Don’t be afraid to ask and ye’ shall receive!

Never assume that what is on the wine list is all the wine that is on offer at a restaurant.  It pays to ask and minimally you may be surprised to find some alternatives wines not listed (wine received, but wine list not updated yet), or even be offered a wine from the owners private collection!

Today we had a most fabulous lunch at Bistro Molines in the Hunter Valley.  The place is one of the very few Hatted restaurants in rural NSW.  Robert and Sally Molines have been together for 40 years, and always in the food business.  They are true food icons in the Hunter Valley.  It is one of our very favorite restaurants, and every visit is a special occasion.  For some really special occasions like our anniversary, we might bring along an exceptional bottle of wine from our cellar, but today, having a normal great lunch with great friends, I ordered wine off the wine list.

Bistro Molines has a nice selection of wines, including Australian and imported wines at very reasonable prices for a Hatted restaurant.  After looking over the menu and the specials for the day, it became apparent that the four of us would all be having different starters and different mains.  Therefore, I would have a bit of a challenge selecting wines that went well with every dish.  We agreed as a table to venture forth with a Riesling over a Chardonnay for the white and selected a very nice Kabbinett Riesling from Mosel. The Riesling was sweet, but not too sweet, with a beautiful smooth texture.  (Embarrassingly, I do not remember nor did I take a picture of the wine, so I do not remember the wine maker.)

For the red wine, I really wanted something with some age on it, but many of the really good choices were from 2010 or 2011.  The wine list had a 2010 Cape Mentelle Zinfandel which is an outstanding wine.  I have had the 2007 and 2008 vintages, including the 2007 vintage at Bistro Molines a year ago.  While the 2010 vintage is considered a superior wine to the 2007, it should ideally be drunk from 2015 – 2030 and I felt it was far too young to drink this wine today.  I asked if they still had any of the 2007 vintage around and after checking, the waitress told me they had one bottle left, but since they had a new order of the 2010 in, the wine list had been updated to show that.

While the 2010 vintage would be a better choice to drink in five years, it was not th best choice for today.  The 2007 vintage would be far more mature and better drinking today so we selected that.  While the 2007 vintage was not on the wine list, it was ours for the asking!  Restaurants often have a number of wines which are single bottles left, or other special wines that do not appear on the wine list.  Therefore, it is worthwhile asking if there is something in particular you are interested in.

Zinfandel is not widely grown in Australia, but if you are going to buy a Zindandel, make sure it is from Margaret River.  Zinfandel grows best in Napa Valley and Margaret River is as close in climate and soil conditions as you are going to find in Australia.  It is a lighter style of grape with texture similar to a Pinot Noir, but sweeter in general.  The 2007 Cape Mentelle has flavors of blackberry and ripe raisins. It went well with the duck, the veal and the kidneys we had for mains (my wife continued to dring the Riesling to go with her mussels.)

Remember, even if you like what you see on the wine list, do not assume it is all that is on offer.  By asking, you establish an intimacy with the sommelier or owner that will serve you well in getting some even better choices of wines not available to those who don’t ask!

What I am drinking right now – food optional!

Wine, of course!  Food is optional this evening.  My wife has done such a great job feeding me over the last few days and we have had some very nice wine matching her great meals.  Two nights ago we had a beautiful spiral pasta with chicken and pesto and I opened a 2007 Annies Lane Coppertrail Riesling from the Clare Valley.  Last night, we had a tremendous meal of pork fillet with steamed vegetables, mash and gravy.  While I would usually open a Pinot Noir to go with a pork fillet, we opened a 2008 Glandore TPR Tempranillo.  Tempranillo is a secondary grape, originally from Spain.  It is heavier than Pinot Noir, but went very well with the pork, especially when covered in gravy!

Tonight, we are not really cooking and I may make a sandwich later or just have some fruit while blogging.  But for now, I am enjoying finishing off the open bottle of the Annies Lane Riesling and then the rest of the Glandore Tempranillo.  Both are great wines to drink on their own which I am currently doing.

The Annies Lane Riesling is a great example of how you can buy an excellent Clare Valley Riesling for $15, cellar it for several years and have it drink like a $40 bottle!  And there is a sweetness to the Tempranillo, like the taste of a strawberry jam or marmalade.  It really is a nice change from my regular red grapes of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We are looking forward to going to our place in the Hunter Valley tomorrow evening for an extended four-day weekend and some great wine drinking and reflection.  We will have four days up there with little distraction.  I will use that time to write another in the series of Five Best Wine Meals Ever and finish the other part of “Can we really describe how wine tastes?”  I am looking forward to that.  These posts deserve several dedicated hours to get right.

We will also have a great lunch with good friends at Bistro Molines this weekend, one of the very few hatted restaurants in rural NSW.  Brilliant views, brilliant food and brilliant ambiance – and dinner to be replaced by nap!  Lunches at Bistro Molines tend to be a three hour affair.

Well, back to drinking and getting this post published for you to hopefully enjoy.  And let me know what you are drinking right now!

The wine lifestyle without drinking wine!

We went to our place in the Hunter Valley last weekend.  It was the first time we had been there in about two months.  We did not tour wineries, we did not drink wine, we did not go out (we ate every meal at home) after we arrived, but we still enjoyed the ‘wine lifestyle.’  Surrounded by vineyards, taking in the greenery of the newly budding vines, and watching regeneration start to bloom was extremely exciting.

Hiking the Great Northern Walk through Mount View, NSW

I went hiking along the Great Northern Walk, we also hiked the Hunter Valley Gardens (where we have an annual pass for the very reasonable price of $85 per year and visit many, many times), we watched The Bourne Identity, and mostly we just chilled in our place taking in the great views, reading, and a little bit of blogging.  It was wonderful and we did not spend any money!  We just had a wonderful time utilizing what we already had – a house to stay in, the use of the annual pass and food in the fridge.

View from back porch in Hunter Valley

With the unbelievable quiet, we slept like babies and shared quiet time together and without any constraints of scheduling anything in advance, we were able to choose what to do at a moment’s notice.  I completely shut down my ‘work’ brain and was able to relax.  And we are going to do it all again this upcoming long weekend.  We will have four straight days in the Hunter.  We do have one meal scheduled with great friends for Saturday lunch and we will be drinking more wine from our cellar.  Again, there will be limited schedule constraints and no cost (other than what we have already spent) to enjoy time in the Hunter Valley.

Chardonnay vines on our place in Hunter Valley

I love walking among the vines, love watching the early stages of the wine production process, and am filled with hope for a great vintage and the upcoming season.  Taking in nature and the views and being able to let my mind room free was a tremendously relaxing and recharging experience.  Yes, I could have an unencumbered weekend in Sydney, but I would not feel like we were getting away, nor have the quietude we achieved in the Hunter Valley.  Plus being among the vines, driving past the great wineries and smelling the fresh air made me feel I was living the wine lifestyle, even when not drinking wine.

But that will change for this long weekend.  I have some great wines planned, including sharing a bottle of the 1999 Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon and the 1992 Lindemans Pyrus with our good friends at Saturday lunch.

A disappointment, but one moves on!

Last night, my lovely bride and I drove to the Hunter Valley and arrived in time for dinner at the Blue Thai restaurant which we really enjoy.  The food is great and the crowd is certainly interesting and entertaining as the restaurant abuts a trailer and camping park.  It is a BYO restaurant, which is a concept I always like!  There were several cartons of box wine sitting on other tables (why come to the Hunter Valley and get box wine?!?!) and I expect there were not many other bottles over $10 in the restaurant that night.

Yet, Thai food has such tremendous flavors and deserves to be paired with good wine.  We usually bring a Gewurztraminer, Semillon or Riesling.  Tonight we brought along a bottle of the 1995 Penfolds Adelaide Hills Semillon Trial Bin.  I have four bottles of this, but had not had much interest in trying one as it was an inexpensive wine I purchased back in 1997 in Melbourne.  It had not been cared for well either in that it made a trip across the ocean to the US in 1998 when I moved back there, and then a trip back home in 2000 when I moved here permanently.  Fortunately, most of the wines that made the journey over and back did not suffer much (the better ones were stored in Styrofoam cases) , but some of the cheaper ones were affected.

Recently, I have come to realize that the 1995 Adelaide Hills Trial Bin was one of the wines that was an experiment as a possibility for Penfolds White Grange (according the the public, not Penfolds) which ultimately resulted in the Yatarnna Bin 144 Chardonnay.  Plus some of the wine auction houses I was talking with expressed interest in selling this wine at auction and that peaked my curiosity.  I decided it was worth trying a bottle to see if it was still good.  After all, it was selling for between $25 – $30 per bottle on the secondary market.

Crumbled cork

Halliday reviewed this wine a long time ago and said it was drinkable until about 2003 and here I am thinking about trying it almost a decade after that.  Yet, I have had many aged Semillons that have really stood the test of time.  However the bottle I opened last night, had not!  It was unfortunately corked.  I used the standard cork screw from the restaurant, but the cork just crumbled.  I then drove home to get my Ah So cork screw.  The Ah So cork screw is about the only way to get old cork out of an old bottle.  It is designed to be able to get old and soggy corks out of the bottle, and I may have had some luck had I started with this, but the cork was so soggy and cushy that I could not get a good grip on it.  It was the first time ever that I was not able to remove a cork with the Ah So, and had to push it into the bottle.

I was still hopeful because the wine had a beautiful golden color to it, and their was no obvious fault when visualizing the wine.  However, it had lost much of its flavor and had a metallic taste to it.  It tasted like someone had squeezed a melon onto a piece of sheet metal and licked it.  (I am imagining this is what it would have tasted like – I have not actually done this!)  You could tell this was a fine wine in its time, but had oxidized too much.  I still managed a few sips with dinner to try to figure out what it would have been like without the fault, but we left 2/3rds of the bottle and mostly had water with dinner.

I am hopeful that the remaining three bottles of this wine may have traveled better than this one did.  Cork variability can be quite large.  Recently about two weeks apart, I had two bottles of the 2003 Blueberry Hills Pinot Noir and the second one was significantly better than the first one (as described in post).  Since both Pinot Noirs had been stored properly and in exactly the same manner, the difference could only be attributable to the difference in cork structure.  Therefore, I will try each bottle of the 1995 Penfolds Adelaide hills Semillon Trial Bin and hopefully one or two of the remaining three bottles will be real gems!

Pinterest for sharing the wine lifestyle

I have slowly been adapting to social media over the years, probably at a slower rate than I should have.  It started with LinkedIn and then Facebook some four or five years ago.  Then about six months ago, I started blogging and using Twitter.  And now I use Pinterest.

Pinterest is a ‘pin board’ or scrap book where you pin pictures into various albums.  My bride loves to pin great looking guys (even though I have not been able to find my picture there yet!), her cooking recipes and other things.  I have created two wine boards, one for ‘Wine Labels’ and the other for ‘Wine Humor.’  As I find new wine labels and humorous posts on wine, I save and then pin them in Pinterest.  (I also have a few other non-wine boards.)

I like the concept in that I can find a home and quickly add related items if they are a picture of some sort.  I have about 25 Wine Labels and about 40 Wine Humor pins so far and it grows every week.  And it is possible if you have a picture in a blog post or an article that you can actually pin the blog post by attaching it to the picture you are pinning.  Therefore, it can be used as another channel to introduce people to your blogging.  Each board and each picture can also be captioned.

Feel free to follow me on Pinterest if you like.  Or just check in every now and then to have a wine laugh or see what new labels I have added.  Many of the labels are of wines I have recently drank or have drunk previously and want to remember.  I also plan on starting a board on ‘Wine Decanters’ and ‘Other Wine Paraphernalia’ very soon, maybe as soon as this weekend.

I am less interested in building a following for Pinterest than I am for other aspects of social media I use, but it is fun and and an easy way to share new dimensions of the wine lifestyle.

The region makes the varietal

In several previous posts, I provide an overview of Australia wine regions and what grapes grow best in what regions.  If you have not read those posts or cannot remember them, I urge you to read them again!  The region makes the varietal (grape) far better or worse.  Here are the links for your reference and a quick overview:

I assume most wine makers try their best to get the most out of the grapes they are using to make wine.  But to give them a fighting chance, they need to use grapes from the regions most appropriate for growing that particular type of grape.  The different varieties of grapes have different characteristics which make them more (or less) suitable to be grown in particular regions.  Some grapes require a longer growing season than others and if in the wrong place, they will either end up not flavorful or ripe enough, or with too high an alcohol content for that grape.  Some grapes have thicker skins than others, and some reflect the influence of the type of soil and climate more (or less) than other grapes.

This mean that the certain grapes, year-in, year-out, will grow far better in certain regions than others.  You know I I love my Hunter Valley Semillon, Shiraz, and Chardonnay.  The region is perfect for growing these grapes, and there are some vineyards in the Hunter Valley (due to their specific location, if they are flat or on a hill, etc.) that yield still better results than other vineyards.  An example of this would be the Stevens vineyard for Shiraz and used by Tyrrells and De Iuliis.  Another is the Braemore vineyard for Semillon and from which Andrew Thomas makes his great Braemore Semillon.

But this also means that there are certain grapes not suited to the Hunter Valley and these include Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir!  If you want a good Cabernet Sauvignon, get one from the McLaren Vale or Margaret River.  If you want a good Pinot Noir, get one from Victoria, Tasmania or New Zealand.  Do not buy a Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir from the Hunter Valley!  Sure you say, but how about Lakes Folly Cabernet Sauvignon?  And I am sure some of their vintages are quite nice.  But why spend $70 bottle for this wine, when you can get an outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon from McLaren Vale or Margaret River for $20.  And if you do not know what you are doing nor follow the results of individual vintages for each region, you statistically will be far happier with any given vintage from McLaren Vale or Margaret River for a Cabernet Sauvignon than you will from the Hunter Valley.

I recently have had two bottles of Hunter Valley Pinot Noir.  One I thought was reasonable, that one being the Blueberry Hill Pinot Noir.  It was certainly decent, but not as good as most other Pinot Noirs I have had from Victoria, Tasmania, New Zealand or certainly Burgundy.  The other one I opened last Saturday was the 2005/2009 blend Sandalyn Pinot Noir.  Frankly, I suffered through a couple of glasses of this on Saturday and what was left was down-right undrinkable today.  I bought nine bottles of this wine when taking a pasta cooking class at Sandalyn last year.  Frankly, drinking this wine now, I am not sure what possessed me to buy it.  I may have been enthused by the pasta making class and the fine meal we had afterwards, or caught up in the enthusiasm of the wine maker explaining to me how this was made in ‘a real Burgundy’ style.

Usually, I try to share and promote very positive wine-drinking and lifestyle experiences, but I also need to share my negative experiences to provide a balance and credibility to the wines and products I promote (which I do without any commercial ties BTW).  The 2005/2009 Sandalyn Pinot Noir was a good effort by the wine maker, but it is not a good wine and it is not going to last.  I have eight more bottles of this and will need to use it as cooking wine.  Or bring a few bottles to a BBQ where I know I can wait until a few hours into the BBQ and nobody will be able to discern the quality of this Pinot Noir after becoming well lubricated with beer and other mediocre wines!

Both the Blueberry Hill and the Sandalyn from the Hunter were mistakes to buy and I will make sure to follow my own advice and only buy grapes from the regions that are most suitable for growing them.  I was hoping to have the remaining Sandalyn with Bangers and Mash tonight, but will now maybe look at a Pinot Noir from Nuits – St George!

Sharing your ‘last’ bottle makes it extra-special

I have had three experiences lately in sharing a ‘last’ bottle of great wine with others.  One was intimate and at home, only sharing with my lovely bride, the last bottle of the 1996 Wolf Blass Grey Label.  We were fortunate to purchase three dozen of this magnificent wine a long time ago and very inexpensively, but it proved to be one of those ‘regular’ wines that was superior far above its branding and price range.  My bride considered this her every day drinking wine and we have enjoyed it over the years.  About a month ago, we opened and shared our last bottle together, eating at home and greatly enjoying the remembrance of this great wine.  The second to last bottle we had was at her 40th birthday party (and made it as part of the Best Wine Meal I have ever had!) a year and a half ago.  This was an occasion that was special to us as a couple and needed to be shared as a couple, not with others.

The other recent experience was with my BPAY team and the meal we had at The Cut Bar & Grill.  One of the bottles was the 2000 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz.  It was my last bottle and I wanted to share it with the team as respect to them and what a great team that they made.  It was one of many great wines that evening and the meal achieved #4 Best Wine Meal ever.  I will be writing in detail about that meal and the wines during this week.

Today, we are going to our good friends for one of their typical Sunday lunches (which means we usually finish lunch and drinking wine well after dinner!).  We and this couple really enjoy each others company and sharing a good meal and wine together.  They both have great palates and he, in particular, loves his Cabernet Sauvignons.  Therefore among other things, I am bringing  my last bottle of the 1999 Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  Like the 1996 Wolf Blass Grey Label, this wine was superior far above its branding and price range and just got better over the years.  And since he loves great Cabernet Sauvignons and we love them, we are bringing this wine to share with them.

I try to make funerals about the celebration of life well lived, and not about loss and sorrow.  It is a time to celebrate the passing into the great beyond, the release from our bodily hurt.  We need to celebrate with each other and remember the great times we had with the deceased.  The only problem is that the guest of honor no longer with us to celebrate.  Well the great thing about that last bottle of a great and special wine is that it is there with us to celebrate!  And I keep the bottle to remember the great memories throughout the year that accompanied drinking that wine.

Today we will also bring a great bottle of the 2009 Bouchard Pere & Fils Puligny-Montrachet Chardonnay and a bottle of the 1995 Penfolds Adelaide Hills Semillon Trial Bin (which was one of the trial wines for Penfold’s White Grange experiment which resulted in Yatarnna).  I have four bottles of this wine, but have never tried one.  This will also be a great thing to share with good friends, hopefully because we find out it is a real treasure that has been overlooked.  But the featured wine today will be the ‘last’ bottle of the 1999 Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a great wine with great friends.

How long will an open bottle of wine last?

Many of us never reach this situation as we polish off a bottle (or more) the first day we open it!  I love to drink wine almost every day, but not that much.  And if it is just my wife and me, we may want to share a bottle over a few days.  Given what we have for dinner, what wine is leftover may not go with the meal the next night, so I may open another bottle to better match the food.  Then I may have two or even three bottles of open wine sitting around!

There are several ways to store wine and keep it reasonably fresh and drinkable for several days.  I use the Vacu Vin pump and stoppers.  Similar models are made by ScrewPull and others, but they all basically work the same.  The newer models have a clicking sound to alert you that you have pumped as long as required and have removed the air from the bottle.  Make sure you get the newer model!  It works far better than the old ones.  The newer stoppers look like the ones to the left.  The older model stoppers look like the ones below and to the right.

There are very expensive systems that will keep between two and four open bottles fresh for a matter of several weeks.  However, they cost from $1,500 – $7,000 based on capacity and quality.  But the Vacu Vin or similar models may be purchased for $20 – $25 inclusive of pump and several stoppers, and certainly will keep the wine fresh for several days.

I had opened a 2005 Stags Leap Black Label Petite Shiraz a full week ago, and because of the meals we had during the week, I did not get around to drinking more of the Stags Leap until last night – six days after the bottle was open.  It was still very fresh, and tonight I am finishing off the last of the bottle.  It has very slightly diminished in freshness, but still an excellent wine.

I should point out that lasting a full week has to do with the quality of this wine.  It is about $60 – $75 per bottle in Australia and has been built to last.  It is unusual for a wine to last this long in an open bottle when using the pump and stopper method.  This is the sign of a very good quality wine.  Most wines in their optimal drinking range will be good for two to three additional days at the longest after opening the wine.  Once a bottle is open, you should always try to drink the wine within one or two more days after opening.  Better quality wines in their optimal drinking range should be able to last two to four days, but I would not normally push it beyond that.  I was lucky with the Stags Leap!

A great, big wine with some age on it will mellow and may even be better after another day of being opened.  This was certainly true of the 1987 Pyrus I discussed in another post entitled “Should you decant wine?”  This wine tasted better the second day.

However, you need to be really careful with older, more fragile wines.  The structure is much less tight than for a newer wine and will break down quickly.  An older wine should be drunk in its entirety the same day, or certainly the next day.  It will lose flavor quickly and have noticeably deteriorated by the second day.

To use the pump and stopper, place the stopper into the bottle completely flush, and then put the pump over the stopper, holding the pump down onto the stopper to provide a seal.  Hold the base of the pump with one hand and lift the handle of the pump up and down until you start to hear a clicking sound.  This will indicate that you have removed the air from the bottle.  Do this each time you open and then close the bottle.  As the wine in the bottle becomes less and less, the amount of time to remove the air increases slightly.

This process will allow you to get more enjoyment out of your wine, even if the bottle has been open for several days.  Drink well!

(BTW, this process is not necessary for fortified wines (alcohol over 20%) as the air does not create the bacterial effect it would with wines which are 16% alcohol and under.  You may just stop up the wine with the original cork.  However, make sure to stop the bottle somehow as if left open, while not turning to vinegar, a fortified wine will still lose flavor.)

Can we really describe how wine tastes – Part 1?

For most of us, the answer is ‘no.’  Many of us enjoy wine just because it is alcoholic, and could not care less how it actually tastes.  I am in the group of people who enjoy wine for the taste and the sensation of pleasure it provides from a lot of different perspectives – seeing it, swirling it, smelling it, the texture it provides against the inside of my cheeks being just a few of those sensations. However, I cannot do a decent job of describing how it tastes with regards to its flavor.  There are people who can articulate most, if not all, characteristics of wine, and precisely define a multitude of flavors coming through.  And, finally, there are the pure bullshitters who know that 95% of us don’t have a clue, so they take a chance and try to impress us that they know.  I love catching those liars out!

The highest certification you can achieve for wine tasting is the International Master of Wine (MW).  This distinction means, you not only can taste the different nuances in many different wines, but that you can describe those nuances in a consistent manner with other MWs when writing or speaking about the wine.  It also means you can identify the characteristics and have a good chance of identifying what country, or region of the world the wine comes from, describe the influence of its particular terroir, and have a vast lexicon of terms to describe the wines flavors (including ‘”cat’s pee” for some Sauvignon Blancs!).

Becoming a MW requires a lot of study, practice and tasting.  It is estimated that it costs about $200,000 in wine you are required to buy and taste to be able to pass the exams.  Many MWs are naturally blessed and have ‘super-taster’ capabilities (25% – 40% more taste buds in their mouth than normal people), otherwise known as “cook’s palate.”  But many are also just normal people, greatly dedicated to their craft and their passion.

There are less than 500 MWs in the world.  I am certain that I will never become one.  Heck, the cost of $200,000 to even attempt it is a road block for almost all of us.  While I enjoy my wine greatly and enjoy writing and speaking about it and sharing experiences with others, I will just never put in that kind of dedication to achieve such a distinction.

I can describe how wine feels, if it is balanced, or if the tannins are fully integrated.  I can also define if it has a long or short finish. But when it comes to defining flavor or taste, I have a limited ability of description.  In my recent post on “Yatarnna Bin 144 – Penfolds White Grange,” I describe the flavor of the 2006 Yatarnna as “powerful lemon flavors and some peach and grass flavor.”  The lemon was obvious to me for this wine, and ‘it seemed’ like a little bit of peach flavoring, or it could have been a bit of honeydew melon.  I was not really sure.  In the great book on Penfolds entitled “The Rewards of Patience,” a group of wine reviewing experts, including Halliday, Mattinson and Hooke describe this wine as “Flinty pear/lemon curd/white peach aromas and fine pronounced tangy acidity.”  They tasted this wine four years before me, and I expect the wine changed markedly over time.  For starters, the wine no longer has a tangy acidity.  It has mellowed nicely.  And was their ‘curd peach,’ my ‘grass?’

Surprisingly, I did pretty well on this wine, but could not describe accurately most other wines.  And most of you who taste wine less than I do could not either.  Most of us don’t even think about the flavor or other characteristics of the wine, yet we can still greatly enjoy a wine and are able to determine if it is a great, good, mediocre or bad wine.  (To me, ‘mediocre’ is as bad as bad, so I won’t bother with ‘mediocre – life is too short!)

But I have over time developed a simple lexicon for trying to decipher and describe the flavor of the wine I am tasting.  And it somewhat varies for red and white wines.  There are some great books on wine tasting and some kits and flavor guides you can buy to help you along the way.  However, there is no substitute for just trying a number of different wines next to each other and sharing and attempting to describe your experiences with friends.  Another good way to learn more is to participate in winery tastings when they announce the new vintages.  These are quite inexpensive and a great way to learn from the way the wine makers describe their wines.  We have gotten 6 – 8 of us together to do this several times with great fun and success.

It may seem intimidating to do this around people you know are far more mature tasters than you are, but most wine lovers are delighted to enjoy and share a good bottle with you and derive great pleasure from assisting others learn and appreciate wine more.  (And if they do, they fit my definition of a ‘wine enthusiast’, if they don’t, then the are ‘wine snobs!’)

We have two friends who are wine judges and are studying for their MW.  We are going to their place for lunch this coming Sunday.  We have done this about five times in the last three years and have had them over to our place a similar number of times.  We have shared some great meals and great wines together.  Initially I felt a little extra pressure to be sure I selected some great wines to enjoy, but as we got to know each other and enjoy each others company and shared interest in good wine, we quickly found ourselves in a very comfortable and safe environment to try some special wines, and discuss them with relative experts.

Do not be afraid to just mix it up and give it a go!  I remember the first time my wife tried a Tannat (secondary red grape), her reaction was “Wow- I can’t describe it, but I love what it does to my mouth!”  Needless to say, the wine maker was delighted by her response.

In Part 2, I will provide the simple lexicon I use to attempt to describe the flavor of both red and white wines, and hopefully provide some ideas on how you can describe wines also.

Special Remembrance of 9/11

On 9/11 (actually the morning of 9/12 in Australia) I awoke at our place in the Blue Mountains, safely tucked away from civilization, at peace watching the kangaroos prance across our property.  It was a crisp, yet warming September morning and as I got to my computer and looked at Yahoo, I saw the news, but did not believe it.  Something truly that tragic could only be a hoax.  I just knew that Yahoo had been hacked and I was impressed with how thoroughly it had been hacked!  But after about 10 minutes, I felt something was wrong – drastically wrong.

I turned on the TV and CNN and was hoping that these hackers were damn good and had hacked into CNN also, but after switching to FOX News, ABC, TBS, and other stations, I realized that every channel was carrying the tragedy of 9/11.

When I awoke, and accepted that it was real, the first thing I did was wake Deanna and informed her of what had happened.  We were sickened by what we were witnessing and it was personal as we worked in that building for almost a year.  Deanna and a few other of my employees at the time spent nine months living in the Marriott World Trade Center while we were working on a project for Deutsche Bank.  We had friends and colleagues at Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley – Dean Witter (MSDW), and other financial institutions.  We knew many contractors from KPMG and BearingPoint among others who would possibly have been at client sites that day.

The way the skyline will always be in my eyes

By the time we were awake, I was able to check on the first person who came to mind and that was Dan Heldridge at MSDW.  MSDW had established a great system to check status on their employees and I was so relieved to have the assurance and confirmation the “Dan had left the building!”  I was able to get verification of a few others right away, but many were not in a position to respond, nor did their company have as good a system as MSDW did.  It took a week before the last person I was inquiring about was able to confirm she was still alive.  Her name is Irena Korateeva and she was a Russian KPMG employee working in New York.  She lost her laptop in the tragedy, but fortunately escaped the building and did not suffer the fate of her laptop.  It was only after she got a new laptop that she was able to respond and confirm her safety.

We were relieved that we did not lose a single colleague or friend.  Others were not as lucky.  Thousands died and many more lost friends and colleagues.  One of my friends had 14 people he was close to who lost their life that day.

I remember the strong drive I had to ‘defend’ my country and I thought about going back to the US, joining the CIA (assuming they would have me) or some other organization where I could help to contribute and defend.  The real heroes that day where the calm politicians, the fire and police and other volunteers and able bodied individuals who risked their lives to save the lives of others.  I was traumatized for several weeks and could not get the event out of my mind.  Then my cousin Tom sent me an email from someone who had escaped from the Marriott World Trade Center.  We relived the entire experience having been so familiar with the hotel and the layout of the surrounding buildings, streets and tunnels.

I have never forgot and frankly find it difficult, if not impossible, to forgive.  I don’t blame religious groups, ethnic groups or any other segment of the population.  I blame senseless and inhumane terrorists.  I pray for them and try to forgive them, but frankly, that is a big ask.

I have been to the top of the World Trade Center to view the great city of New York, drank beer with friends in the bar at the top of the World Trade Center, have worked for clients there and know many who spent most of their adult life in one of the buildings.  I will never, ever forget!

Tears are flowing down my cheeks as I write this.  I thank all the people who defend our freedom and our countries, defend our liberties and way of life.  Since 9/11, I am more conscientious and thankful for those in the armed forces, those who are civil servants, the police and fireman, and all who are willing to sacrifice their lives for others and for our freedom.  God Bless them beyond belief!

No, this post has nothing to do with wine – it has to do with things far more important than wine.  If you feel cheated, be comforted that I am drinking some of the leftover 2009 Hugel Alsace Riesling from the other evening as I write this.

But for today, remember our heroes, and thank God for their willingness to serve and defend.  We can always drink wine later.

I dedicate this post to Dan Helridge, Irena Korateeva, all the others in between, all those who died in the tragedy and all those who served and/or died saving and defending the lives of others.