After nearly 200 events ranging from monthly wine tastings, to cocktail parties and game nights, I recently decided to try something a little new with my wine group, The Swirlistas. For years members have been asking me how I gained my knowledge of wine. The truthful answer is, “By drinking a lot of wine!” In addition to the obvious imbibing, early on I was lucky enough to have a few great guided tastings that vastly improved my depth of knowledge on the subject. In an effort to provide the same experience to my members I have scheduled a series of nine tastings for 2014, based on Michael Schuster’s Wine Tasting Uncorked card set.
In order to guide this wine tasting, I asked everyone to prepay for the event so that I could buy the appropriate wine that would allow us to compare the style and quality of dry white wines. I set the event up as a seated, guided wine tasting (see the pics below) that would allow members to taste the three wines side-by side, comparing and contrasting the flavors and aromas.
After our social hour (where we enjoyed appetizers brought by each person), we sat down to get started with the tasting. I provided Antipasto Skewers, based on a Food Network Recipe. I frequently change it up a bit. This time I opted for grape tomatoes in lieu of sun-dried tomatoes. I also like to use one of the organic chicken sausages that Trader Joe’s offers. Feel free to spice up the skewers by adding some mozzarella or other cheese.
Before beginning the tasting, I introduced several things to aid us in our tasting:
- The basic steps of wine tasting
- Focusing on sight, smells and tastes
- Wine tasting terms
If you are interested in learning more about the aforementioned “lessons” check out my other blog post that goes over the notes I created to pass out to those in attendance at the wine tasting.
The goal of this particular tasting was to learn the steps in wine tasting, including what to look for in the appearance, nose and taste of the wine. In addition, this wine tasting aimed to compare what is meant by a noble grape variety (Gewürztraminer) in contrast to less distinctive varietals (Malvasia and Melon de Bourgogne). NOTE: Noble grapes are also known as international varieties which are grape varieties that are widely planted in most of the major wine producing regions and have widespread appeal. In this tasting we looked at how the balance and style of white wines vary in terms of their alcohol and acidity.
The line-up for the wine tasting was:
- Vignal Prosecco, Italy
- Bellini Frascati (2012)
- Chateau du Jaunay Muscadet Sevre (2012)
- Anne de K Gewürztraminer (2012)
We started with an apéritif of Vignal Prosecco (Italy) to stimulate the palate prior to the comparison wine tasting. At around $10 a bottle, the prosecco was very well-received. Most of us found the Vignal Prosecco to be crisp, medium-bodied and fruity. To help keep the tasting organized, I created a handout with the wine information listed so that people could keep their own notes. To recreate this tasting, feel free to use my tasting sheet: Dry White Wines Lesson – Place Setting. The circles on the the tasting sheet are to help keep your wine glasses straight.
We started by pouring about two ounces each of the first two wines. We compared the appearance, nose and taste (including acidity, balance and finish) of the first two wines before pouring the third wine and then comparing all three in the same manner.
The first wine, Bellini Frascati (2012) is from Lazio, Italy. As you may know, Italian wines are labeled based on the region and appellation they are from. This wine originates in a tiny town south of Rome known to have produced wine as far back as 5000BC. This town is the site of the ancient Latium volcano whose collapse created to volcanic crater lakes. The soil in this region is extremely fertile and full of potassium. Given this fertile land, Frascati wines are produced for quantity over quality. The grape varietal for this wine is Malvasia. Malvasia is frequently combined with Trebbiano to make Frascati.
Overall impressions of the Bellini Frascati (2012): Crisp, fresh, light-bodied, easy-to-drink, slightly smoky, minerally, shirt finish, and hints of melon and apple. This is a reasonably priced ($10) wine that would be a good table wine to go with a variety of foods, though it doesn’t have a ton of character on its own.
The second wine, Chateau du Jaunay Muscadet Sevre (2012) is from the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appellation of Loire, France. The grape varietal for this wine is Melon de Bourgogne. Like, Italian wines, French wines are labeled based on the region & appellation they are from. Melon de Bourgogne is not a power-packed grape, so the production method has the key way in which flavor is added to the wine. What has become tradition is the aging of the wine for an extended period of time on the lees (the deposit of yeast cells in the fermentation tank). This process of sur lie, bottling the wine directly from the lees without racking, adds richness and body to the wine. The result of this is a white wine that is bright, crisp and fresh, often yielding a toasty, yeasty quality.
Overall impression of the Chateau du Jaunay Muscadet Sevre (2012): This Muscadet is crisper with more acidity thank the Bellini Frascati. This wine has a great bouquet with aromas of lime, flowers, fig and most notably melon. The taste profile of the wine is very similar to the bouquet, most notably with the lime. This is a light-bodied wine with a crisp, and longer, finish. For $12 a bottle, this was the favorite (by a majority) for those in attendance at the wine tasting.
The final wine, Anne de K Gewürztraminer (2012) is from the Alsace appellation of France. Gewürztraminer is an aromatic grape with a tropical bloom boasting high alcohol content and low acidity. this varietal is a tricky one to grow and a well-balanced Gewürztraminer is not easy to achieve because of its high alcohol content and low acidity. Gewürztraminer does better in cooler climates where sugar and acid levels are reached later, allowing flavor and fragrance to develop. Alsatian wines have a German influence are mostly white wines. Thusly, they are the only AOC to use the varietal on the label. Alsace remains the model for dry and sweet Gewürztraminer. The grapes’ skin often makes a deep-yellow wine. Its aroma is a mixture of rose petals, lychees and musk. The flavor is typically off-dry, perfumed and gently spicy. NOTE: Gewürz means spice in German.
Overall impressions of the Anne de K Gewürztraminer (2012): The acidity of the Gewürztraminer was softer than the other two wines. The impression of the mouthfeel is fuller and smoother due to the combination of lower acidity and higher alcohol content. This wine has a beautiful clear, gold color. Its nose has hints of flowers and fruits, with a slightly pepper touch. This full-bodied, white wine was very interesting, boasting a perfumy and rose-filled aroma and taste profile creating a long finish. Of those at the tasting, people were split, either really enjoying the perfumy nature or being turned off by it. While I enjoyed this wine to just drink, for me, when combined with food, it was a total miss overpowering all the flavors of the food. Bottom line: A unique and floral wine to enjoy by itself, but I didn’t enjoy it with the arrangement of appetizers, cheese, bread and cookies we ate.
This first tasting of the series was a great event and a nice change of pace from our sort of free-for-all style monthly tastings. The relaxed nature of the sit-down tasting gave everyone an opportunity to savor the wines and to share their thoughts on the appearance, aroma, taste and overall impressions (as you can see from the photos below).
I’m excited to move on to the second tasting in the series that will look at Terroir and Quality. We will take our tasting a step further and look at how the vineyard site (terroir) where the grapes are grown can have an impact on quality. We will also compare the different characteristics of two more noble great varieties: Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, while examining the effects of new oak on white wine. Check back at the end of April for the next blog when we have our second guided tasting in the series.