2016 Houndstooth Rorick Heritage Vineyard Barbera Calaveras County. Immediately this wine hit me with black pepper and butter-basted steak and fettuccine Alfredo. Once I got under that first wave of aroma, I found the dessert course for this ultra-rich dinner; raspberries and plums and hints of spice, opening to a pie crust yeastiness. The steakhouse meal delivered by the aroma and front-palate gave way to fruit that was more heavily spiced and almost underripe in it’s sourness. This is the wine you want when you’re having a Summer barbecue with fresh berry cobbler to follow, and it’s only it’s tannins that keep it from being truly special for me: They’re well-balanced, but thin.
2017 Heidi Schrock Furmint Burgenland. Imagine you’re at a trendy restaurant in downtown Oakland, and you order the cheese board. The waiter brings you a hunk of chipped slate on which are a dizzying array of meats, cheeses, crackers, and fruit. An opening in the middle of it all is unfilled, and as you watch the waiter opens a jar and pours a healthy portion of Orange Blossom honey into the right onto the slate. That minerality and floral sweetness hits your nose all at once, and you dig in. That is this wine in a nutshell. It comes from the Austrian-Hungarian border, and this wine draws on the sweet wine roots of the area to make what is effectively orange honey as a dry white wine.
2015 Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Napa Chardonnay. Here I’ve done a more broken-down tasting.
Aroma: Butter. (Yes, that’s all I wrote. Butter.)
Texture: Butter, acidity
Taste: Butter, butterscotch, nuts, thyme, minerality
Finish: Nice long finish that clung to the palate well.
Color: Pale yellow
These notes might lead you to believe that the butter flavor in this Napa Chardonnay was overwhelming. It was not. This wasn’t movie popcorn butter, this was butter sauce, butterscotch like I said above, with an emphasis on the butter. Excellently balanced between acidity, fruitiness, and oak flavors.
V Coturri Founder’s Series “Red”. A wine that I almost couldn’t believe I was drinking as I was drinking it.
Aroma: Black cherry, aged vanilla, raisin
Texture: Rough cotton, woolly tannins
Taste: Black cherry, raising, caramelized fruit, raisin tart, golden raisin spice roll
Finish: Raisin and oak, dry, slightly woody
Color: Rusty tawny
Do the notes above put you in mind of anything? If you thought to yourself, “boy, that sounds like a Port”, you’d be right. The Coturri Red is effectively a dry Port, and it fascinated me so much I’ve bought three bottles. If you see this, and you have any inclination towards Port, buy it. Buy as much of it as you can. It is excellent.
Finally, we turn to a wine that not only surprised me, but has surprised every person I’ve tried it with. The 2017 Pheasant’s Tears Shavkapito is a wine from Georgia (the country, not the state) that blew me away with it’s complexity, and the complexity of it’s minerality. There’s elements of clay (which makes sense given the wine is aged in clay pots) but also shale and petrichor. There’s blackberry and black cherry and spice and it’s all wrapped in a tannin bundle that cries out for decanting, but also makes your tongue sit up and pay attention. There aren’t my normal tasting notes for this, but I will say this wine has made me more excited than I ever thought I would be about Georgian wines.
I have a Rule 1 when it comes to drinking wine: Drink what you like. Most wine professionals that I respect agree with this rule, even those with serious wine tasting training. But if the goal is drinking what you like, what’s the deal with the forensic tasting that the professionals seem to do so often? What’s with all the swirling, and sniffing, and tilting and holding up to the light?
That process is for many, myself included, one of the ways we find out if a wine we’re drinking is wine we like, and more importantly why we like it. So here I’m going to go through my wine tasting process, adapted from a number of books and talking with wine professionals about how they drink wine.
Swirl the wine. With the wine glass on the table, move the glass in little circles so the wine starts spinning up the sides but does not go over. Aroma is a huuuuuge part of how we taste, and swirling the wine up the glass releases more of the components that make up a wine’s aroma into the air.
Sniff the wine. Get your nose way deep into the glass and take a bunch of short sniffs or one long one — whatever works best for you to get the most of the aroma into your nose. While you’re doing that, try to find things in the aroma. For white wine, you’re normally going to find citrus, tree fruit, tropical fruit, minerality (smelling like wet rocks is a desirable quality for many wines) and floral scents. For red wine, we’re going to look for red fruit or black fruit or berries, as well as earthiness and spiciness. We do this so we can start trying to build a profile of the wine in our minds. This profile is going to help us determine whether (a) we like the wine and (b) if we like it, what we like about it so we can find other wines we might like. If you’re at a tasting room, they might have one of those “Flavor Finder Wheels” handy.
Taste the wine. At long last! We can drink the wine! Hold on though. To help us build that profile, we don’t want to be taking big gulps of wine. We want to take a small sip, swirl it around the mouth, checking for how it feels against cheeks, tongue, and teeth. This is looking for the texture of the wine. At the same time, we’re checking the taste on the tongue and how it tastes in feels in the back of the throat. … WOOF! That’s a lot to try to get out of one taste. Which is why the next step is…
Taste the wine. Give it another sip, swirl it around again in the mouth, and check for the things in step 3 you were looking for. Texture, taste, and finish. Once you’ve done that, it’s time for the next step!
Taste the wine. What, again? Yes, again. This is where you make an important final decision: Do you like the wine? Now, maybe you knew this from the first sip, or even from the first sniff, but three tastes will help you definitively know whether this is a wine you’re going to be taking home, buying again, or leaving at the tasting room.
Check the color. A lot of tasting guides say to start with color, but I find that color is way less important than aroma or taste. Color can confirm things you find in the wine through sniffing and tasting, but in my experience it can’t tell you if you’re going to like the wine or not. What you’re looking for here is depth of red in red wine, which will tell you things about how dark the grape is, and how long the wine was left on the skins of the grape in fermenting. In white wine, the darker the color the more likely it is that the wine was aged on oak.
Enjoy the wine! Continue the tasting, share the bottle with friends, or decide that the best thing you can do for this wine is let someone else enjoy it while you find one that fits you.
Remember, this process is supposed to help you find wines you like, and help figure out what parts of the wine you like best, so you can remember the ones that that make your mind sing, and find their equal again. In the same way there there’s no universal best flavor, there’s not universal best wine. There’s the wines that are best for you, and the wines that are best for someone else. Like what you like.
Here’s the process one more time:
Welcome to the first issue of Adult Juice Box. This zine exists because I think wine can be a magical experience, and I want to share that magic with others.
Adult Juice Box is a reminder that, above all, the only “should” in wine is that you should drink what you like, and try to squeeze as much experience as possible out of every bottle. Sometimes that’s analyzing every nuance in a tasting, and sometimes that’s quaffing a bottle with friends. A glass of wine (or beer, or spirit) is a glass of memories, memories held by the juice in the bottle and the moment in time you’re drinking it.
Like the juice boxes given to us as children, each glass of wine can be moment of joy or a balm to our pain.
Grab your favorite adult juice, strap on your sense of childlike wonder, and let’s go tasting.