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

Southern Star Malbec: New world fruit, old world style

Turn on the grill for this stylish barbecue-ready Malbec

By Jonathon Alsop | Boston Wine School Founder

18 April 2018

2016 Alma Andina Malbec Reserve (Mendoza, Argentina)

Inventive holidays like International Malbec Day give us the chance to look deep into the many Malbec based wines we teach with in wine class. Alma Andina – Soul of the Andes – hits the Boston Wine School trifecta: we use it in “Come To Cheeses” with Manchego, “Grape Expectations” and “Wine 101,” classes that represent the core of our curriculum.

As you can imagine, the world is full of tasty Malbec under $20, but the style of this Alma Andina is special. There’s plenty of dark brooding fruit flavors in the glass, tastes that will remind you of dates and figs and dried cherries.

But if you step out a little into the lake, the bottom drops off suddenly, and deep earthy subterranean flavors take over. I know I completely mixed my metaphors there, but this wine is worth it. If I’d tasted it blind, I’d have guessed French Malbec, a category that starts at $25 a bottle.

Argentina is a land in love with its carnivorous ways. It’s not unusual to have chicken, pork, beef, lamb and goat all in the course of the same meal, and you can tell this week’s wine was brought up in that same tradition. Don’t feel left out, vegans and vegetarians: the match here is with the grill and the char, something you can achieve completely, even meat free. I can definitely see myself working through a case of this Malbec once we start grilling again.

http://www.vinovations.us/alma-andina-malbec-reserve-2016/

 

 

Pinot To The People

Pinot Envy Along The Sonoma Coast

By Jonathon Alsop | Boston Wine School Founder

11 April 2018

2013 DeLoach “Private Collection” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, California, USA)

California makes more Pinot Noir than it grows, not by importing out-of-state wine, but by blending in other grapes. Technically, US wine only has to be 75% one grape type to be named for that grape on the label. In theory, your favorite bottle could be pure Pinot, or it could be three-quarters, or anything in between.

Truth is, you can often easily see this in the glass. Pinot Noir – the grape – is light red and thin skinned, and many classic Euro Pinot Noir is so light you can read your phone through a glass of it. When you crack open a California Pinot and it comes out dark red, almost opaque, that’s a sure sign the wine’s blended, often with a high-pigment grape like Petite Sirah.

This week’s special comes from our “Pinot To The People” class, and we use the DeLoach “Private Collection” for a lot of reasons – its bright cherry and cranberry fruit flavors, its slight earthiness and outdoorsy aromas – but mostly for its authenticity. The color is real life burgundy and the flavor is true-to-type Pinot Noir.

If you’re a fan of cool-climate Oregon Pinot, this is a great choice. It comes from the Sonoma Coast, way north and west of Sonoma Valley and much closer to the cold Pacific. The result is a slow-grown wine full of flavor and finesse.

https://www.vinovations.us/deloach-private-collection-sonoma-county-pinot-noir-2013/

Zinfandel Dreams

Why We’re All Living In Zin

By Jonathon Alsop | Boston Wine School Founder

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

2014 Raymond Vineyards “The Inaugural R Collection” Zinfandel 
(St. Helena, Napa, California, USA)

Our “Signature Grapes” tasting class really gets fundamental by tasting the connection between certain wines and the places around the world they’ve made famous – and vice versa. Zinfandel fills this role in California wine. Cabernet and Chardonnay may be just as famous, but you only get this kind of Zinfandel one place, and that’s a unique geographic bond that you can taste in the bottle.

People ask me all the time what’s my favorite wine, and I’ve got a lot of favorites, but the truth is, it’s Zinfandel. I love California’s signature grape because it has a little bit of everything I love in a wine – fruit, spice, earthiness, black AND white pepper.

In the wine world, we call this balance, and if you balance flavors in some dynamic and tasty way, we call this style. On the spectrum of Zinfandel, this Raymond stakes out the fruit and juice range, and its style is alive, vivid, and California sunny. The color is dark candy-apple red, and the flavors will remind you first of ripe red plums and black raspberries, then almost behind the scenes, the wine smells like dried herbs, even a little like cocoa.

Best of all, this 2014 is young by Zinfandel standards. It possesses great youth and vitality right now, but I would be looking forward to drinking this in the 2020s too.

https://www.vinovations.us/the-inaugural-r-collection-by-raymond-vineyards-zinfandel-2012/

Blending For Power Wine

Cabernet + Zinfandel = Delicious

By Jonathon Alsop | Boston Wine School Founder

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

2016 The Ocean Howler Cabernet Sauvignon + Zinfandel
(Lodi, central California, USA)

This is one of those wines that really sets your expectations before you even get into the bottle.

First of all, the richly artistic label – evocative and powerful on its own – promises a powerful wine experience. And then the blend – Cabernet Sauvignon plus Zinfandel – is simultaneously new yet embarrassingly obvious too. As soon as I saw it, I had one of those “DUH!” moments. America loves Cabernet… America loves Zinfandel – what took us so long?

There are other blends out there that use Cab and Zin with other grapes, but so far this is the only pure Cabernet + Zinfandel blend I’ve ever encountered, and I plan to encounter it again and again! This is a $17 blend that tastes better than any $17 Cabernet or $17 Zinfandel on its own.

The Ocean Howler really represents the best of both worlds: the bright, juicy, fruity happiness of Zinfandel combined with Cabernet’s earthiness and weight. It’s not quite April yet, but I’m already thinking about barbecue season, and this blend would be delicious with anything smoky and meaty off the grill. At just $2.20 a glass, this is one of the tastiest under-the-radar wines I’ve come across in a long time.

https://www.vinovations.us/the-ocean-howler-cabernet-sauvignon-zinfandel-2016/

Magical Merlot: Off the beaten path in Castillon

Everyday Bordeaux = Bordeaux Every Day

By Jonathon Alsop | Boston Wine School Founder

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

2016 Château de Colombe
(Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux, western France)

This Wine Club Selection comes right out of our Burgers And Bordeaux class.

Our curriculum always focuses on the delicious, and this Merlot-heavy blend really teaches us what Merlot means in Bordeaux. As always, every Wine School Selection is a wine we teach with and you taste in class. That’s how you know it’s good.

This silky red Bordeaux represents a great value for a few simple reasons.

First, it’s from a great vintage, maybe better than 2015 even. Next, it’s from a very un-famous place – Castillon, literally on the other side of the river – which moderates the price. And finally, it’s majorly Merlot, a grape in abundance in Castillon.

The result is a soft, friendly, very easy to drink red classic with an abundance of fruit flavors – raspberry, cranberry, red cherry, and more. Best of all is the texture of this wine. It’s so lush and delightful and full of soft soft tannins, which are so rare – so many big reds are gritty instead.

Château de Colombe is drinking just fine right this very minute, but for a vintage like 2016 is shaping up to be, I would be confident to age it for 7 – 10 years. If 2016 is a special year in your life or someone you know, this is a profoundly affordable way to commemorate that year.

http://www.vinovations.us/chateau-de-colombe-castillon-cotes-de-bordeaux-2016


WINE+FOOD | Ten Dollar Cheese, Million Dollar Match

Fourme d’Ambert
Cow’s milk blue | Southern France | About $15 a pound, available widely at cheese shops and Whole Foods

Fourme is the oldest continuously made cheese in France, introduced by the ancient Romans 2,000 years ago. It looks startlingly blue – and it is – but the flavor is surprisingly mild and mostly buttery. Fourme’s rich creamy texture is a good match with the feel of this week’s wine. We use this in wine and cheese class as a “gateway” blue, a great blue cheese for people who don’t like blue cheese… yet.

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