Archive | July, 2012

Learning to Get Past My Fear of Italian Wine: or, the 2010 Produttori del Barberesco Langhe Nebbiolo

19 Jul

Italian wine scares me.

I should qualify that statement.  I love Italian wine, and I believe Italian wine is exciting, versatile, and absolutely divine, but I know very little about Italian wine in general.  There’s the Piedmont with its Nebbiolo-based wines, then Tuscany with its Sangiovese-based wines, but come on!  Aren’t clones for sci-fi movies or Star Wars?  And can’t Italy just have a reasonable number of varietal–say, one hundred–instead of like… thirteen hundred (or up to 3,500)?  It also doesn’t help that many of Italy’s greatest wines–Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, for instance–are expensive and, in the case of Nebbiolo-based wines, tannic monsters when young.

It is for all these reasons that, when it comes to that game of blind tasting, I am absolutely useless when I try to identify Italian wines.  I can get Sangiovese, with its cherry and dried oregano notes, but I am just not as familiar with Italian wines as I am with French or Californian wines… not that I’m all that familiar with those, either!

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Little Golden Drops of Wine: or, Bargain Shopping in Boston

11 Jul

There’s something great about coming into a new, unexplored city, a sense of adventure and possibility.  Though I’m not well-traveled by any means, I have been privileged to see a lot of the ole’ U S of A.  Most places–even Wilmington, DE!–have their own set of charms and attractions.  Lexington, NC was full of pork barbecue and sweet tea, and Hamden, CT is home to the illustrious Three Brothers Diner.  Last week I added yet another city to my list, and Boston for me will be forever linked with wine.

While the centerpiece of my trip to Boston was taking the Court of Master Sommeliers’ introductory course, I did also have a little bit of time to explore the neighborhood in which I was staying.  South End is a very nice, very settled area with stately townhouses, ample greenery, and hip little cafes and restaurants.  I really enjoyed Render Coffee’s dyslexic but delicious BTL and cold-brewed coffee, and had way too much grease from Laz Cafe, and sipped some delightful fino and amontillado Sherry at Toro.  I also had some good kidneys and a pint of dark wheat Pretty Things Brewery beer at the South End location of Le Petit Robert, a local Boston chain of French bistros.

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The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Introductory Course: or, Learning to Blow Blind Tastings with Style

4 Jul

Greetings from the site of the Boston Tea Party, the first stirrings of the craft brew movement, and putative home of cream pies and baked beans.  I am sipping a cold-brewed iced coffee in the really excellent Render Coffee Bar in South End, waiting for my three o’clock BoltBus to take me back down to New York.  Though I spent only three days in this city, and most of those three days was spent in class, sleeping, or eating ridiculously-sized calzones, I can say that this city is absolutely awesome!

I came to Boston to take the Introductory Course offered through the Court of Master Sommeliers.  This course is the first in a series of four “levels”, which increase exponentially in difficulty.  To call oneself a “certified sommelier”, one must pass the the second level, the Certified Sommelier Examination.  One may decide to get additional certifications, but attaining these become absurdly hard.  For instance, the passage rate for the Master Sommelier examination is a bone-dry 5-10%.  By comparison, the July 2011 California Bar Examination’s passage rate was 54.8%.

That being said, my good friend Alex very generously invested in my scheme, which allowed me to enroll in the Introductory Course in mid-June.  I received an e-mail with the course manual in PDF format, and over the next few weeks I looked through the manual and made a few flash cards.  There is a lot of material to cover, including the major wine regions and their appellations, varietals, and classifications (such as AOC/AOP, DOC, and premier cru, grand cru, etc.).  There is also a bit of information on beer, spirits, and sake, as well as on food pairings and service.

The course spanned two days, starting at 8 am and going until around 5:30 pm.  Most of the course is in lecture format.  Three Master Sommeliers ran the show, delivering the lectures and running the blind tastings.  The Hyatt Harborside, our venue, very generously provided coffee, tea, and pastries during the morning and breaks, as well as delicious lunches during the middle of the day.  The Hyatt also provided a very nice outdoor seating area with a very nice view:

Although the lectures and manual were very helpful, they were intended as surveys.  For the course, we did not have to identify key vintages and, with a few exceptions, did not have to know individual vineyards or producers.  (We did have to know a few of the Medoc first and second growths, as well as a random vineyard in the Mosel, but the instructors generally hint at the ones you will need to know.)  On the other hand, I now know much more about Australia and New Zealand than I once knew!

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