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Learning About Wine in More Ways Than One

May 9th, 2010

So I’ve never been the best student in the world; memorization and test taking are some of my least favorite things and least of the accomplishments in my book – I mean – why wouldn’t I go on to get another degree?  Because I feel like the world itself provides me learning and because I’m afraid that I wouldn’t make it memorizing bones of the body or judicial law or how best to teach a 1st grader to read :)

This weekend, however was different.  I decided, with a bit of prodding by one of my favorite wine reps, to immerse myself in wine learning.  The challenge?  To pass an exam given by The Court of Master Sommeliers.

This group was established, according to their website, “to encourage improved standards of beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants.  The title Master Sommelier marks the highest recognition of wine and spirits knowledge, beverage service abilities, and professionalism in the hospitality trade. Education was then, and remains today, the Court’s charter. There are four stages involved in attaining the top qualifications of Master Sommelier: 1) Introductory Sommelier Course; 2) Certified Sommelier Exam; 3) Advanced Sommelier Course; and 4) Master Sommelier Diploma.”

Just to be clear, I was taking training on and graduated from Level 1 of these qualifications.  And to be even more clear, there are only 105 professionals who have earned the title Master Sommelier (graduates of Level 4) in North America. amys level 1 pin & diploma

So this weekend I succumbed to two days in a classroom and learned a ton!  Of course I had done some studying on my own ahead of time to work to memorize wine growing regions of the world along with their appellations and sub-appellations and which grapes grow where and why.

I sat in class and listened to three Master Sommeliers run through Power Point slides like nobody’s business for about 16 hours.  When we weren’t whirlwinding through this, I sat with four wine glasses in front of me (at 5 different times throughout the sessions) tasting wine ‘blind’.   We swirled, looked, smelled, tasted, spit and analyzed great wines (some of which we carry which made it extra fun!).  We talked it out each time and realized that there’s a ton I know and about 5 tons I don’t know about wine.

I had to confirm while sitting there that for this girl who isn’t into memorization of facts that one of the best things I’ve done for myself – and continue to do – is to travel.  As I sat in these sessions listening to them describe ‘schist’ and soil and clay and rocks and the Mistral ocean winds and the related areas in which certain grapes grow and why and how we can decipher these things…I realized what a truly visual and experiental learner I really am!

my friend dave in a Priorat vineyard

my friend dave in a Priorat vineyard

…I thought about how very lucky I am to be able to travel to different places in the world to see what the land is like, the grapes are like and how I know about the ins and outs – because winemakers have taken me into their wineries and vineyards and barrel rooms – to experience the very delights of really knowing what a wine is all about.  I was so excited to see a picture this weekend of the giant slate chunks of Priorat where I stood and the massive uprising of hills from the Wurtzgarten where I too climbed.

With the books and the class, I had a great time confirming where the Wahluke Slope  is and about the 1985 diethylene scandal of Austria – along with thousands of other things; and I basically confirmed I need to continue to read, listen, sell, taste and travel.

So in 18 days I leave to explore Chile and Argentina.  I plan to bring back knowledge and enthusiasm about a new place I’ve personally seen.  And I will take with me the knowledge I’ve been given via books, I’ll take with memories of all the things I’ve tasted along with my new tasting techniques learned this weekend and I’ll go armed to see the land, experience the climate and enjoy great food, wine, friends and places.

I love learning!


Tempranillo, Yes You Can Age It.

August 21st, 2007

Last night while we packed up we took a break for some grilled cheese sandwiches and thought, let’s pop that Penalba Lopez 1990 Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva to see if it’s still alive. Whoa. Yes almighty indeed very much alive. 1990 was an excellent vintage for Ribera del Duero and this wine, while aged beautifully, was not fading at all. It was a pretty cherry/ruby color with medium variation and was fairly brilliant in brightness. The aromas were effusive with notes of dried black cherry, cassis, tobacco, coffee and spice. I spent five minutes smelling the wine before I even managed to taste it. On the palate it’s big and very complex, with plenty of cherry fruit mingling with black licorice, chocolate and firm, yet integrated tannins. Lots of licorice. In a good way.

One of the things I’ve begun to look to in terms of a wine’s quality is its finish. The finish on this was gorgeous and super long. Most wines have a normal finish length, but the truly special ones have discernible finishes that you actually remember as much as the aromas and flavors. This is one of those wines you can’t believe you’re drinking, because it’s so seemingly perfect. So on a Thursday night at midnight with grilled cheese while you pack your girlfriend’s car before she drives to California for law school is a good time to open a seventeen year old Tempranillo. Trust me.

It’s difficult to find wine that’s been aged but I’m always on the watch for overlooked gems. For similar but not quite as amazing experiences, check out our Penalba Lopez 1999 Ribera del Duero Crianza, it’s a lovely wine drinking great right now and it’s a steal for $10.75. It will be here for a good week or two before we run out. For some Ribera del Duero selections that are worthy of aging I recommend 2004, a crazy good vintage, probably the best of the decade at this point.

I have secretly stocked many wines from this vintage here at Art of the Table. We have limited amounts of

2004 Montecastro Ribera del Duero at $44.75 (94 pts Wine Advocate)

Avan “Nacimiento” 2004 Ribera del Duero at $35.50 (91 pts Wine Advocate)

2004 Pesquera Tinto at $36.00

Vizcarra “JC” Crianza 2004 Ribera del Duero at $24.50 (92 pts Wine Advocate)

2003 Pesquera Reserva Ribera del Duero at $58.00, which should be awesome as well.

Mike D.

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