Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wine Tasting with Kyle and Lawrence

Lawrence is visiting Sonoma County, so he needed to drink some wine. Lawrence is leaving for Paris in less than a week, so he needed to drink some wine. Lawrence just turned 21, so he needed to drink some wine. Lawrence couldn't remember what wine tasted like, so he needed to drink some wine. Basically, it was a moral imperative for me to take Lawrence wine tasting.

I found a few coupons for free wine tastings at some Sonoma Valley wineries (If you want some recommendations on Sonoma County wineries to taste at, let me know). I called up Kyle (McCormick) because I knew he was around and had just taken a whole class about wine last semester. He came over, and we started driving east around 1 or 2 pm. 

Our first stop was Valley of the Moon Winery. I had been there before, and knew it was a nice place to visit. It was one of the first wineries in Sonoma Valley and has some great old buildings. Some of their wine making facilities are still housed in their old barn-like building. It was built in the 1800s and has been refurbished since. We also saw some of the old vines, which probably date to the early 1900s. 

Their wines are quite good. In particular, I really like their Syrah, and Kyle tried an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from one of their sister wineries that he really liked. Of course, their Pinot Noir is very good, which is to be expected in the Sonoma County region. We also got to try their 2001 Cuvee de Lune, which I had never had before and which they don't even sell (so I'm not sure why they gave it to us). It was really really good - super smooth and almost juicy. Their Chardonnay, however, was nothing special, despite being from Sonoma. 

The best part, though, was watching Lawrence try all the wines. We told the lady pouring for us that this was Lawrence's first time really trying wine, and she helped him through a couple tastings. She started him off with a sparkling white wine and reassured him when he started getting frustrated with not being able to pick out the "correct" words for describing the tastes. Nonetheless, this continued to be as source of frustration for Lawrence throughout the trip. Of course, as an almost total amateur, I too have much difficulty describing the wines I taste, but I've pretty much moved on to just enjoying the wine and slowly getting better at describing it. 

Next stop was Arrowood Winery, which I had not been to before. This seemed to be a smaller winery than Valley of the Moon, and we had to wait to get a spot at the busy bar. When we did, a nice, retired lady poured for us. Some of this wine was clearly nicer than anything we got to taste at Valley of the Moon. Kyle tasted a Pinot or a Zinfandel, I forget, and then three very nice Syrahs. Lawrence had a more standard tasting. The first, though, was probably the best Chardonnay I can ever remember tasting. It was really smooth and had, if I remember right, a nice hint of vanilla. The others were also quite good. At the end, Kyle asked if we could taste their late growth desert wines. I hadn't had tried anything like these, but they were basically like drinking less viscous honey or super-sweet nectar. They were pretty excellent. 

Our last stop was Kenwood Winery, where I had also been before. They are one of the largest wine producers in the area, so their prices are cheap, but many of their wines are not too memorable. The Jack London wines were very good, but they're not too cheap to buy. We tried a particularly delicious Jack London Zinfandel. Even better and even more expensive are their 2005 and 2006 "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignons, so called for the art that is commissioned for the front of the bottles every year. The man pouring for us was quite entertaining, and I could tell that he enjoys his job. He certainly enjoyed talking to us, anyway. I forget his name, but let's call him "Ken."

The first good story he told us was about an older couple from Texas who was in the tasting room about a week ago. The story came up when he was trying to teach Lawrence how to aerate wine by swirling it.  The couple clearly did not know a whole lot about wine when they came in, and they were not swirling the wine properly before drinking it. So Ken shows them how it's done - you have to really swirl vigorously. Well, the wife took right to it, really spinning the shit out of the wine. The old man, however, was just lazily rotating the class, which just doesn't do anything. Ken tells the man that he has to swirl it a bit harder and faster for it to work. Ken leaves them alone for a little while so that they could taste the wine. When he comes back to check on them some minutes later, the wife is still spinning the wine, and this old man is still just slowly moving the glass around. Ken says to the man, "You need to swirl the wine a little more than that. Swirl it harder and faster. Take a look at how your wife is doing it. You have to do it harder and faster." The wife just looks up at the server and says, "Honey, he's not going to listen to you. I've been asking him to do that for years, and he doesn't listen."

The second story he told us came up when Lawrence was again expressing frustration over not being able to describe the wines correctly. When Ken was younger and knew less about wines, he came to Sonoma County and tasted some of our famed Pinot Noir. He didn't like it at all; he thought it was gross.  then he took a trip to France. When he got there, he went to a wine dealer and bought some Burgundy. He really loved that wine, and he kept going back, always buying some great French Burgundy. After three weeks, he is very happy with all his wine, and he goes to talk to the wine dealer. The wine dealer talks to him, and asks him where he is from [comment: I am taking some liberties with telling these stories, and I am sure they are inaccurate]. Ken tells him he is from Sonoma County. The wine dealer says, "Oh. They have great Pinot Noir there, you must love it." Ken says, "Actually, I have tried it, and I don't like Pinot Noir at all. It just doesn't suit me. I really prefer the Burgundy you've been selling me. It's much better." The wine dealer just looks at him and cracks up. Ken, confused, asks, "What's so funny?" The dealer says, "You've been drinking Pinot Noir for the last three weeks! I've been selling you Pinot Noir!" And that's when Ken learned that in France, they name wine after the region, Burgundy, not the grape, Pinot Noir.

After Kenwood, we meant to go to the Hop Kiln tasting room in Glen Ellen, but it was closed for some "special event" for the day. Sad. And that's the end of my story. 

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