What We Write About When We Write About Wine

BOSTON, MA — First thing they teach you in journalism school is don’t write what you know. Go out into the great big world and find something new and interesting that you don’t know, that ideally no one knows. Discover it, figure it out, understand something about it, then explain it to other people in writing.
Do that once with anything like style, and congratulations, you’re a writer. Do that once on the topic of wine, and you’re a wine writer.

One of the main challenges of wine writing – as if there even are challenges and anyone anywhere cares about them – is resisting the urge to write about wine as a thing. It’s easy to do because wine is a thing, a wonderful thing, but the most interesting part of wine is not the concrete dimension, but the time churning experience of consuming a wine, having it be deliriously delicious for a moment and then gone forever.

I like the hands-on experience of schiste and loam as much as the next person – soils and weathers and growing conditions explain a lot – but as a wine reader, I want to know what it means more than what it is.

Limestone may well be soil composed of prehistoric sea shells and skeletons, so it’s high in calcium, which makes sense and is interesting on its own, but what’s that taste like in the glass? More importantly, do I like that flavor, and should I start asking for wines from high-calcium soil, or is asking that question going to be as epic a conversation killer as it seems destined to be?

Wine lovers rely on a lot of different sources to inform their wine selections: maybe your own taste or mood, often the people around you at any given table, sometimes a distant, accomplished expert. I like to watch people in tasting class start to connect with their own taste and mood, to see them realize they’re not wrong about Cabernet Sauvignon, they’re just Pinot Noir people, or vice versa. What I write about wine is what we teach about wine: what wine means, what it makes you think and feel, the story behind the story.


Chateau Grand Ferrand "La Palombiere" 2014

2014 Château Grand Ferrand “La Palombière” Malbec
(Bordeaux, western France, 85% Malbec + 15% Merlot, $21.99)

Translate the name of this wine into core English and it comes out 2014 Great Iron Castle “Pigeon Coop” Malbec, which would be an entirely unremarkable name if it was from some Australian or South African iconoclast winemaker. Instead, it merely specifies a particular vineyard – the one with the pigeon coop – where the grapes were grown.

Wines with this much Malbec in the blend are abundantly common in Argentina but not in France. In France, Malbec is a minor blending grape that makes a 2% – 5% appearance in Bordeaux blends, coming in a distant 5th place behind Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Thank you, Argentina, for changing our world view about what Malbec can be and how it can be made. The grape arrived in South America from France in the 1840s, but now the influence is flowing the other way. This Grand Ferrand Malbec is leaner and stonier than examples from Argentina, which makes it an especially ideal match with big red meats and aggressive cheese.

Wine Word For January: “Lean”

By Jonathon Alsop

It’s hard to speak the language of wine because it’s a language invented by drunk people, but wine lovers blame themselves for the convoluted vocabulary. Talking about wine is like writing a poem where multiple literal and metaphorical images appear and overlap. But it would help if we could get clear on a few basic words.

Someone threw the word “lean” into the mix the other night in class to describe the body of an Italian Pinot Grigio we were tasting. The opposite of “lean” is “fat” or “big and round” – think archetypical California Chardonnay. The PG in question was light in weight and silver in color, edgy, zippy, a little watery, but in a good way.

We use a lot of body image descriptors to talk about wine – a big red can be legitimately called a “body builder” – and they are a natural way to think and talk about wine.

HOMEWORK: Use it in a sentence. For instance: “I want a glass of white wine, something lean and light.”

Paolo Valle Pinot Grigio 2016


Something lean and light? Here you go!

One of the challenges with Italian Pinot Grigio is that it’s extremely different depending on where it’s grown in Italy. Sometimes, grown hot and wild in the south, Pinot Grigio comes off thin and watery, but not this one. Friuli is the foothills of the Alps – next stop, Austria and Slovenia – and the growing season is long and cool. What slow cooking does for food, slow growing does for wine. The result is a suave, rich Pinot Grigio to pair with seafood of all kinds, wild mushroom risotto, even fragrant veal and pork dishes.

2016 Paolo Valle Pinot Grigio
100% Pinot Grigio
(Friuli, northeast Italy, $18.99)

https://www.vinovations.us/paolo-valle-pinot-grigio-2016/

3 Reasons Why You Can’t Stop Yourself From Falling In Love With Wine

By Jonathon Alsop

Understanding the temptation to swipe right on every single bottle

The language of love and the language of wine are completely interwoven in our culture, for better and for worse. For instance, if you fall in love with someone because you find them intoxicating, that’s OK; if you try to get someone intoxicated in hopes that they’ll fall in love with you, that’s not OK. True wine lovers set a great example by treating their wine like you’d treat someone you love: with care, with respect and consideration, and it almost goes without saying, no rough handling.

Falling in love with wine is easy. I know I meet a special group of wine people – already so in love with wine they’re ready to take the relationship to the next educational level – but the story’s always the same. Something happens – maybe you travel to wine country for the first time or you have an Italian boyfriend or girlfriend – and you go from “wine curious” to “wine lover” and you never go back.

There are a thousand reasons why people fall in love with wine. Here are my top three.

1. Wine has something for every taste.

One way wine makes itself irresistible is through its profound flexibility. Unless you have a note from your doctor or a verifiable religious waiver, wine is for absolutely everyone. For a beverage with such a broad range of flavors and styles, wine has a strangely elitist image. On the contrary, wine respects your taste by delivering something for every appetite imaginable. You want sweet, happy white wine? Scary, intensely inky red wine? Wine dares you not to love it.

2. Wine – like love – is addictive.

When people say things like, “I’m addicted to this Chardonnay!” they’re probably speaking figuratively, but they could be addicted for real. We don’t talk about this a lot in the wine business, but that’s starting to change. One of the things that keeps us coming back to wine is the positive psychotropic effect – not only am I more delighted, you’re more delightful! – but you need a little more ethanol each time to acquire the same delight. In no time, you can find yourself happily, socially acceptably hooked, with wine your permanent plus one.

3. Wine is constantly new.

Boredom is a dangerous enemy to be feared in any relationship, but that can’t happen when you’re in love with wine. If you drink 365 wines a year, you only taste a fraction of the thousands of different labels available; built into the system are the excitement of the new and the lure of the unattainable. Even if you think you always drink the same thing, every 12 months, you get a new vintage version that’s not at all the same thing. When you start drinking wines from both the northern and southern hemispheres, the vintages come at you twice as fast, in September like we’re used to, and now March. Wine almost encourages guilt-free unfaithfulness, but we just call it variety.

ROMANCE WEEK @ Boston Wine School

If you’re not thinking about Valentine’s Day right now, you’re just not thinking right!

BRIGHTON MA
Pre-Valentine Day! Wine & Chocolate: Making the Perfect Match | Boston Wine School @ Lantera Boston Landing | Feb 13, 2019 6:30 – 8:30 PM
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pre-valentine-day-wine-chocolate-making-the-perfect-match-boston-wine-school-lantera-boston-landing-registration-52236923043

HQ in SHARON MA
Valentine’s Day: Wine & Chocolate + Night in Italy (Class + Dinner) | Boston Wine School @ VINOvations | Feb 14, 2019 6:30 – 8:30 PM
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/valentines-day-wine-chocolate-night-in-italy-class-dinner-boston-wine-school-vinovations-tickets-52237363360

Falling In Love With Wine (Class + Dinner) | Boston Wine School @ VINOvations | Feb 16, 2019 4:00 – 7:00 PM
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/falling-in-love-with-wine-class-dinner-boston-wine-school-vinovations-tickets-54454204993

Let’s Toast The Patron Saint Of Winemakers

By Paige Farrell

Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s indigenous grape varietal, akin to the robin, the harbinger of spring. One of the most versatile and delicious grape varietals, Grüner Veltliner pairs well with just about everything, and most lovingly with spring’s bounty, and summer’s debut. Think green.

Weingut Knoll, nestled in the village of Unterloiben in the Wachau wine region in Austria’s northeast, is a fourth generation winery. They focus on Grüner Veltliner and also Riesling, as well as a cluster or two of Chardonnay, Gelber Muskateller, and a handful of other grapes.

Take note of their labels: They depict the image of St. Urban, the patron saint of winemakers and vineyards.

A word about Grüner Veltliner: There are similarities to Pinot Grigio’s slight girth, tone, and floral lilt. Likewise, it can offer an ode to Sauvignon Blanc, with its minerality, bright acidity, and liveliness. Sometimes it gravitates toward its vegetal, savory side, and sometimes to a racy flush.

Of note, there are three styles of wine in the Wachau classification system:

Steinfeder: Early harvest, rarely seen in the US, fresh, lively, grassy.
Federspiel: Named after a falcon hunted in the Wachau, discreet in their opulence, pedigreed, no more that 12.5 % alcohol.
Smaragd: The most sought after, and most pricey, late harvest, with a minimum 12.5 % alcohol, but not sweet, at their best, riveted with grace and girth, wines to make you stop, pointedly, and take notice. Named for an emerald lizard, of the same name, drifting about the Wachau. Decadent restraint.

This bottling is a Federspiel, well priced, classic, delicious. The Knoll wines are imported by Circo Vino, an importer started by the lovely Sariya Jarasviroj Brown, based in Arizona, specializing in Austrian wines.

Weingut Knoll Grüner Veltliner Federspiel | Wachau Austria | About $25, distributed via Martignetti at Classic Wine Imports.


Paige Farrell – wine manager at Fat Hen in Somerville – is a long time Boston Wine School educator. She is also WSET Certified, Level 3 Advanced Wine and Spirits.

How To Hold A Wine Glass: The Right Way, The Wrong Way, And Whatever Way You’re Doing It Right Now

BOSTON, MA – One of the comic and frustrating things about the wine world is trying to figure out if you’re doing it right or not. Wine lovers know they’re being judged. The wine world is not alone in doing this. Most of the time, no matter what you do, you’re left feeling like you’re doing it wrong. Even something as simple as holding a wine glass.

Since I essentially hold a wine glass while talking for a living, this glass handling question comes up a lot, and it’s fair to say I am pretty familiar with all the different ways our species has developed to get wine into our mouths.

The main question is, should you touch the glass or only handle the glass by the stem? And doesn’t it warm the wine up when you touch the glass and mess up its otherwise perfect temperature?

Finally – and most off-putting of all the ways to hold a wine glass – The Claw, where you clasp the glass firmly by the base and hold on for dear life.

There’s no question, you could warm up a glass of wine by cupping the wine in your hands and conducting your body temperature through the glass. I’m not sure a lot of this happens when you just pick a wine glass up normally, but one thing that does happen is smudging and smearing. If you’re a visually oriented person, this can mess up your whole visual field.

If there is a good technical reason for handling the wine glass only by the stem, this is it, to preserve the clarity of the glass. And if my wife didn’t hold her glass this way, how would I be able to tell our wine glasses apart?

I have to confess, I do tend to fall into The Claw from time to time. Maybe it’s my rheumatism acting up, but I need some variety after an hour or so, and I find myself clamped down like this sometimes, and I apologize to everyone who’s had to witness it.

I know you’re wondering, can that really be how I’m supposed to hold my wine glass? As always, the answer is, try all the different ways and do what works best for you.

Besides, what do you do when you confront a stemless wine glass?


JONATHON ALSOP is founder and executive director of the Boston Wine School and author of Wine Lover’s Devotional

Breaking Wine Down

BOSTON, May 23, 2017 – James Brown, the godfather of soul, used to explain himself musically by saying he was “breaking the music down.” He is heard often on record urging his band to break it down, get down, get on down, and sometimes – counterintuitively – to get on up. Get up and get down where exactly, no one knows for sure, but far enough down to where things start to break. Mr. Brown was a beautiful incoherent genius, but that much we can understand.

When you start to break wine down and look at wine really hard, like it’s nothing but a thing, you see that wine on one level clearly is nothing but a thing: a thing composed roughly of 85% water, 13% alcohol, and 2% other. We can take wine into the lab, stick a probe in it, and that’s all. There’s not even room for anything else on a tangible level.

The experience that follows – from my tiny column, to what you smell and taste at home, to the widest ranging international wine trade – is based entirely on this interaction of water, alcohol, and other. Three ingredients, a million different wines, what a planet.

Most of what I’ve been tasting these days has been acid. First of all, the grill is getting its first major work out, and we’re rolling out big BBQ reds that just a few months ago we were calling big wintry reds. It’s another nice dose of tannic acid from those inky red monsters.

As the world around me transitions from winter time foods into summery cuisine, the wines naturally are changing too, and they’re getting white and zippy and crisp – high in citric acid (in citrus fruit) and malic acid (think Granny Smith apples). This trend is perfect for the weather – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are the lime rickey of the wine world, after all – and our summertime food, especially seafood, is perfect with Sauvignon Blanc’s lemon / lime personality.

2016 Santa Ema Sauvignon Blanc
(Maipo Valley, Chile, $8-10, should be available almost everywhere)
Big ticket wine lovers are going to be so busy looking down their noses at anything in the wine shop “two-for” bin that sadly – for them – they’re going to miss this bargain gem from Chile. This bracing white stakes out the middle between scary acidic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and rich round California Fume Blanc. My favorite thing about this wine – besides Santa Ema who earned her sainthood leading grueling medieval pilgrimages – is the texture. It’s got all the green, zippy, nervous, high-frequency flavors Sauvignon Blanc is famous for, but the texture is special, very soft, smooth, and full. This wine is flexible – it’s a porch pounder during the day but you can get all classy with it by night with any seafood you can imagine.


JONATHON ALSOP is founder and executive director of the Boston Wine School and author of Wine Lover’s Devotional