I drink a lot of wine, but aside from the late-night Spanish wine tips I used to get from Raul and Kenny at Bodega de Cordova, I'm pretty remedial at fancy wine savvy. So, a few Sundays ago, I took a 'wine camp' class offered by Learn About Wine, and it was delightful. In an airy loft Downtown, long tables were set to seat about 50 students. Each setting had 3 small wine glasses and a booklet with the day's lesson, as well as plates of crackers, cheeses, cured meats, and fruit to nibble (to prevent overdoing it on the sauce), and of course, a trusty discard bucket. Ian Blackburn, the owner of the business, drew on his broad experience in the restaurant, wine, and hospitality industries, and his formal training as a wine educator, to lead us through over 2 solid hours of tasting and learning. And learn I did -- there were lots of 'who knew?' moments:
- You don't actually have to be fancy to be interested in wine. My classmates included teachers, families, pharmacists, architects, and of course, entertainment industry people.
- The days of meat with red and fish with white are long gone. Try dusting that scallop with dried porcinis and see how well it goes with a Pinot Noir.
- Organic wines don't age well -- buy them to drink right away, or don't buy them at all. On the other hand, wines made from organic grapes (or better yet, grapes from biodynamic or self-sustaining vineyards), are a good, good thing.
- Whatever Paul Giamatti might have to say about it, I actually really like Merlot.
- For a sure bet, just buy from Costco. Apparently their wine buyer cultivates a really great selection.
- On the other hand, be wary at Trader Joe's. You might think you see a familiar label there, but look closely: some wine producers create exclusive blends for TJs from a broader, and so less distinct, region.
- It's a good idea to break tradition when it comes to packaging. Time to throw out that chunk of tree bark and replace it with a reliable screwcap. And while we're at it, why not do away with heavy-to-ship, fragile glass? Instead, how about just taking your own jug to the local wine shop for a refill retro-styles? I like this idea.
- You can taste an entire country in a bottle of wine. A California Chardonnay and a French Chablis may come from the same type of grape, but expect a subtle, mineral flavor from the rainy French countryside, and a sweeter, bolder wine from sunny Cali. (Is our wine betraying our state's inherent obnoxiousness?)
- Wine camp is fun, but I have much to learn: a few popular French and California wines barely scratches the surface. I'm very much looking forward to my wine education.