wine! (or, everything you ever wanted to know about wine from someone who doesn't know jack about wine)

So, here's the thing about rum (bear with me, I'll get to wine in a minute):

When I added item number 80 to my life list, "taste 50 types of rum," it wasn't necessarily because I love rum (though it turns out, I do).  I added it because I'm from the Caribbean, and it just seemed to me that someone who is from the Caribbean (particularly an expatriate like myself) should know something about rum.  When I started, I assumed that of course, expensive rums would taste better than cheap rums; however, for the most part, I believed all rums taste the same.

What I can tell you now that I've tasted 13 rums (reviews of numbers 12 and 13 to come later this week) is that each rum tastes entirely different from the last, and while I'm no expert (nor will I likely ever be), I've learned viscerally what makes a good rum, and more importantly, what I like.  I now appreciate rum in a way that I don't think I ever would have, had I not made a concerted effort to study it.

And so it goes with me and wine.  I've drunk wine all my life (my parents used to give my sister and I little shot glasses of wine with Sunday lunch when we were growing up), and I know that wine comes from grapes, but really I don't know much more than that.  I have a vague idea of what I like, so that I know what type of wine to pick when I'm in a restaurant, but as far as knowing the difference between a Napa wine and a Rhône wine -- yeah, I have no idea.  I just know that I tend to like white wine in the summer and red in the winter, and that I generally don't go wrong for myself if, at a restaurant, I order a glass of pinot grigio or a red zinfandel.  At the grocery store, I usually figure a $10-12 bottle won't disappoint, and won't break the bank.  After that ... pass.

So, needless to say, I was sort of looking forward to educating myself a little when visiting the wine country.  I've already mentioned that I had the opportunity to meet Erin the Sommelier, and she was awesome.  She suffered my incessant questions patiently, like what she meant when a wine had a round flavour (it means that it coats your mouth fully when you take a good mouthful), or angular (you get that "gotcha" sensation under your lower jaw in your upper neck, like when you bite into a lemon or have tart limeade), and when I said that I understood when people described wine as having an "oak-y" or "cranberry" taste, but I certainly didn't understand when someone said a wine was "insouciant" or "sexy," she explained what it meant (basically it's men writing wine descriptions for other men, and they like to make the bottle of wine sound like an attractive woman.  Of course). 

One thing I didn't really realize is that since wine is sealed so tightly, it's actually the oxygen in the air that mixes with the wine once opened that helps bring out the flavour, which is why you swirl the wine in your glass, to help mix the air with the wine (I mean, I did know that you should open a bottle of red and let it "breathe" before drinking, but I just thought the swirling thing was all about being pretentious).  So when the sommelier or waiter gives you wine to taste, you swirl the wine, then stick your nose in the glass and inhale the aroma, and then take a good mouthful to taste it:



As far as what you're looking for in the scent and the taste, Erin tells me you're simply looking for a scent and taste that pleases you.  If you want to, you can look for cranberry-ness or oak-y-ness or insouciant-ness, but really, like art, it's just about learning what you like, as opposed to Knowing What You're Supposed to Like.  Once I learned this, it was like a weight lifting from my shoulders -- when tasting wine, you're the expert, not the waiter.

Once I was full of these sorts of tips, it was time to visit a few vineyards to apply my new knowledge.  One of my favourites was visiting the Moshin Vineyards, which apparently are special because they use a "gravity flow" winemaking process -- starting high, and letting the wine flow downward through the winery until it's bottled (therefore, no pumping -- so energy efficient, don't you know).  It turns out the basic method of making wine is as follows:  you pick the grapes, de-stem and crush them, then they are fermented and aged before bottling (clearly there's more to it than that, but those are the basic steps).  As it happened, when we arrived, there were some people working on a conveyor belt, sorting through grapes:

And after further conversation, I learned that I'd met Serena and Alan, the proprietors of local Cartograph Wines, relatively new vintners who have been in business for a little over a year.  Talking with them was fantastic: they each let me take their photographs, and then as I asked them questions, they gushed about how happy they were with their lives, living in such a beautiful area of the world, making wine and following their bliss.  It was difficult not to get caught up in their exuberance.  I'm totally going to keep an eye out for their wine in our local shops.

So!  These, my friends, are pinot noir grapes:

Aren't they cute?


They taste good, too.



And, of course, the resulting wine isn't bad, either.


 In summary, I loved seeing the process by which wine is made, and I have to admit that I have a renewed interest in learning more about wine, one which matches my interest in learning more about rum.  In fact, when I returned to Houston, I gave Erin the Sommelier a call at her employer, Acme Fine Wines, where she's General Manager, and ordered two bottles of red on her recommendation for Marcus' birthday (which was last Friday -- happy birthday, Marcus!), in order to get us started.  In further fact, since we're on the subject, Acme happens to have a few online wine clubs -- where they'll put together custom packages of hard-to-find wines at various price points for you to try.  (They even send descriptions of the wine, and I'm here to testify that I didn't see the word "insouciant" or "sexy" in any of the suggestions Erin gave me.)  I'm thinking this would be a great gift for someone or even for yourself, if you're interested in learning more about the kinds of wine you might or might not like. 

And finally, on a somewhat related note:  after returning to the hotel after the wine tours, the ever-gracious Helen Jane decided to give everyone a demonstration on sabrage -- the art of uncorking (or, really, beheading) a bottle of champagne with a sabre.  Since there weren't any sabres lying around, she used a rather murderous-looking kitchen knife, and in no time took the head off a bottle of champagne with a quick flourish.  Afterwards, she invited other people to try, and Margaret, who rumour had it had never even opened a bottle of wine before, let alone a bottle of champagne, gave it a go.  She shocked herself by being successful her first attempt out of the gate:


Words cannot describe how happy these last two photos make me.  In fact, I get a bit teary with glee each time I look at them.

And on that note, have a great week, everyone -- cheers!


Images:  All photographed with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens.

SongDon't know why, by Norah Jones.  "My heart is drenched in wine."  Love that line.