of hard work behind me, wine is my pinnacle of relaxation and luxury. In these moments, I experience a happiness that is free of stress or concern, one that supplants all other feelings. One where I feel whole.

Over the past couple of years, my enjoyment of wine has become increasingly intertwined with expansive daydreams of owning a small vineyard and producing my own wine- I want to create something to share with others, to be a master of something that strongly elicits such joy, such pleasure, such happiness, if even for moments which are fleeting but treasured always.

Dreams run rampant with Nadia, a talented wedding photographer, of us owning a winery that doubles as a wedding venue. “Imagine, it’s perfect! A picturesque backdrop for couples to have their union. You will direct and shoot while I supply the wine and sommeliers to celebrate such a special day!” We talk and dream. We dream and talk…

Why let this stop at a dream?

At this point, my self-limiting voice proudly begins: “You’re 34 years old and your knowledge of wine consists of 13 years of blindly drinking sub $15 wine.” “You went on a wine tour once in Bordeaux, get over yourself.” “People 16 years your junior have more education about wine than you.” “Need I go on?”

No, you need not.

The frequency and depth with which I envision this future for myself can no longer be ignored. I am going to stop fantasizing about this and start trying to make it a reality. Full disclosure- human beings are notorious for poorly identifying what will make them happy. I have no idea if my undertaking here will bring me happiness or if it is even feasible. However, I owe it to myself to do the necessary due diligence and explore this avenue.

I have zero experience in the wine industry. I have incredibly limited knowledge about wine/making in general. I have fears and trouble quelling that nagging, doubtful voice. What I do have, however, is not something that can be learned or casually obtained.

Passion. Passion for wine and revelry. Passion for friends, family, and love. Passion for the deepest, truest sense of happiness.

Dear reader, this is my invitation to ask you join me on this journey. This is me, starting at square one, taking my first steps into what I hope can be my career, retirement, and passion, bottled into a single phenomenon. I will document here my processes, musings, research, successes, failures, and everything in between on a weekly, if not daily basis.

This blog will serve many purposes for this endeavor. Some days it’s simply an accountability piece, others, documentation of my notes/studies. It will also house organization, reflection, and narrative of the journey. I truly hope you experience this with me, whether you’re also curious about how to break into the industry without any experience or simply interested in how this dream may end.

Let’s wine.

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Wine 101

I stumbled across this Wine 101 vid on YouTube. It’s a really welcoming tutorial with introductory knowledge, great for wine newbies.

Wine Education

Knowing where to begin with regard to an education in wine is, at minimum, overwhelming to consider. Perhaps the best way of breaking it up is by considering what part of the wine industry you’re interested in.

Wine Making

  • Viticulture
  • Oenology

Wine Biz

  • Sales
  • Distribution
  • Marketing

Wine Service

  • Sommelier
  • Advisor

Wine Education

  • Wine Educator
  • Region Education
  • Wine Programming

I’m certain there are a variety of additional areas, with different and nuanced roles. However, the above is a pretty generalized categorization that should envelope the mass number of positions.

While my personal goal is that of a wine proprietor which, by and large, will require knowledge and skills in each realm, I’m presently fascinated by both the winemaking process, including vineyard work, as well as having a sommelier-level knowledge of worldwide wines. With this in mind, I’m taking a look at the four levels of Wine & Spirit Education Trust certification.

Their Level 1 Certification seems like an approachable area to begin a formal and recognized wine education. Here’s their specifications for Level 1 certification.

In addition to WSET, there are other recognized certification guilds including:

Wine Folly has a great summary of each of the above.

Wine Tasting

Professional wine tasting is a four-step process in which the consumer utilizes visual, olfactory, and gustatory cues to identify key characteristics about a wine and progressively improve smell and taste memory. The four steps are look, smell, taste, and conclude.

LOOK:  A taster will be able to begin to derive clues about a wine’s profile by examining its color, intensity, opacity, and viscosity. Two techniques to begin this process are inspecting and swirling.

To properly inspect a wine, angle the glass of wine over a white background and examine the wine nearest the rim of the glass. Consider the color, intensity, and hue. With regard to color, compare it to other wines of its kind to find differences in variety, quality, and production. For intensity, while still angled, view from the rim to the middle of the wine and note the color differences. This will inform about variety, production, and age. (author’s note: not yet sure what this informs)

Finally, swirl the glass. A more viscous wine has higher alcohol and/or residual sugar. Wine “tears” or “legs” will form, with slower tears indicating higher viscosity, though is independent of quality.

(Second note: Color of wine has encyclopedic levels of information, so this will be saved for another day, when deep diving is more appropriate)

SMELL: Prime your nose by smelling your wine once. Give it a swirl to help release its aromatic compounds and once more, slowly and deliberately inhale. To improve focus, while breathing in, trade off between “only sniffing” and “sniffing while thinking.”

Different aromas reside in different areas of the glass. Rich, fruity smells can be found on the lower lip while floral aromas and volatile esters (chemical compounds derived from acids) will be on the upper lip.

Wines have primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas.

Primary aromas are derived directly from the grapes used and has a wide range of smells, depending on where the wine was produced and how long it was aged. Primary aromas are often categorized: black fruit, dried fruit, red fruit, tropic fruit, tree fruit, citrus fruit, floral and herbal, and earthy.

Secondary aromas are generated specifically by the winemaking process- in particular, yeast and bacteria.

Tertiary aromas are a result of aging (barrels) and controlled interactions with oxygen.

TASTE: First coat your mouth with a large sip then take additional smaller sips to isolate and identify unique flavors. Try to identify three fruit flavors, then three others, one at a time.

Pay attention to how your mouth responds when the wine remains in your mouth. Sweetness is experienced towards the front of the tongue. Acidity will make your mouth water while tannin will dry your mouth out. Alcohol will be noted with a heat in the back of the throat.

Once tasted, try to create the profile of the wine by categorizing the flavors experienced.

Note, a wine’s profile will evolve over time in your mouth. A syrah will be full bodied, delivering a pop almost immediately and then precipitously falling off while a pinot noir will gradually peak and just as slowly taper from your mouth. Wines may deliver multiple flavor profiles from start to finish.

CONCLUDE: After tasting, begin to evaluate. First, was the wine balanced? Were the flavors and physical sensations in harmony? An out of balance wine will be dominated by one, or more particular aspect.

To improve your memory, compare your experience with this wine and compare it against the traits and flavors specific to this grape variety as well as those unique to the vintage, producer, or region.

Finally, identify what you enjoy about this particular wine more than others. In time, you will be better able to describe what types of wines you like. Useful tasting notes may include what you drank and when, your overall opinion, what you saw, smelled, and tasted, and what you were doing.

Upon reflection, I feel my wine tasting knowledge and skills are incredibly poor at present. I’m hoping that it’s merely due to a lack of training and intentional focus more than frankly being bad at it. I become a little nervous thinking long term when I smell and taste a wine and have a difficult time identifying its individual odors and flavors.

When I hear someone tasting wine and pinpointing specifics like “plum” or “black currant with a hint of vanilla and crushed gravel,” I think to myself “What in the hell…?” I think an analogy may be like when listening to an orchestra. I tend to enjoy listening to the sum of all its parts, basking in its harmonic totality instead of honing in on specific instruments. Though with effort, I can locate one particular sound and follow it, though I’ve certainly spent more time listening to music than tasting wine. I’m thinking this may be how I experience wine, too, and thus can improve through intentional practice.

In time, I look forward to confirming that my issue is restricted only to not having the requisite training and experience instead of a complete physical inability to do so. Perhaps I need to garnish my meals with a dash of crushed gravel?

Wine Fundamentals

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It arrived!

Let’s start with the most fundamental of fundamentals, courtesy Wine Folly.

Wine Basics

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from wine grapes (vitisvinifera, different from table grapes, vitis labrusca)

Grapevines take one year before bearing fruit and are harvested between Aug and Oct in the northern hemisphere and Feb through Apr in the south.

Temperate climates are where grapes grow best. Regions with cooler climates create more tart wine while warmer climates create wines that taste more ripe.

A vintage refers to the year the grapes were harvested. A single-varietal wine is produced with only one type of grape variety while a wine blend is created from mixing several wines together.

A 750ml bottle of wine is commonly poured as five 150ml glasses. Wines are commonly 80-90% water, with the remainder largely made up of alcohol and some “other stuff” (e.g. sulfites, acid, phenols, sugars).

Wines tend to increase in calories the higher their ABV (alcohol by volume). Percentages of alcohol tend to run from 10% (dry wines) to 21% (fortified wines such as port or sherry; those with distilled alcohol added during or after the fermentation process).

There exist 11 official wine bottle sizes, from those 1/4 the size of the standard (a split) 750ml to a whopping 20x the standard size (15 liters, the Nebuchadnezzar). On labels, if a winery labels its wine by grape variety, then countries have varying percentage limit mandates that must be included in the wine in order to be labeled as such- 75%: Chile, USA; 80%: Argentina; 85%: Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa

Wine Characteristics

There are five characteristics of every wine that helps define its profile: Sweetness, acidity, tannins, alcohol, and body.

Sweetness: Sweetness is the result of some residual grape must (sugar) that is not converted into alcohol. The more acidic a wine, the less sweet a wine will taste, given an equal amount of sugar. Range is as follows:

  • Bone dry
  • Dry
  • Off-Dry
  • Sweet
  • Very Sweet

Acidity: Acids are the primary component that contribute to a sour or tart flavor. These are commonly tartaric, malic, and/or citric acids. pH ranges from 2.5 to 4.5. A pH of 3 is 10x more acidic than that of pH 4. As grapes ripen, they become less acidic. Therefore, grapes from a cooler climate tend to produce more tart wine, on average, due to having less time to ripen.

  • Low
  • Medium-Low
  • Average
  • Sour
  • Very Sour

Tannin: Unique to red wines due to the fermentation process (with skins; white wines remove skins for fermentation), tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol (an aromatic organic compound) found in plants. With grapes, tannin is formed in the stems, skins, and seeds. However, new oak aging barrels will also contribute to the tannin in a wine. It cannot be identified by taste but rather feel. It is a textural astringent and in high tannin wine, proteins are stripped from your tongue, causing a drying or puckering sensation. These can act as palette cleansers for heavier foods.

  • Low
  • Medium-Low
  • Average
  • Astringent
  • Very Astringent

Alcohol: Alcohol forms in wine by yeast converting the grape must into ethanol. It also serves as the olfactory vehicle on which aromas travel from wine to nose. Alcohol also adds body to the wine.

  • Low < 10%
  • Medium-Low 10-11.5%
  • Average 115.-13.5%
  • Medium-High 13.5-15%
  • High > 15%

Body: Each of the aforementioned characteristics will affect the how lightly or boldly the wine will taste.

  • Very Light
  • Light-Bodied
  • Average
  • Medium-Full
  • Full Bodied

Today’s post is brought to you by a 2016 vintage Tribunal. It’s a red blend with six (!) grape varieties, the majority of it being Zinfandel and Syrah, coming from the northern coast of California. I’m not proud: The label is what sold me. Who can say “no” to those judicially inclined animals?

To my incredibly uneducated tongue, I’d say Tribunal is an off-dry, sour, medium low tannin, high alcohol, light-bodied wine. It has slightly sweet, fruity notes with a light peppery pop. Smooth and light.

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Step 1: WTF

So, where to begin? Considering wine is something that has been crafted and consumed for millenia, it’s an undeniably vast topic. Trying to fully conceptualize the wide world of wine, from terroir to production best practices and everything in between, feels overwhelming to decide on a starting point.

That said, I think the best process is to begin by creating realistic, bite-sized, goals. I momentarily considered reverse engineering my goals, beginning with the ultimate goal (e.g. owning a winery), identifying all the necessary steps to achieve it, and then building out the requisite tasks and actions, but that in itself is far too grand. I am certain to lose my way, get frustrated, and give up.

It seems at this point, more than anything, I simply need greater foundational knowledge about wine. At present, my knowledge base is as deep as a list of wines that I like, housed on Nadia’s phone. As such, my (SMART) goal is by 1 April 2018, I want to be able to explain the basic traits of at least 10 types of common Oregon wines and easily recount Willamette Valley wines and appellations, along with their differences. 

Simple enough, yes?

To accomplish this, as of today, I’ve identified the following methods and resources to begin building this knowledge base. This will serve as a living outline, as new ideas and additional resources are generated daily. I plan on researching and/or studying for a minimum of an hour a day, not including blogging time.

  1. RESEARCH
    1. General wine information
      1. Read Wine Follyauthored by Madeline Puckette
      2. Types of wine
      3. Production process
    2. Willamette Valley wines and appellations
      1. https://www.oregonwine.org/discover-oregon-wine/wine/
      2. http://winefolly.com/review/self-guided-wine-tour-willamette-valley/
    3. Formal certifications and courses
      1. http://winefolly.com/review/guide-to-wine-education-courses/
    4. Beginner winemaking kits
      1. http://winemakersacademy.com/start-here
      2. https://smile.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_st_review-rank?keywords=wine+making+kit&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Awine+making+kit&qid=1517692073&sort=review-rank
  2. CREATE
    1. A list of local wineries (to soon be used as a contact sheet to hopefully land a volunteer gig for hands on experience)
    2. A list of courses for formal learning
  3. RESOURCES TO BROWSE
    1. Social media (Instagram, Facebook groups) for daily motivation, creating a routine of in/formal learning and investigation
    2. Various subreddits
      1. r/wine/
      2. r/winemaking/

By and large, I’m picturing that as I study, each of the tasks above will receive its own blog entry/ies, acting as a space where I organize information, review/discuss it, and make it readily accessible for myself and readers.

Here’s to learning!