Thursday, July 17, 2008

What I Learned at Wine Camp

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.
Wine camp takes place on the first Sunday of each month. Learn About Wine offers all sorts of other classes and events, too.


  1. Ian Blackburn7/18/2008 3:12 PM

    I love your write up! What a thrill to read such a comprehensive article that is really nice and accurate.

    Thank you so much! You get it and I appreciate it.... come on back for PALATE BUILDER - my treat!!!

  2. Hmmm...this format seems vaguely familiar.

  3. Can wait to attend a wine camp as well. Love your blog, Leila.

  4. Aw, thanks for stopping by, Ian, and thanks very much for the kind offer! How exciting!

    And tsp, yes, yes, consider it an homage to the literary form you have mastered...

    and Leila, welcome, and thank you.

  5. Re: "our state's inherent obnoxiousness?" Why the california hate?

    When it comes to things I put in my mouth, I'll take "sweeter, bolder" over "mineral flavor" anyday.

  6. oh don't get me wrong az, i love our state's inherent obnoxiousness! in fact, i'm proud to be a part of it. stonefaced demureness just isn't in the stars for me, you, our state, or our wine. thankfully!

  7. For some unknown reason this post showed up as brand new on your RSS feed, which is awesome because: 1) Wine camp sounds frigging amazing and 2) Your wine collection is very impressive.