“Congrats, babe!” he says, as he lifts my gold-plated corkscrew and inspects a round Mikasa wine glass for water spots. With a suave lift and a gentle aeration, he opens a bottle of 92-point Z.D. vintage 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, pours me a sorso (which means “sip” in Italian) and graciously swirls my wine.
“Here’s to you,” he says, lifting his own glass of carefully crafted, oak-barrel aged wine which is gently fermented to provide a soft balance and unique complexity of flavors. Crafted from small vineyards in Napa Valley, Calif., this exquisite wine provides depth and layered complexity with a bold, ripe and balanced fruit-forward palate. Aromas of plum, anise and vanilla dance in my nose and leave a long finish of jammy fruit with a hint of cedar and earthiness. I swirl this beautiful wine one final time to marvel at its gorgeous garnet color before experiencing some of the most complex and incredibly unique senses I’ve experienced.
This evening, like many others, my sweet boyfriend has chosen a gorgeous bottle of hand-crafted wine to celebrate a major milestone in my young career as a DeW. He leaves me to my rose-gold laptop, turning on “Fleetwood Mac Radio,” as he walks away so that I can write perhaps the most interesting of articles I’ve written on my passion, joy and zest for wine.
Let me begin by sharing: 1. This article is not about me, but rather, about the beautiful world of wine making and – most importantly – wine DRINKING. 2. There is nothing more glorious than a lit candle, a beautiful glass of carefully curated wine and Fleetwood Mac on the radio. I suggest you try it. You’re welcome.
I take another sip: the balance of dark chocolate, worn leather and black licorice is met with bitter espresso and sweet tobacco. While it truly is a gorgeous “cheers-to- you” wine, it is also the PERFECT pajamas, cuddle up with a good book and enjoy the rainstorm wine. I am moved, as I reflect on the incredible culture, moods, palates, history and experience that wine delivers.
To be clear: while I consider myself the average “It’s 5 O’ Clock Somewhere” wine drinker, the Court of Master Sommeliers awarded me my Level I Sommelier certification earlier this year. As a member of Guild Somm, the Court of Master Sommeliers and self-proclaimed V.I.P. to many wine tasting rooms, I truly see wine as an experience. While my boyfriend gets annoyed when I request a wine list at Buffalo Wild Wings (where they pronounce it “Mer-LOT,” by the way), he also understands my deep-rooted appreciation for a quality glass (or bottle) of wine.
“Write buzzed, edit sober,” I mutter to myself as I take another sip. Ugh, this wine has opened up, and is now robust in baking spices and dark fruits of blackberries and under ripe plum.
The truth is, my appreciation for wine begins with its tenacity. You see, the history of wine begins thousands of years ago during the ancient world when the grape species vitis vinifera, native to the Mediterranean regions was being distributed across the globe. Ancient Greeks collected surplus grapes for the winter, and grapes that couldn’t immediately be consumed quickly began to spoil, thus allowing the earliest of alcoholic fermentation. Crude wine was discovered, as sugar-rich juices became exposed to wild yeast and created a rudimentary concoction that provided intoxicating and euphoric effects. The interests of the Catholic Church propagated the vitis vinifera species across the globe and, for many years, wine provided a safer beverage than water, which was oftentimes polluted with disease.
Just as the wine industry began booming in the early 1860s, it was soon met with near extinction. The phylloxera epidemic introduced a tiny insect that fed on the roots and leaves of grape vines, leaving vineyards defenseless to the damage. To this day, Chile is proudly the only wine- producing country not affected by the spread of phylloxera. Through grafting techniques (is that a dental term in a wine article?), grape vines were able to be salvaged where the wine industry flourished.
Then prohibition happened in the 1920s. Bathtubs filled with gin and the speakeasy provided refuge from the law. Thousands of winemakers watched their casks of carefully aged wines aggressively emptied into rivers while their vineyards were dug up and replanted. By the Great Depression, prohibition was repealed, and U.S. troops returned home after serving tours in Europe with gorgeously tasting wine. The wine industry flourished.
Today, wine grapes are grown, harvested and subject to wine-making techniques in countless vineyards across the globe. It is estimated that there are between 3,500 and 10,000 varieties of wine that cover an enormous range of flavors and characteristics. Most importantly, these grape varietals thrive in various unique climates while producing a unique effect of terroir (the taste of a place).
As a wine enthusiast, I appreciate the robust history and unique lessons of the wine industry. What I admire time and again, however, are the ways in which wine brings people together. Whether you’re enjoying a refreshing Rhone Valley Viognier at happy hour, an Oregon Pinot Noir with dinner or a crisp Alsace Riesling with dessert, wine truly creates an experience of togetherness.
As the holidays quickly approach, I thought I’d share some of my favorite wine varietals and pairings, as well as some tips on experiencing wine tastings like a professional.
First and foremost, the rules surrounding “pair whites with whites and reds with reds” is considered antiquated and certainly not gospel according to the wine industry. Of note, full-bodied whites such as a California Chardonnay or an Italian Pinot Grigio would overpower the lightness of a flaky fish while a soft Burgundy (French Pinot Noir) may be too seductive and spicy for a gamey steak.
The best part about wine pairings is that it is truly up to the chef to provide interesting pairings that support the flavor profiles of both the wine and the course. But if you must know, here are some of my favorites:
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc > Oysters
South African Chenin Blanc > Charcuterie Board
Italian Pinto Grigio > Mushroom-based dishes
French Beaujolais > Salmon
Spanish Tempranillo > Buttery Steak
Whatever the pairing, I always like to include interesting wines – wines that speak to their terroir and leverage a unique flavor profile, such as the bright and floral notes of an unoaked Burgundy Chardonnay, the grassy and herbal aromas of a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, the smokiness of a Piedmont Barbera, the soft and spicy notes of a Washington Merlot or the fruity and tannic structure of a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. We have all had a super oaky Chardonnay or a cotton-mouthed dry Merlot; Spice it up, and you’re bound to impress your guests!
Wine Tasting Basics
Whether beginner or professional, wine tasting is truly a unique and personal experience. Wine tasting relies on the ability to recognize unique aromas, flavors and sensations. No matter your experience, try these few basics to nail your next wine tasting experience:
Analyze with your eyes and look for clarity and brightness. The color of a wine can provide information about its exposure to oxygen (imagine a cut apple that has been exposed to oxygen), as well as yellow-ness from an oak barrel or the darkness of residual sugar.
Analyze with your nose. Wine aromas are a symphony of aromatic instruments all being played at the same time. The nose provides identification of aromas ranging from fruity (citrus, berries, tropical fruits, dried fruits) and floral (fresh flowers, jasmine, honeysuckle) to earthy/mineral aromas (wet dirt, vegetables, and herbs), wood aromas (smoke, cedar and caramelization) and biological aromas (barnyard, burning rubber and even cat urine).
Analyze with your palate. Your palate allows you to sense varying levels of sweetness or dryness. In addition, your palate may sense acidity (which may make your mouth water or cause a tingling sensation) or tannins (a sense of astringency such as drying or fuzziness of the tongue).
Flavor profiles: the attack is considered the first taste of the wine, experienced within the first few seconds. The midpalate are the new flavors that emerge as the attack fades. The finish is the perception of flavor that remains after the wine leaves the palate and can be experienced for long periods of time.
In a world where we are constantly tied to deadlines, social media and schedules, old-world vines are still desperately clutching to the earth and provide a unique experience in which every sip of wine provides a robust history of the past, a brief moment in time and a vivid opportunity connecting us to our own gorgeous humanity.
I will happily be spending my holidays with my handsome boyfriend and four sweet rescue dogs. No matter who you spend your holidays with, I hope you have a grape one, and be sure to love the wine you’re with.
~The Dental WINEgenist