By The Glass
Education, fun served with great wine
I recently had the pleasure of tasting wines with three of my favorite wine "minds." Such opportunities are always enlightening and certainly re-inspiring for a young buck like me. Some of the highlights:
Nunzio Alioto, Alioto's Restaurant, San Francisco: Nunzio and I studied for the master sommelier examination together. He is president of the Court of Master Sommeliers worldwide, and he and his wife are my two best friends. The three of us, along with my wife and son, went fly fishing recently, starting the excursion in Redding, Calif., where it was startlingly hot (115 degrees)!
There is nothing better in such sweltering heat than an air conditioner on full blast and an ice-cold glass of J. Lasalle Rose Champagne ($45). When Nunzio and I passed the master sommelier exam, we celebrated with a very profound, uber-complex, aristocratic vintage Krug Champagne (1961 for his; 1969 for mine). But on this day that is not what we needed.
The J. Lasalle was effortlessly light, bordering on airy, vividly crisp and not at all bitter - quite the thirst - quencher.
This lesson can be applied to all styles and types of wines. There are times for light, crisp chardonnays, and other opportunities for more oaky, bombastic award winners. As a savvy buyer you can purchase accordingly.
Van Williamson, Edmeades Vineyards, Anderson Valley, Calif.: I've never met a more colorful, unabashed, lust-for-life character in the wine business than Van Williamson. As one of the guests at his recent tasting at Vino noted, "He is a hoot. I have never experienced anything like him before!"
Van didn't get into winemaking for the art, but in appreciation of the pleasure wine provides as a beverage, especially at the dinner table. He makes his wine accordingly. And, as we tasted through a flight of five of his zinfandels, this belief was clear. Each wine was delicious and food-friendly.
Van noted that one fruity, front-loaded zin would be good with venison, while another dark, brooding "mountain" zin is better with beef or lamb. Van is an avid fisherman, hunter and forager.
Bruce Neyers, Neyers Vineyards & Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants: I met Bruce in the late '70s, when he worked at Joseph Phelps and his wife, Barbara, worked at Chez Panisse. I was thrilled when they purchased the Neyers label and was astounded by their first wine, a 1992 merlot. It is still is the most memorable California merlot for me.
Bruce is now with Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants and I was able to taste wines with him, along with many others in the local wine trade, on Saturday.
It was a rare opportunity to learn from a person immersed in both California and French wines. We tasted through the Californians first, both white and red, and then moved onto the French. Made total sense.
Later at Vino, Bruce started off with a taste of a very light, dry, crisp white. With his appetizers he sipped on a dry rose. In between, he sampled a bit of CRU Beaujolais, exclaiming, "I never seem to drink enough Beaujolais." It was like an intermezzo. With his meat entrees, he ordered a profound vin garde red. "Now that hit the spot."
I was reminded of days when dinners took longer and foods came in courses - an aperitif followed by a progression of wines (selected for the foods). There was a logic to it, yet it was meant to be enjoyed, not analyzed.
I thanked Bruce for coming. I should also have thanked him for the lesson.
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier and a partner in the Sansei restaurants.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org